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Mystery 'wigwam' next to Ashford Rugby Club and River Stour in Kennington


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Made out of three old telegraph poles with ‘danger’ signs attached to them, a mystery wigwam-type structure on the banks of the River Stour in Ashford has puzzled residents for years.

Did someone erect it in order to cross the water once upon a time or is it just another of the town’s weird and wonderful art installations?

The wigwam-style structure is just off a footpath next to Ashford Rugby Club in Kennington
The wigwam-style structure is just off a footpath next to Ashford Rugby Club in Kennington

The questions were answered in 2012 when readers of our sister title the Kentish Express identified the piece as a tug-of-war training aid.

Used by teams to build up their stamina and try out techniques during training sessions, the structure – which now stands on a patch of grass overlooking Ashford Rugby Club in Kennington – was initially located on the nearby former Houchin sports and social club.

At one time there were tug-of-war teams right across the area, often linked to pubs, and several of them had similar wigwam-style training rigs they used to train on.

Victor Pudan, of Shadoxhurst, a member of the Isle of Oxney team, said: “The one in Kennington, and a lot of them, were made out of old telegraph poles which is why they had the ‘danger’ signs attached to them.

“It was a training tool. They had a pulley at the apex which a cable went round.

The Swan tug-of-war team in action; Mark Cornell is at the back with Vernon Gubb at the front
The Swan tug-of-war team in action; Mark Cornell is at the back with Vernon Gubb at the front
One of the weights still sits beneath the structure in Kennington
One of the weights still sits beneath the structure in Kennington
The training tool allowed teams to try out their techniques
The training tool allowed teams to try out their techniques

“Attached to one end of the cable were the weights, usually steel drums or old oil drums filled with concrete or whatever. The team then pulled against the weight, which was pulling against you. It was as if you were pulling against another team.”

Dave Curry, of Quantock Drive, said the Kennington structure was moved into its current position by the Rose Inn tug-of-war team, which he was part of, in about 1996.

"My son Paul had joined Ashford Rugby Club as a youngster so I used to go down there. We were looking for somewhere to put up the rig so we asked the rugby club and they said fine.

"It's made out of three old telegraph poles. There was a really heavy barrel on one end which we'd lift up and hold in place for as long as we could until we got a real burning sensation in our arms and legs.

"It was great for training. A guy called Vernon Gubb trained us."

Dog walker John Padwick was left baffled by the piece 10 years ago
Dog walker John Padwick was left baffled by the piece 10 years ago
Strong cables were used on the structure
Strong cables were used on the structure
The Swan tug-of-war team of 1987; back row: Kenny Munchkin, Mark Henderson, Alan Young Hopper, Tom The Post, Hard Life, Posh Charles; front row: Vernon Gubb, Mark Cornell, Chris 'The Beast' Moore, Martin Reed, Big Dave Reed
The Swan tug-of-war team of 1987; back row: Kenny Munchkin, Mark Henderson, Alan Young Hopper, Tom The Post, Hard Life, Posh Charles; front row: Vernon Gubb, Mark Cornell, Chris 'The Beast' Moore, Martin Reed, Big Dave Reed

Mr Gubb ran Courtfield Kennels in Sandy Lane, Great Chart, and was a stalwart of the sport in the Ashford area.

Mark Cornell, of Stanhope, was a member of the tug-of-war team at the Swan pub in Great Chart and a friend of Mr Gubb.

"Vern started it all off around here after he moved down from Dagenham," he said.

"He used to do a lot of the team training and really knew what he was doing.

Vernon Gubb, who died in 2012, was a stalwart of the sport in Ashford
Vernon Gubb, who died in 2012, was a stalwart of the sport in Ashford
The structure sits between Ashford Rugby Club and the River Stour
The structure sits between Ashford Rugby Club and the River Stour
Mark Cornell, a former member of The Swan tug-of-war team
Mark Cornell, a former member of The Swan tug-of-war team

"We used to train twice a week. There were lots of teams.

"I remember the Victoria pub had one, Houchin engineering had one, so did The Ewe and Lamb in Rolvenden and Wittersham were always very good.

"Success in tug-of-war was not just to do with the weight of the team members, it's all about technique and strength."

Although there was a fierce rivalry between the teams who took each other on at summer fetes and in league competitions, the sport's popularity in the area declined, rendering Kennington's 'wigwam' redundant.

Do you have any memories of Ashford's tug-of-war history? Email dwright@thekmgroup.co.uk

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