Williams family gifted land for park
Historic Hawke’s Bay
James Nelson Williams gave 8.5 hectares of his large Frimley Estate in 1900 to the Hastings Borough Council for a park in Hastings. Improvements to the park were required to be paid for by the council. Unlike Napier and Havelock North, Hastings was not a government planned town, and resulted from private enterprise.
Acts of generosity from the founding fathers of Hastings – such as J N Williams, helped create public places. When the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visited New Zealand in 1901, the park was named Cornwall Park after them.
J N Williams was quite specific about what he wanted in the park, including the types of trees, and an artificial lake. The council allocated £20 (2015: $3500) for trees to be planted around the boundary of Cornwall Park. Nurseryman Thomas Horton was surprised to learn when he turned up to plant trees on the boundary that the area was still part of a large bullock fattening paddock. The councillors were disinterested in the park and had let it out for grazing.
In 1905 the main sport ground in Hastings was at Stortford Lodge on private property. A group calling itself the Cornwall Park Movement strongly lobbied the council to develop a recreation area at the park, including a cycle and athletics track, tennis courts and a cricket field. The Hastings Standard took an editorial stance in favour of the group stating that Hastings’ recreational facilities were “worse off than a bush village”. The title deeds to the park had not been transferred to the council due to J N Williams’ conditions of the park’s development being unfulfilled by them.
A special Hastings Borough Council meeting was held in March 1905 to debate developing the park as a recreation ground, and the Hastings Standard reported the discussion amongst councillors was “desultory and at times rather heated and complicated”. A letter was read from J N Williams to say he would transfer the title to council at once.
After much debate, the councillors decided in April 1905 by five to four votes to spend £210 ($37,000) to develop a sports park. A cycling and athletic club was formed and had its first sports meeting at the opening of the ground in November 1905. James Nelson Williams, although the donor of the land, requested the daughters of the late archdeacon Samuel Williams (his uncle) present the park to the people of Hastings of behalf of the Williams family.
The first cricket match was held at Cornwall Park on October 7, 1905, and it was a friendly match between last year’s Xlak [XI] and newcomers. The match report stated that the pitch was not perfect for the players and “afforded plenty of practice to get their ‘eye in’ ”. The match was not high scoring, as the “long grass prevented any large scoring”. The last year’s XI scored 84 runs, and the newcomers 51.
With the development of Cornwall Park, Mr A Frude had been appointed in July 1905 by council as caretaker. In September 1906 he had found out that he was paid less than other council workers, and had fewer holidays. The council’s response to him was “application not entertained”.
A bill was drafted in November 1906 by the Hastings Borough Council called the Hastings Recreation Reserve Act. This act was to give the council powers including gathering revenue and the ability to “exclude persons or class of persons from the park”. As the Public Reserves Act 1881 stated how public parks could be utilised, legislation was required to allow activities outside of this, such as charging for a park’s use. The bill got to a third reading until two MPs objected to it, and ultimately seven of the eight clauses in the bill were deleted and replaced with just one stating the council could lease the land not exceeding ten acres, and the revenue from this must be applied to improving the park (This act was repealed in 2002).
Upon the coronation of King George V (who Cornwall Park was named after in 1901) in 1911, the patriotic Hastings Borough councillors considered a memorial to mark the occasion. After much squabbling, councillor Timothy Donovan’s suggestion of a drinking fountain (no longer operational) in Cornwall Park won approval. Local architect V E Larcome’s design was accepted from eight submitted, and E & W Platt of Wellington built the fountain. The columns were imported from Scotland, and the four marble slabs came from Australia. The lions were modelled on “King Dick” from the Wellington Zoo. Four panels were included on the fountain structure, and the decision to write the names of the mayor and councillors on one of them created much controversy. One letter to the editor congratulated the elected officials sarcastically for their foresight in being the first in the world to include their names on a public monument dedicated to someone else. The other panels recorded the gift of Cornwall Park by the Williams family, and the reason for the fountain, which was the coronation of George V. One panel was left blank, but when King George V’s son, George, the Duke of York, visited Hastings in 1927, this was inscribed with the occasion of the visit to Hastings. He became King George VI in 1936, when his brother Edward abdicated the throne to marry a commoner, Wallis Simpson. When King George VI died in 1952, his daughter Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II. Cornwall Park has had many other attractions over its history including: gardens (developed fully during the 1930s from work schemes during the Great Depression), aviary, miniature zoo, tea kiosk, children’s play area, John Holt display glasshouse and the Osmanthus Chinese Garden.
Michael Fowler’s ([email protected]) new book Hastings, Havelock North and Napier: A Collage of History is for sale in Havelock North at Wardini Books, Poppies Books, Take Note and Birdwood’s Gallery; Hastings at Denton Wyatt, Hastings i-site, Whitcoulls, Plaza Books, Paper Plus; Taradale at Paper Plus and Napier at Beattie & Forbes, Whitcoulls, Napier i-site, Paper Plus, Art Deco Trust and Waipukurau at Paper Plus. This hardback coffee table-style book contains 76 feature-length stories about my favourite people, places and events.
Photo captions –
PARK VIEW: Cornwall Park near the Roberts St end in the 1930s.
PHOTO/DAVE WILLIAMS (D.1972). COLLECTION OF HAWKE’S BAY MUSEUMS TRUST, RUAWHARO TA-U-RANGI
POSING: It was customary for many to pose next to a “King Dick” lion statute. Here is Michael Fowler with his father Bruce in the late 1960s.
PHOTO/MICHAEL FOWLER COLLECTION