The origins of Central Park date back to 1903 when Lt. Col. Charles Newman Kidd, Chairman of Dartford Urban District Council and local brewer and brickmaker offered to the town five acres of meadows to be used as an area of recreation.
In June 1905 the Central Recreation Ground as it was then called, was opened to the public with great ceremony. The Recreation Ground, which was enclosed by iron fencing, was entered from Lowfield Street. It included broad tar-surfaced paths, improved grassed areas, plants and shrubs, and a bandstand, grandstand, shelter and toilets.
In 1908-9 the council purchased Bank House (Dartford High Street) and
its grounds for the conversion of the building into council offices. The
offices were officially opened in July 1910 with much of the former garden
added to the Central Recreation Ground. From that time the main entrance
to the Grounds was via an access-way now called Market Place. Visitors
were able to use both croquet lawns and bowling greens, and (in 1921)
tennis lawns. By 1930, a further sixteen acres were laid out for public
recreation including a playground for children.
A bowling green was added to the park in 1937, but unfortunately the associated pavilion was destroyed by fire as it was nearing completion. A replacement was built at a later date. Also in 1937 a children's paddling pool was constructed in the park. The pool was filled-in during the 1980s, having served for a short time as a skateboard park. Ornamental water features dominated the landscaping of the park; plants were grown in the Central Park nursery. From the 1950s onwards a carpet bed was constructed on which floral displays could be laid out to mark various local or national events and anniversaries. In July 1960 a special garden dedicated for the use of blind people was opened in Central Park.
Central Park was an important centre for sporting activities with tennis courts, bowling greens, a putting green, football pitches and a running track. Work started in January 1986 on upgrading the athletics track in Central Park to international standards. £250,000 was spent on reconstructing the old track and creating other track facilities. During the 1970s all the park's ornamental water features were filled-in due to seepage problems. A new children's play area opened in May 1996.
HESKETH PARK AND OTHER OPEN SPACES
In 1902, Everard Hesketh offered land in Dartford for a recreation ground "I am prepared to purchase the land, to lay it out, to fence it in with oak park fencing, and to hand it over to the Urban District Council...on the usual condition that the ground shall be maintained for ever as a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of Dartford." The public opening of Hesketh Park took place on Wednesday 20 April 1904. Factories closed and the town's streets were decorated; the afternoon was declared a town holiday. Hesketh Park Sports Ground opened the following year. Mr. Hesketh granted the Sports Ground to the town in 1913. In June 1946 it was announced that a minor county cricket match would be played in Hesketh Park. A second match was organised in June 1957 and Hesketh Park became a regular venue for county matches until the early 1980s. Hesketh Park also provided facilities for bowls, tennis, cricket, hockey and archery.
Dartford Heath (340 acres) remained a popular venue for leisure and recreation throughout the twentieth century. The Heath provided both sports pitches and changing facilities for football and cricket, as well as an interesting environment for ramblers and bird watchers. Bowman's Heath, originally part of Dartford Heath before the construction of the A2, was in 1992 developed as a nature trail by Dartford Borough Council. The nature trail incorporated woodland, glade, scrub and grassland habitats.
Smaller open spaces were provided in most local neighbourhoods to cater
for the recreational needs of individual communities. Some of these open
spaces included children's playgrounds. In 1958 the mayor of Dartford
opened St. Edmund's Pleasance (the old upper burial ground, East Hill)
as a public recreation area.