Memories of Napier

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My first recollection of Napier is the sound of waves on the shingle beach as my parents, sister and I walked along the Marine Parade in the dark looking for lodgings. We had arrived in Napier by train from Wellington that evening in the winter of 1924 after emigrating from Birmingham England. After we had settled down and had more permanent accommodation I was enrolled at Hastings St School Primer 4 in the charge of Mrs Harvey Smith. I attended there to Standard 6 at the end of 1930. It was a pretty good school though fairly basic. Mr McGlashan the standard 6 teacher was a particularly good teacher and had been an officer in the 1st World War. In Coote Rd., there was a boys orphanage and the boys came to Hastings St. School. There were about 6 in my class through the years and one of them became runner up for Dux. Standards 5 & 6 were instructed in woodwork at the training school on the corner of Carlyle St. and Clive Square and I think the girls had cooking instruction there as well. On each Monday throughout the summer classes 5 and 6 went to the Napier Baths and had swimming instruction and life saving practice. The team from Hastings St, competed against to other Napier Schools for the Vigor Brown Life saving shield. I was a member of the team but cannot remember how we fared so probably we didn’t win. Opposite the school was the Vulcan Foundary [Foundry] which we[was] a source of interest for we could see the blacksmiths at work using a steam operated hammer with the accompanying sparks and steam. Shortly after arriving in Napier my parents bought a confectionary [confectionery] shop about half way down Emerson St on the right hand side between Dalton St and Clive Square. We had this for a number of years. In the summer we made our own Ice Cream as there were no Commercial suppliers and it was my job on a Saturday morning to turn the handle of the churn which was packed in ice and salt in a wooden barrell. Opposite the shop was a large fish shop owned by a couple Maggie and Percy Boyland. Mrs Boyland was a part Maori and Percy a rotund Yorkshireman. I frequented the rear of the shop where all the activity was and was to a certain extent adopted by them. They had a old Ford truck and each night drove over Milton Rd. to Port ahuriri [Ahuriri] to the Iron Pot to pick up the days catch of fish from a trawler named the Mahuta. All the trawlers

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berthed in the Iron Pot and there was a lot of activity when they came in late afternoon. The trawlers were all steam boats. The Iron Pot was named because in the years when whaling was going on there was a big iron trypot which was us ed [used] to render the blubber from whales down to oil. The other part of the Port West Quay was where smaller coasters berthed and where the lighters were loaded with carcases of mutton, butter and bales of wool. The lighters were towed out to the roadstead where the overseas ships were anchored these ships were all from U.K. and were always referred to as “Home Boats”. Napier had its own shipping Company Richardson & Co with several vessels calling at coastal ports and in the earlier days they also called at several places along the coast to pick up bales of wool brought out by surfboats. The Navy cruisers H.M.S. Dunedin and Diomede also used the roadstead and those children who belonged to the Navy League had the privilege being taken out to the ships by Richardson & Co motorised lighters whenever a cruiser visited Napier. Glasgow wharf which was sheltered by the breakwater and where larger coasters and vessels from the West Coast of U.S.A. berthed was also a very popular place to fish from and where I spent most of my time during school holidays. The end of the breakwater was also popular. The water was surprisingly clear and you could see the gannets which came over from the Kidnappers colony dive in and come up with their catch. We also fished at night for crayfish. The gear was a hoop of steel with fiahingline [fishing line] netting forming a sort of conebe low [cone below] with a weight therein. Across the hoop you had a cord with fish heads usually gurnard attached. Drop the whole contraption attached to a light rope to the bottom alongside the wharf piles leave for a quarter of an hour or so then retrieve. Therein you would probably find a few smallish crays, sometimes a seahorse and the odd crab. The bigger ships which berthed at the Glasgow wharf brought mainly oregan [Oregon] timber and cased petrol and Kerosene. There were no tankers those days only petrol in cases of two four gallons in each.  Empty tins with a wire handle made a universal bucket and the cases were used for a variety of things. Another use for the case was as a body for a trolley. My father made me one which was used for a variety of things and lasted for years. We only had a very basic lot of toys a Hoop, marbles and tops Which were used at various times during the school year perhaps a trolley, if you had

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a bike you were made. I bought a bike when I was in Std [Standard] 5, very basic with painted rims and fixed handle bars which I used for many years. My parents bought a house at 25 Shakespeare Rd which is still there and is the first house on the right hand side now sbove Williams & Kettle. There were 4 boarding houses a little old Chinese man who used to carry two bamboo panniers on a yolk [yoke] thing across his shoulders around the neighbourhood, a Chinese laundry, a grocer, Mr. Spriggs the undertaker and finally the Empire Hotel on the corner of Brewster St. Napier had a tramway system which started from Thackeray St, where the tram barn was, up Dickens St, to Hastings St, along Hastings St. up Shakespeare Rd, and over the hill to the Port. There was also a branch line from the top of Dickens St. along Hastings St. to Te Awa. Napier even then was a fairly alive place. The Thirty Thousand Club organised a lot of things. The Napier Frivolity Minstrels performed in the Municipal Theatre and there were a lot of visiting shows performing there. There was a chap who lived adjacent to the Theatre who when there was a show on would hire out kerosene tins for the patrons waiting in line for seats in the Gods. Every Christmas we had Mardi Gras which was held on the Marine Parade for Christmas week and ended on New Years Eve. The stalls were on the beach with the sea wall as their front. The saturday of Kings Birthday the annual rugby match between Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa was held at McLean Park. Patrons used to wear rosettes with their sides colours and I used to sell them for Marsdens Book shop to make a few pence. On Easter Saturday there were motorbike races held at the Napier Park Racing Club in Greenmeadows. I seem to remember that the buses taking people out had provision for passengers on the top. During the last week of the mid school term holidays there was great activity with “Shopping Week”. Each house was given a booklet advertising the towns businesses, it was numbered and somewhere in the front window of a shop would be your number, if you found it the thing it was attached to was given you, there was also an object which was not sold by that shop and spotting it produced a prize. The Railway had special excursions trains to Napier from towns south as far I think Dannevirke. These were very popular and Mums and Kids came to Napier for the day. Another thing

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Another thing was the release of a whole lot of gas Balloons each with a tag with the name of a shop and if you found a tag and returned it to the shop named you got a prize. Labour Day aports [sports] were held at Farndon Park Clive and prior to that on the Wednesday Thursday and Friday the Annual Spring Show was held at Tomoana Showgrounds. There was a very serious Infantile Paralysis epidemic (Polio) I think about 1927 or 8 when schools were closed for a number of weeks as were the Picture Theatres. When I was in Std 5 I got the opportunity to sell the Daily Telegraph on the corner of Emerson and Dalton Sts. So every week from Monday to Saturday I lined up at the Telegraph and collected 30 copies of the paper. These I sold for 2 pence each (say 2 cents) and received a half penny for each sale. Over the course of the week this meant a weekly income of seven shillings and six pence (75 cents) Not bad for the times. On the corner of my stand was the Central Hotel and just along Dalton [Street] was the Public Bar. Public Bars used to have biscuits and cheese on the bar during the day and at about 5 p.m. hot food would be brought in from the kitchen consisting of sausage rolls and all sorts of goodies. I was allowed in to sell my papers in the bar and quite coincidentally I would be present when the delicacies were brought in. On a Saturday night the Telegraph a [and] Sports edition printed on pink paper. The stands outside the two theatres were much saught after and the nearest I got to one was acting as a Helper, one who relied on tips. Going to the pictures on Saturday afternoons in my earlier years was something to look forward to as most of the films were serials which ran for weeks, Cowboys and Indians and Pirates etc. Of course the films were silent and in the afternoons accompanied by a pianist with appropriate music, in the evenings a small orchestra was present. There were two Cinemas, the Gaiety in Dickens St and the Majestic in Hastings St. Very occasionally my Mother and I would go and stay with friends who lived at the bottom of Wharerangi Rd Greenmeadows. They came from a place near Birmingham and had three boys. Wharerangi Rd at that time started at the Taradale Rd and halfway down was the turn off to Park Island Cemetery.

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Near the turn off to Park Island was a bridge over a creek where we used to catch eels. Our friend had one of the earlier radios, a black box with a funny speaker standing on top. From memory it was powered by wet cell batteries which were in specially made glass jars containing acid and zinc plates. My father was a skilled artisan who had been apprenticed to and worked for The Birmingham Small Arms factory. When we came to New Zealand he had difficulty in getting the type of work he was trained for. He worked with the Public Works Dept [Department] building the East Coast Railway line. Living in a bush camp and labouring must have been pretty tough for an English emigrant used to working in a large factory. Around about 1927 or 28 there was a very bad Infantile Paralysis epidemic (Polio) and schools were closed for some weeks. It was during summer and the weather was very hot. The Old Napier Post Office was at the bottom of Shakespeare Rd where it joins Hastings St. There used to be a Notice Board where notices of important results were shown. I remember standing outside one evening waiting for news of the arrival of Hood and Moncrieff who were I think the first fliers to attempt to fly the Tasman from Australia. Unfortunately they didnt make it. Children from Hastings St. School attended the laying of the Foundation stone for the new Napier Post office at the corner of Dickens and Hastings Sts by I think Mr. Forbes the Prime Minister at the time. I left Hastings St. School at the end of 1930 armed with Junior Free Place and was enrolled at the Napier Boys High School with the starting date the 3rd February 1931.

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A couple of days before 3rd Febry [February] 1931 a very heavy swell developed on the beach at Napier Pounding across the Breakwater and making fishing there impossible. So I went down to the Port and fish alongside the stern of H.M.S. Veronica which was berthed just round the corner from The Iron Pot. I dont know if the swell was connected in any way with the resulting earthquake. Anyway on the 3rd Febry 1931 I went off on my bicycle for my first day at Napier Boys High School. After being welcomed at assembly we were allocated forms and Mr. Rupert Worker was my form master. Shortly after being seated about 10.20 there was an almighty earthquake, the assembly hall fell down and after the quake appeared to have finished we made an orderly exit from the form room. I’m a bit hazy on whether we were dismissed or not but we seemed to disperse and collect our bikes from the bikeshed I got mine and set off down Munro St. with the intention of going up Emerson St, along Hastings St. and so home. When I got to Clive Square I found that the B and [Band] Rotunda was being used as a First Aid post and there were people and children getting attention. Riding up the lower part of Emerson St, was no trouble and it wasnt until I got near Hastings St. the the debris bricks and stuff were across the road. I vividly remember a man with a lot of blood running from his head sitting on a chair in the middle of the etreet. Ahead there was a big fire raging in Hastings St. so I turned round and eventually made my way up to the Marine Parade and so to Shakespeare Rd. and home. My mother and a number of neighbours were in the street and the decision was made to take to the beach. We carried small quantities of bedding and set up a sort of a camp on the beach opposite the court house. I cannot remember what we did for food the first day but we did sleep on the beach for three or four nights when there was a constant series of aftershocks. H.M.S. Veronica managed to get out from her berth in the Port and sailors came into town and started to sort things out including setting up field kitchens in my old Hastings St. School where they provided meals. I found out that Daily Telegraph staff had started to print leaflets listing names of people who had been killed and these I helped distribute. The Courthouse was being used as a morgue during the time we were on the beach.

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I think that it was about four or five days after the quake that my Mother and I and a whole lot of other people were driven to Dannevirke and boarded a train for Palmerston North. There we were taken to the Showgrounds where elements of the Army took over and looked after us. We were issued with “Refugee” passes and I think stayed there for about two weeks. Most children went to schools during that period. Then we left Palmerston North and went by train to Hawera thence to a little beach at Ohawe where we had a seaside bach. It was a pretty idealic [idyllic] existence, no school, being taken into Hawera about once a week and sharing the bach with friends from Napier. Just before Easter 1931 we returned to Napier where we were able to rejoin my father who had remained there taking part in helping to restore essential services. The business part of Napier was just a wilderness and looked as if it had been bombed. The south side of Dickens St was intact including “Praise be” the Gaiety theatre. Going to the Pictures from Shakespeare was an eerie experience, no street lights we had to walk through what had been the town and there were still remains of shop walls standing. Gas and electricity had been restored and also water and sewerage. Chimneys had not been rebuilt and our house needed some of the piles redone. Dad had borrowed a bottle jack and it was my job to get under the house and raise the section of the house while he levelled it. After Easter Napier Boys High reopened. We were housed in marques [marquees] for some weeks while classrooms were repaired. At the time of the earthquake there were two secondary schools in Napier. The High School and Napier Technical College which was co educational. The boys came to NBHS and I presume the girls went to the Girls High. Teachers came from the Tech and new classes were instituted for Commercial classes and also woodwork and metalwork. During my time at High School there were several boys who later made names for themselves in later life. Owen Woodhouse later Sir Owen, A.C.C [Accident Compensation Corporation] was his brainchild. Eddie Norman who later earned the Military Cross and became Bishop of Wellington. Gordon Bisson, later a Judge. Jim Chambers, head of the Congregational Church, John Lewis who was a prominent Methodist. I left High school at the end of 1932 which was not a particularly good time to look for employment. There was a sort of employment

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agency with one man in charge. There were a fair number of boys looking for jobs and at one stage we were directed to go out to Greenmeadows where at that time were a number of large apple orchards and learn how to pack apples for export. We also had the chance to do odd jobs when they cropped up. Hanging about waiting for something to come up was rather devastating and boring. Eventually I got a job with a Gisborne firm of paint and paper and glass merchants which came down to Napier to get into the rebuilding of the town. Mr James Auld was the boss and there were two glaziers and a salesman employed. Those days painters mixed their own paint using white lead in oil, linseed oil and colouring agents. I used to cart the ingredients around on my bike. Eventually I became more useful and the job that impressed me most was when one of the men and I had to get up on to the semicircular roof of The Daily Telegraph to put the glass in the skylights. The glass was reinforced with wirenetting [wire netting] and was pretty hard on the hands, there were 5 pieces of glass per skylight and it was quite difficult working on a rounded roof. As you can imagine there was a lot of building work going on a lot of tradesmen [work] had come to Napier to take advantage of the opportunity of work. After several years with Auld & Gleeson I was made redundant as the town became reestablished [re-established]. At the time we returned to Napier temporary buildings were being built, forstly [firstly] the Banks had a communal building near the Catholic Church then “Tin Town” covering Clive Square and the one opposite. Tin Town consisted of a whole lot of small shops which represented those operating before the Quake. There was a verandah and wooden walkway right round the area. I think that after the quake the whole population of Napier responded with great vigour and good spirits to make the new Napier the success that it deserved.

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  • James Auld
  • Gordon Bisson
  • Maggie Boyland
  • Percy Boyland
  • Jim Chambers
  • John Lewis
  • Eddie Norman
  • Mrs Harvey Spriggs
  • Sir Owen Woodhouse
  • Rupert Worker
  • Messrs Forbes, McGlashan, Spriggs

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