Historic Hawke’s Bay
Cornwall Park has colourful history
Hastings was not a government-planned town. It was created out of the financial misfortune of Thomas Tanner, who intended his Riverslea Estate, which comprised about half of modern Hastings, to be a sheep station.
Struggling to make his debt repayments to his financiers and ongoing payments to Ma¯ori, he was forced to sell of part of Riverslea in 100-acre (40ha) blocks.
When the railway line was announced to route through Karamu¯ (Hastings) in 1873, one of the 100-acre block owners, Francis Hicks, gave land to the government for free to place a station and goods shed. He then subdivided his land, made a fortune and disappeared to Waikato to farm there.
The other 100-acre block owners, seeing the success of Hicks’ land sales, also broke their land up for sale.
West of the railway line was James Nelson Williams’ Frimley Estate. He too began to subdivide and made provision in 1898 for a 20-acre (8ha) park within his estate by gifting the land to the Hastings Borough Council. The park would be called Cornwall Park.
Though it might be hard to believe today, councils in those days could hardly spare any money to develop parks.
Over time as Hastings began to prosper from its rural neighbours’ wealth, the council put money into Cornwall Park by creating sports grounds, plantings, buildings — and even a zoo with monkeys was added in the 1920s.
A popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s was open air music performed from a bandstand. Cornwall Park received a bandstand in the early 1920s, which consisted of a wooden dais. This was removed in 1927 when artesian wells were dug in that area.
Hastings architect Harold Davies designed a tea kiosk in “modern renaissance style”, and construction began in November 1928. It would feature Hawke’s Bay’s most novel bandstand.
The council decided to set up a subcommittee to set rules for the kiosk’s operation and authorised the purchase of fixtures and fittings by taking £150 (2018: $14,600) from the Municipal Theatre account.
The total cost of the kiosk was around £1225 ($120,000).
Inside, the building contained a women’s restroom and a kitchen complete with gas rings for cooking. A servery opened out on to the seating area under the covered veranda. There were also toilets and a large inside area for functions.
A feature of the building was a band rotunda on the roof that was illuminated by light pillars, which could be covered by a canvas awning in the case of rain. The roof bandstand was accessed through an outside door leading to a staircase.
To raise money for cleaning and maintaining the toilets, a penny-in-the-slot device was to be placed in one of the doors.
In March 1929, the kiosk was ready for use, and a lessee was found — Mrs A Kirby. The council said in April 1929 the kiosk was being successfully run and providing a “most valuable asset to the park”.
Unfortunately, burglars targeted the kiosk with two break-ins occurring by June 1929.
Business at the kiosk must have been satisfactory, as in November 1929 Mrs Kirby applied for a renewal of her lease. She had asked for the rental to be halved over the winter months, but the council refused, threatening to call tenders. Mrs Kirby had submitted another request at the same time — to continue the lease on the same terms as present, which was accepted by the council.
When the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake occurred in February 1931, Mrs Kirby reported that the kiosk was “not even cracked by the quake”.
The tea kiosk was managed in the 1950s by Val Cash for her father, who did all the cooking for the kiosk and other functions offsite, such as dances. He had taken over from George Woolley.
Refreshments offered at the kiosk included icecreams, milk shakes and sweets. The kiosk also supplied cricketers at the nearby ground with afternoon tea at 9 pence (65 cents).
According to Val Cash, a fire closed the tea rooms around 1957.
In 1967, a rough sketch over the original plans suggested alterations to the building, to turn it once again into a tea kiosk or tea meeting room, and a discussion was held with council officers, but the idea got no further. It appeared the two open verandas had been closed in by external walls at that stage.
The Hawke’s Bay Playcentre Association was given tenancy of the building in 1970. They altered it during 1988, and the bandstand area was removed and replaced with a corrugated iron pitched roof. The playcentre also added an adventure playground outside over the years. In 2018 the Cornwall Park Playcentre occupies the old tea kiosk.
I am taking pre-orders for my Historic Hawke’s Bay book due out in late November, which is a collection of my best HB Today articles from 2016-2018, with additional photos and story material. The book has 160 pages with 26 in colour. Cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North or email below for bank details. Includes free delivery in Hawke’s Bay. Please state if you want it signed. It will not be available in bookshops.
The original tea kiosk building in Cornwall Park had a bandstand on the top roof accessed by an outside staircase. It is now used as a playcentre after significant alterations over the years.