George Harper, born in 1841, was the son of a dairy-man & farmer from Faversham. His father had an extensive milk round and kept his cows on fields known as the Brooks in Ashford.
For much of his life from when he was born until the late 1890s he lived in Castle Street, where he would later open a shop. He started work as a cabinet maker, then became an upholsterer & these occupations fired up his interest in furniture, art and antiques, of which he had a wide knowledge.
In 1865 he married a Miss Day, a farmer’s daughter from Palace Farm at Charing and later became an auctioneer, estate agent and valuer but his first love was antiques. His own collection was well known and one of his famous pieces was a billiard table that once belonged to Napoleon III. He opened an antiques business at 8 & 10 Castle Street which had an impressive list of customers including Lord Kitchener, Ellen Terry and the Duke of Edinburgh, who often visited the shop when staying at Eastwell Park.
George Harper was proud of Ashford and worked hard for the town. He was one of the founder members of the Elwick Club and ten years as Chairman. He became a member of the Local Board in 1882 and continued to serve on the Urban District Council until 1900 when, after some disagreement, he resigned. However, he was re-elected and in 1907 followed Dr Wilks as Chairman.
In December 1911 Mr Harper made an anonymous offer to present the Hubert Fountain, together with the two huge stags, to the town he loved, on the condition that the council would dismantle the fountain and re-erect it in a chosen spot in Victoria Park at their own expense. After he had made his offer to the council, they duly visited Olantigh, inspected the fountain and, in due course, received estimates from two local contractors, Messrs Frederick Clark Ltd and Messrs Wallis & Sons Ltd., for dismantling and re-erecting the fountain. They resolved to thank the anonymous donor for their offer but regretfully, because of the removal expenses, they were unable to accept the gift. Mr Harper reconsidered the matter, although he was disappointed at the way his gift had been snubbed, he wrote to the Council again in January stating that he would stand the dismantling and re-erection costs himself if the Council would supply suitable foundations and provide a water supply. There was one other small stipulation and that was that there should be a water display of the fountain on 23rd July each year – Mr Harper’s birthday.
On 24th July, the day following his 71st birthday, the fountain was formally presented to the town. The Buffs played a selection of airs but Mr Harper was unable to be present. The water was turned on by his niece, Miss Miles.
It had been the custom of Mr Harper, who lived at 6 Elwick Road, to walk up to his shop every morning and then take a stroll around the Warren, which he evidently enjoyed immensely. On the 13th August 1912, just three weeks after the fountain had been formally turned on, Mr Harper took his customary stroll. He was seen by Issac Martin, the shepherd from Repton Farm, at 11:30 walking towards the Warren. The last person who saw Mr Harper alive was the fireman of the 11am train from Cannon Street. Mr Harper’s head was on the railway line. The train could not be stopped in time……
A tragic end to a man who was often criticised but loved Ashford and during his life had made a considerable effort to beautify the town. In his will, he left the sum of £1,000 for establishing a library and for the purchase of new books. This is quite possibly how our library was first established.
Ludbrook S., 2016, Article posted on Facebook Group – Ashford Kent Remembering the Way it Once Was, Ashford