The Wake-Up Call
Some things are worth fighting for. There’s a little wedge of land where Windmill Street, Albert Road and St Leonards Road meet in Hythe that’s definitely one of them.
Until a few years ago, most of us passed it by and never gave it a thought. It has been part of the town’s landscape for centuries. You may have occasionally noticed a pretty wild flower or a tree rustling in the breeze within its ragstone walls. It had at times been used by community groups.
After many years of neglect, the land changed hands in 2011 and it soon became clear that the new owner had no interest in what this small slice of Hythe meant to the local community.
The previous owner claims to have sold the land on the understanding that it would remain as a garden. But in recent years it had looked unloved and unused. And it was up for grabs.
Work began to clear the area, with overgrown plants and trees ripped out – one a memorial to a long-gone town resident. This was enough to galvanise the troops.
A Good Old-Fashioned Community Campaign
Hythe is a conservative and sedate coastal town, where locals quite often oppose development, sometimes out of habit or as a matter of course it seems. Yet the need to protect this particular pocket of greenery has been felt beyond the usual circles of protest.
The community rallied and put forward a successful case for the council to place preservation orders on two remaining trees. Andy Maguire, an artist who lives close by, applied to English Heritage for a Grade II listing for the Triangle, which was granted in 2012.
There was a collective sigh of relief and many of us took the time to actually notice the Triangle for the first time in a long while – and perhaps think about what it had been and what it could become.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Triangle was used as an animal pound for Hythe’s stray livestock and, later, as a watering station for military horses. It is one of only two known triangular animal enclosures in the country, bordered by three roads with historic buildings on each.
The 21st century Grade II listing and tree preservation orders did not provide blanket protection for the Triangle; and late in 2014 the owner submitted planning permission for two houses to be built on the land.
The community was having none of it and, led by Ashley Tanton (a local construction project manager), a petition was circulated and 58 local residents added their numerous and heartfelt objections to the planning application. On 29 January 2015, Shepway District Council refused to grant permission.
Standing at this special junction, it’s hard to imagine that anyone truly believes sticking two contemporary homes here is the right thing to do. To the west is Rockdean, a distinctive leafy Grade II listed house. In the late 19th century the owners of this house bought the Triangle to prevent its development. But somehow after that the land was lost.
Albert Road is to the east, with its charming row of cottages constructed for workers digging the Royal Military Canal in 1804. Maybe they enjoyed a refreshing ale or two at the Three Mariners next door. The terrace of three larger 19th century houses to the south were homes for the military who kept their horses on the Triangle.
So what now? There’s no doubt that a community garden was never in the owner’s grand scheme. They’re after cash. They’ve no interest in wild flowers, benches or local primary school projects. Will they sell it, or wait a few years and try again? It’s unlikely to be approved, so as it stands this little oasis is growing more and more unkempt, with its ragstone boundaries gradually crumbling.
I’m not a believer in preserving every piece of scrubland, just because it’s always been there or someone’s view is going to be ruined. But this is not a piece of scrubland. This is a valuable haven in the heart of Hythe.
Perhaps the community will get together once again and buy the Triangle for everyone’s benefit: a welcome burst of colour, nature and tranquility on a busy, or not so busy, day.
Since writing this piece, Ashley, Andy and local supporters have successfully bid for the Triangle for use as a community garden. Hoorah! Anyone interested in the future of The Triangle can contact Ashley Tanton via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.