I am always fascinated to discover unexpected Ashford connections with people from history who have a national reputation, and the unveiling of the new Memorial Civic Beacon in North Park provided another opportunity.
The Beacon itself will be lit on occasions of national and historic significance. Its first outing will come on this year’s Remembrance Day, on November 11th, which marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. To mark this special date there is a national event called “Battle’s Over: A Nation’s Tribute”, and the beacon lighting will form part of this.
The unexpected connection is with the 17th century Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace, who was imprisoned for his support for the King on several occasions. These repeated imprisonments gave rise to the line for which he is best remembered, from his poem “To Althea, from Prison”, “stone walls do not a prison make”.
Contemporary accounts say he was an amiable, modest and virtuous man and his first known work, a comedy called The Scholar, was performed when he was just sixteen to great acclaim. For local purposes, though, his interest is that he was Lord of the Manor at Lovelace Place, Bethersden from 1629 to 1649. One of the pleasures of the ceremony in North Park was that the current owners, who are keenly interested in its history, were present.
This is not the only Lovelace connection. One of his other poems was “To Lucasta, going to the Warres”, and this contains the phrase “With Stronger Faith” which has been the motto of Ashford Borough Council since it was formed in the 1970s. Appropriately the full poem was read at the ceremony by the Chairman of Bethersden Parish Council Alastair Boyd.
Lovelace himself died in 1657 of TB, known at the time as consumption, at lodgings for the poor in Gunpowder Alley in London. He did not live to see the return to the throne of the Stuart King Charles 2nd, but he would no doubt have been delighted to know that centuries later the monarchy still flourishes.
As for the Beacon it is an excellent addition to the town, and I am sure will be used for both local and national commemorations. To add to the Borough’s capacity for suitable commemoration, Tenterden will also be having a Beacon. This year’s World War One commemorations are especially important, and we are in good shape for them.