Public gardens created on common land by Alderman James Simmons in 1790.
The main focus of the Dane John Gardens is a mound, known until the C18 as the Dungeon or Don John, which survives from a group of four Romano-British burial mounds of the 1st or 2nd century AD. The mound was reused briefly as part of a motte and bailey castle, erected shortly after the Norman Conquest and out of use by the C12. Sometime after this date, the Manor of the Dungeon was established which included the area of the four mounds, then known as the Dungeon Hills. The citizens of the city enjoyed free access to the Hills land, the area being used for all kinds of recreation although this was the subject of a number of disputes with the Lord of the Manor, resulting from attempts to stop access. By the C16, the area of the manor now occupied by the gardens had come into the possession of the Mayor and Commonalty. The land was let, mainly for pasture, but common use for public access and recreation was preserved. This included rights of access for shooting practice, games and sports, or for walking. A map of the city of c 1642 shows little change between then and the site as shown on the plan of the city surveyed in 1768 (Andrews and Wren). The latter shows the site with a bank up to the city wall on either side of the mound and a meandering cross-path cutting across the ground from Wincheap to Riding Gate. Thomas Ridout's map of the Northgate Ward, dated 1781, appears to show the path straightened and a terrace walk in place, with some landscaping of the mound. In 1790, Alderman James Simmons took a lease on the Dane John from the Mayor and Commonalty, at nominal rent, on the understanding that he would level the land and lay out gardens at his own expense. Simmons, newspaper owner, miller, banker, and prime mover in the work of the Canterbury Pavements Commissioners in 1787-9, had just completed his second spell as mayor. By 1793 the improvements were finished at a cost of £1500 against the original estimate of £450 and included, particularly, relandscaping and increasing the height of the mound by 4m, establishing the terrace walk, the conversion of the through path into a formal avenue, and ornamental plantings. The transformation from rough pasture to pleasure garden is recorded by the City Terrier of 1828-9. In 1796, after a dispute with the Guardians of the Poor about the rate for the land, Simmons handed the Dane John back to the Mayor and Commonalty. The site was allowed to decline until 1803 when a committee was formed by the Burghmote to manage the gardens. The committee continued until 1836 when the new Canterbury Council took over the site. In c 1840 William Masters, landscape gardener and owner of Masters' Exotic Nursery, appears to have been involved in the enhancement of the gardens while an alderman of the city. Since 1836 the site has remained in the care of the City Council.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The Dane John Gardens occupy a site of just over 2ha on the south side of the city of Canterbury, within the city wall, c 100m to the north of Canterbury East Station. The stretch of wall between Wincheap Gate and Rising Gate forms the southern boundary of the site, the front gardens of early C19 houses, including a terrace dated 1822, bordering much of the northern side. The west boundary is formed by Castle Road, while the east is enclosed by Watling Street.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The main Riding Gate entrance to the gardens, formerly marked by an ironwork gateway bearing the message 'Welcome', is off Watling Street at the eastern end of the site, the public road being divided from the gardens by a length of modern (1995) railings. There is also access to this end of the site from the walk along the city wall. A gap between the housing provides an entrance from the southern end of St Mary's Street, into the northern side of the gardens, while to the south, a foot and cycle bridge over the ring road links Canterbury East Station to the gardens. From the site of Wincheap Gate, off Castle Row at the western end of the site, is an entrance into the gardens accompanied by a lodge. The present house is of mid C19 date, but the building occupies the site of an earlier lodge, as shown on the 1828 Terrier. This was perhaps the 'Gardener's House' marked on the inset map used in the illustration of 'The Walks, near Dungeon Hill' which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1808. Gostling's account of 1804 describes a 'neat cottage' having been built the previous year for the gardener, for whom a £60 per annum salary was voted in perpetuity by the corporation.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The western, Wincheap Gate entrance joins with the west end of a lime avenue which forms the main axis across the site, leading from here east through to Riding Gate. For safety reasons, the eastern end of this long-established public right of way is now (2000) closed off. Gostling (1804) describes the avenue as a 'short walk, 13 feet wide and 1130 feet in length' extending between two rows of limes, 'forming a communication at each end and in the centre with the hill and the surrounding walks' (ibid). A fountain was added at the centre of the walk in Victorian times, the stone surround of which survives and is now used as a flower bed.
The Wincheap Gate also marks the start of a substantial terrace walk which runs along the south side of the gardens, against the city wall. This is also mentioned in Gostling's 1804 account, which describes 'the terrace 12 feet wide and 1840 feet long' which was 'formed on the top of the rampart within the wall, which has been repaired and raised into a parapet the whole length and continued from within a few paces of St George's Gate ... to the opening onto Wincheap; passing in its course the old Watch Towers, four of the areas of which are planted with trees and flowering shrubs, enclosed with commodious seats and defended with handsome palisades'. The four turrets standing along this length of the wall are neatly finished and set with seats.
The terrace walk leads to the Dane John mound (scheduled ancient monument), the main focus of the gardens and from which the site takes its name. The mound stands in the bend of the city wall, halfway along the southern edge of the site. It is ascended by hedge-lined paths which lead up to the monument (listed grade II) on the top, from where there are wide views out over the city and surroundings. The monument was erected in 1803 by public subscription and bears plaques commemorating the work of Simmons: 'This field and Hill were improved and these terraces, walks and plantations made in the year 1790 for the use of the public at the sole expense of James Simmons Esq of the city, alderman and banker'; and that of the council: 'The mayor and commonalty of this ancient city in consequence of the expensive improvements made lately in this field, unanimously resolved in the year 1802 to appropriate the same in perpetuity to the use of the public'. Gostling's account describes Simmons landscaping of the mound: 'from the lawns are serpentine walks, bordered with quick-thorn and fenced by posts and chains, 480 feet in ascent on each side, to the summit of the mount, which by these improvements was heightened about 18 feet'.
The main body of the gardens, lying to the north and south of the avenue, is level. Gostling's account (1804) states that: 'the walks throughout are gravelled and those round the lower part of the enclosure shaded with poplar trees and detached plantations of shrubs'. To the south of the central walk, the ground is laid to grass with a scattering of trees, including some mature specimens, and banks of shrubbery. To the east of the mound stands the Boer War memorial, erected in memory of the soldiers of The Buffs East Kent Regiment and The Imperial Yeomanry of East Kent, 1899-1902. A bandstand, erected by 1905 and now demolished, occupied the area between the memorial and the mound.
Between the small front gardens of the houses to the north and the central walk, the lawns are planted with island beds and a scattering of ornamental tree plantings. A sundial (listed grade II) which stands in this half of the gardens, north of the mound, may be that shown on the south side of the walk in mid C19 illustrations. At the eastern end is a newly (1995) landscaped garden area, the paving for which came from the 'European Peace Pavement' created in the gardens in 1993.
E Hasted, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent IV, (1797-1801) [Facsimile edn 1972]
W Gostling, A Walk in the City of Canterbury (1804), pp 7-8
Gentleman's Magazine (1808), p 481
Gardeners' Chronicle (1847), p 343
F Panton, The Dane John. Canterbury's historic garden, (Canterbury City Council 1993)
Map of the city of Canterbury, c 1642 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone)
J Andrews and M Wren, Plan of the city of Canterbury, 1768 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone)
T Ridout, Map of Northgate Ward, 1781 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone)
Canterbury City Terrier, 1828-9 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone)
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1898
2nd edition published 1907
OS 10' to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1874
L L Raze, View of Dane John, published 1851 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone)
Description rewritten: March 2001
Register Inspector: EMP
Edited: November 2003
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 30 November 2016.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 01/07/2020