Friday, July 16, 2010

A walk through Fowlds Park, Mt Albert

Fowld’s Park has been a place I’d wanted to see for quite some time, at least since I started chasing down information on Forbes Eadie and saw references to the park under its former name, Morningside Reserve, when I was researching for Wairaka’s Waters. Thanks to Carron Boswell of the Mt Albert Historical Society who took me on a walk one day recently along the by-ways of suburban Mt Albert, I finally came upon the place – and decided to check into its story.

Dick Scott in his book In Old Mt Albert and subsequent texts and reports (including the latest Auckland City Council Management Plan for the park, 1992) that slavishly followed his work without checking with primary sources have provided inaccurate information about how the park came to be in Council hands. Scott wrote that the land was swapped between Asylum authorities (as an endowment reserve) and the Mt Albert Borough Council in 1912 for land held by the Council near the Asylum over at Pt Chevalier. All with the assistance of the local MP George Fowlds, who was Minister of Education up until he resigned his portfolios in September 1911.

Not entirely correct, though. The park, Lots 176 and 177 of Section 10 Suburbs of Auckland, tucked in below part of the Western Springs Road ridge, was Asylum endowment reserve until 1892 when there was a land swap between the Asylum authorities, and the School Commissioners who administered education reserves in the Auckland area (Transfer No. 13878, LINZ records). The land granted by transfer to the Asylum lay between the Oakley Creek and Great North Road in Waterview, so was never land owned or controlled by Mt Albert’s territorial authorities (actually, it came within the boundaries of the Avondale Road Board). The land at Morningside is still, for all intents and purposes, Crown land, coming under the Reserves Act 1977 as gazetted in March 1980. (NA 65/189, LINZ records) But Mt Albert Borough, later Mt Albert City, and still later Auckland City Council have maintained and administered the reserve since 1912.

Back in early 1911, the Mt Albert Borough councillors had their eye on the reserve, leased out at the time to a local cattle owner by the name of Edmund George Sandall (Sandall may have been the son of a butcher named R S Sandall who had a long-established business in Auckland from at least the late 1860s). Fowlds, then Minister of Education, interceded with the Lands Commissioner who administered the former education endowment reserves in the district, and there are references in the Borough’s minutes of transfers expected to be completed shortly as at mid 1911. But, Fowlds then split from his party in Parliament, striking out on his own in early 1912. Possibly this was one of the reasons why the i’s were not dotted, nor the t’s completely crossed in terms of the official transaction. Sandall still retained his grazing lease over part of the reserve, at least up until 1926 when he complained that his cattle were escaping due to poorly maintained fencing, and 1927 when there were reports of a “dangerous cow” menacing the public, and his lease was reviewed by the Council.

The reserve was sizeable – 29½ acres – but wasn’t considered in 1892 to be of great value (the land it was swapped for was only 9½ acres, described in the transfer as being of “equal value”). That was probably much the case as far as the Mt Albert council was concerned in the early years, although right from the start, they hoped to turn it into a recreation area, a place to be beautified, perhaps with croquet or bowls in mind. But along with Sandall’s grazing rights on part of the area, the council through its Mt Albert Domain Board also permitted quarrying and metal breaking by the firm J E Martin and Co from 1913, and it seemed to be a good place to use as a rubbish tip from that time on.

Now, this is not an exhaustive history of the park, not by any means, so please excuse me while I skip ahead to the mid 1920s. This is a time after the emergence of the Morningside Residents and Ratepayers group, led by rabble rouser Forbes Eadie, who took on the Council over rats and filth at the tip in 1921, then campaigned afresh to have the tip closed after the 1922 typhoid outbreak. Eadie, who lived on Malvern Road backing onto the reserve, ended up being declared an Honorary Warden of the Morningside Reserve from at least 1929 until 1932. From the time of the rubbish tip protests, the Mt Albert council began to see their Morningside Reserve in a new light, and with great possibilities.

Playing areas and shelter sheds were already in existence by 1926. In 1927, Wilfred Ernest Begbie drew up a plan for the redevelopment of the reserve which, if actually carried out, would have made a stunning feature on the Mt Albert suburban landscape. His plan (MAC 001/540/182, Auckland City Archives), including ferneries and pavilions, terraces for watching sports matches, fields set aside for hockey, football, bowls, croquet and a cycling and athletics track, even an ornamental pond with its own island connected by walkways, would have turned the reserve into a smaller version of the Auckland Domain. Soil and spoil from other quarries in the area were trucked in to fill the reserve from 1926, and rock excavation for the football field was in progress by 1929.

(MAC 029 No. 55  Photograph of opening of commemorative gateway at Fowlds Park by Mayor Raymond Ferner, 
2 March 1935, Auckland City Archives, by kind permission)

Ornamental gates were first planned for the Asquith Avenue entrance, but by the early 1930s, these had shifted to be constructed at the top of Rocky Nook Avenue. George Fowlds, knighted in 1928, died in August 1934 but was aware before his death of the Mt Albert Council’s intention to name the Morningside Reserve Fowlds Park after him, and to construct a special memorial at the gates to the park. Mt Albert Mayor Raymond Ferner opened the gates on 2 March 1935 – and was the one in his speech to start the ball rolling on the misinformation passed down as to the park’s origins.

“It was as a result of Sir George’s foresight while he was Minister of Health that the park area, originally a mental hospital endowment, was secured in exchange for another area.”
(NZ Herald, 4 March 1935)

Ah, well. Such is the way historical misinformation starts to bloom.

Ferner went on:

“The land was originally rough, but successive administrations had laid down tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, croquet lawns, and netball and cricket grounds. Carriageways were now constructed through the park and plantations of trees established. One of Sir George’s last public appearances was made last Arbor Day, when he participated in a ceremony and planted a tree only a few yards from the gateway.”

Could this have been a monument for that last Arbor Day of George Fowlds life? I'd need to try to track that date down, and see if I could find a report (and then perhaps look at the Council minutes), but -- the quote is definitely one that was associated with Arbor Day from the late 19th century, according to Papers Past.

Who does his duty is a question
Too complex to be solved by me,
But he, I venture the suggestion,
Does part of his who plants a tree.
James Russell Lowell

No mention in Ferner's speech, of course, of the quarries, the dangerous cows, the rubbish tip and the rats …

(MAC 001 No. 555 Item 197 Monumental entrance to Fowlds Park, M K Draffin, half elevation, Auckland City Archives, by kind permission)

The gateway was voluntarily designed by noted architect Malcolm Keith Draffin. This from the Who’s Who, 1938 (via this site on the Draffin family):
A.R.I.B.A., F.N.Z.I.A., Architect 810 Sth. British Insurance Building, Shortland St, Auckland. Member Architectual Assoc. London and Town Planning Institute of NZ. Born Auckland 1890. Son of William Henry and Sarah Emma (nee Fox) Draffin, both of Manchester, Eng. Educated in Auckland. Commenced his professional career, articled to John M Walker, Auckland 1906-1910. 1910-1914 with Edward Bartley as Second Draftsman, and later Chief Draftsman. Enlisted 1914 as Sapper with NZ. Enginerrs; saw service in Egypt, Gallipoli and France; decorated with M.C., twice mentioned in despatches and gained Lieutenancy in France. Returned 1919 and resumed profession as partner in the firm of Edward Bartley, Son & Draffin, of which he became the Proprietor. Practised under his own name 1920-1922. Amalgamated with Grierson & Aimer, 1922, and the firm name became Grierson, Aimer & Draffin. In 1932 this firm dissolved partnership and he again practised under his own name. Married: Terepa Pera, only daughter of William Graham Jackson, of Nelson, NZ., 1921. Issue: Two sons. As M.K. Draffin, Architect - general practise; War Memorials, Factories, Warehouses and Residences; as Grierson, Aimer & Draffin - Architects for Auckland War Memorial and Museum, Wellington War Memorial, Theatres, Warehouses, Office Buildings, Factories, Flats, Residences, etc.

The gates, and that tree Fowlds planted (if it still exists) should be considered for the Auckland City Council schedule on the District Plan, along with the Arbor Day plaque (probably beside the tree).

They seem to be missing the MABC shield-shaped plaques on the arches – but the photo from 1935 doesn’t show them in place. Were they ever there, or just simply too expensive in the end?

Today’s Fowld’s Park, somewhat sadly, bears little resemblance to Begbie’s dream from 1927. It is a pretty park, and pleasant to walk through, but the grand ideas of carriageways, winding paths to islands in the middle of ornamental ponds and vast multi-sports grounds seems to have gone the way of most things when things like recessions and Great Depressions come along to derail plans.

Where the clubrooms are at the left was supposed to be Begbie's ornamental pond, with island and walkway bridges.

Here, were to be open terraces, where people could come to watch athletics and cycling at the left.

Perhaps something of Begbie's Pond still lurks, and rises up during wet winters to sit on the surface, amidst the lined-up rocks (perhaps from the quarrying carried out here in the early day? Who knows?)

But -- Fowlds Park is a nice place. Probably not well-known unless you're a neighbour, or one who uses it for sports or walking. Definitely worth more than just one look, both in terms of what is there today, and its fascinating story.

Mt Albert Borough Council minute books, MAC 100 series, Auckland City Archives
Plans and letters from Mt Albert Borough Council Records, Auckland City Archives (who also gave me permission, greatly appreciated, to reproduce the photo and design detail for the gateway here.)
NZ Herald, Auckland Star
My own research on Forbes Eadie
Fowlds Park Management Plan, 1992, Auckland City Council
In Old Mt Albert, Dick Scott (2nd edition)


  1. Old Memories for me too visiting that park. Great blog post very interesting background. There you are digging deep into the story. Loved the photos too. Thanks for doing this. Made me smile a little to think that George Fowlds MHR was there in Maungaturoto to support the protest against the Maungaturoto Hotel Licence..

  2. That guy certainly got around. Cheers, Liz.

  3. Found a solid gold ring circa 1850-1890 in the vicinity of this park.

  4. The playground was opened almost 90 years ago, 26 May 1928. I love that idea that, almost 90 years ago a new playground was worthy of speeches by the mayor and local MP et al., as some think that this is a new-fangled idea.