Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blandford Park

While looking at the Auckland Regional Council's collection of online aerials the other day, I spotted this shape in the old Grafton Gully, 1940. It was right alongside Grafton Road, so I checked the trusty old directory for the period -- and found that this was Blandford Park. I went looking for some of the park's background.
The original owner appears to have been Morgan Blandford, who in 1913 negotiated with Auckland City Council over the formation and dedication of a roadway just to the north of the site. The land was held in the name of the Agnes Blandford Trust by the middle of the century, anyway, the trustees being New Zealand Insurance.

On 1 June 1923, Morgan Blandford came to an agreement with the Auckland Football Association for the latter to lease the property for 30 years. At that point, according to the Auckland Star, "it was a marshy, willow-covered area terminating in a dump for road spoil and old tins at the point where the gully under Grafton Bridge opens onto Grafton Road, almost at the junction of that road with Stanley Street." (18 April 1925) Today, the site is almost directly down from the line of St Paul's Anglican church on Symonds Street, past Whitaker Place.

Within 18 months, the Association had worked to transform the old swampy dump. "To-day Blandford Park is a beautiful level area in the centre, banked on three sides, and obviously capable of development into  an ideal sports ground. It has been thoroughly drained, and the playing area is already under grass, which has taken well. On the bank opposite the entrance from Grafton Bridge accommodation has been made for several thousand people by convenient terraces, while on the entrance side is a gentle slope which will provide natural vantage spots for spectators, and there is also in course of construction here a small grandstand which will seat several hundred people, and under which will be dressing rooms for the players." The Association had an agreement in their lease that after the expiry they had an option to buy the park outright.

The park's easy access to tramlines was put forward by the Star as a real bonus -- a couple of minutes from Symonds Street, a few more from Parnell and Stanley Street.

It was officially opened on 9 May 1925 by the Governor-General, along with an unfurling of the Association's banner and musical presentations by the Auckland Artillery Band. The first game was a Brown Shield match, Auckland v. Waikato.

Things at Blandford Park weren't exactly as cut-and-dried as all that, however. It appears that the AFA came to an arrangement with a group called the Stadium Company to sub-lease Blandford for 28 years for the months of October to March -- football's off-season -- in order for the Stadium Company to be the ones engaging in the levelling, grandstand building, etc. This group ran cycling competitions on the ground. By 1927, with subsidence at the embankments  bordering surrounding properties causing court litigation, the AFA tried to regain total control, but failed. (NZ Truth, 27 October 1927)

In November 1927, it was announced that the Auckland Motor-racing Club had taken out a six month lease of the park, and planned to lay down a fast cinder track. Their meetings were to begin in December that year. (Sun [Auckland] 24 November 1927.) In September 1929, Blandford Park Stadium Ltd announced they would be converting the park into a dirt racing course, (Star, 2 September 1929) with an opening night of 18 December. Advertising for meetings at Blandford Park ceased from April 1930, but with a resurgence in 1945.

Still, by the 1940s, the AFA were the main body using the park. This was when Auckland City began to keep a file on the park, kicked off by NZI in 1948 offering to sell the park to the City Council once the AFA's lease had expired. The right of purchase offer in the lease was £13,200, a lot of money to suddenly find from the funds.

The Council officers examined the situation. They found that the park had been formed in a low-lying basin, the surrounding hillside unstable, and the ground becoming very heavy in winter. It wasn't big enough to serve as an athletics stadium, or a site for band contests involving marchers. The accommodation and seating was inadequate, and it was badly oriented, so tennis matches on the provincial level were out. To cap it all off, in an era when trams were waning before the popularity of the motor car, there was no off-street parking at Blandford Park.

No, that's not quite what capped it all off. That same motor car popularity meant, the planners advised, that there was a strong possibility that the area of Grafton Gully would be "involved in major road proposals." In other words -- a motorway.

The motorway was some time off, though. so the Council resolved in 1949 to acquire the leasehold of the site, sub-let it to the AFA for 21 years, and do the place up a bit. There ensued a period of legal wrangling between the estate's trustees and the Council, which ended in 1952 with the Council advising they would take over the park for recreation purposes, changing in 1953 to "street purposes". The park was proclaimed Council property in October 1953. The park was still maintained as a base for the AFA up until the early 1960s.

c. 1960

Then, with motorway plans now imminent, the Association moved out of Blandford Park and relocated to Newmarket Park in May 1964. By March 1966, Blandford Park had reverted to its older use -- as a dumping ground for spoil from the Grafton Road cutting. This spoil was later levelled, burying the park beneath 30 feet of ground, over which the motorway system passes today.



  1. slecuyer@earthlink.netNovember 22, 2009 at 4:03 PM

    Found an old newpaper account of a soccer game between British and NZ Navy teams held at Blanford Park. The small artice does not have a date but I think very early 1940's.

  2. Thanks for that. I saw an ad in passing for a game there in the early 1950s just the other day.

  3. I have photos of Blanford Park from actual games

    1. Any from the 1960 North Island Chatham Cup Final? North Shore v Moturoa

  4. Thanks for the comment, Stefan. I'll drop you a line.

  5. Excellent. I've been researching the history of the Chatham Cup, and kept running across references to Blandford Park but couldn't find it on any maps (I've only got modern Akl maps). Great to know where it actually was!

  6. I recall going to Blandford Park as a child when the rugby, league, soccer and softball referees held their annual footy competition. I'm only just turned 73.

  7. I played there a number of times. The most memorable for me was scoring 2 goals in the final of the Auckland Trophy playing for Onehunga against North Shore in 1961. An extra knockout competition at the end of the season for the Senior clubs. A trophy with prize money of 150 pounds which I don't think was ever played for again. It may have been the first prize money for any football code in NZ where almost all sport was of amateur status.

    I can testify to difficulty with ground conditions as on one occasion I suffered a bad ankle sprain going to retrieve a ball for throw in and stepping in a drainage ditch which hadn't been mown properly and was hidden.

  8. played in the first live televised softball match 1965 at blandford park eden-roskill v ramblers

  9. In early February 1946 a wee 6yo lad visited Blandford Park. He crawled through a gap in the fence, fell over whilst crossing the dirt speedway track, then tried to rub the dirt off the front of his new clothes by lying down on the grass and moving from side to side. It didn’t work, only made it worse. He’d heard the noise start up and had come down to watch some midget speedway cars practicing but didn’t stay long.
    When he got back home, just up the adjacent hill, he found that other children had already arrived for his birthday party – which he’d forgotten about. His mother was not very happy as she had been looking all over for him and the state of his new clothes made it even worse.
    A still vivid memory of Blandford Park!