When the Recreation Ground was formed it included an area of privately owned land of approximately 1.5 acres: – Maori Reserve No 12, encompassing Palm Lawn and the northern part of Fountain Lake. This package of land was purchased in 1891 from Mr. A. C. Fookes for £125, both opening up the area around the original waterfall and presenting the possibility of creating a second lake.

Little is known about the lake’s construction other than it started early in 1893. During construction in July 1893 the lake filled prematurely when there was a flood in the Recreation ground. The Taranaki Herald of December 4, 1893, reported that work was complete, and the lake had been filled. There is no reference to outside contractors working on the lake leading the writer to believe that it was excavated inhouse by Darby Claffey aided by his donkey and cart.

The kidney shape of the lake was determined by the stream to the west and a footpath already in situ to the east. This footpath which ran from Liardet Street to Cannon Hill was probably the earliest formed in the park and would have been used on the opening day of the Recreation Ground.

In 1933 a decision was made to desilt the lake for the first time since its creation 40 years earlier. The process brought to light some interesting finds and included the problem of disposing of a lot of silt.

Work commenced on April 24 and was completed by mid-July. Approximately 2350 tons of mud and slush was removed, of which, 1100 tons were carted to the Fitzroy golf links and Rugby Park. The public took about 250 tons and approximately 1000 tons were used in the park for such purposes as top-dressing flower beds and filling a depression at the top end of the water lily pond.

Work was scarce at the time because the country was in the middle of a depression. Fourteen men from all walks of life were employed. Eleven of whom worked two days per week and three worked three days per week over a period of 50 working days. Some returned soldiers and permanent staff had also helped.

The work was dirty and difficult involving the shovelling of the silt into wheelbarrows then pushing the barrows over greasy planks laid on the lakebed. According to Thomas Horton who was curator at the time none of the men complained.


Fountain Lake circa 1897 (Puke Ariki PHO2020-0014-008)

The ascending path at the left of the picture is probably the path taken to go up Cannon Hill on the opening day of the Recreation Ground in 1876.

In a 1951 report Don Saxton (Pukekura Park committee chairman) and Jack Goodwin (Park curator), identified a number of projects aimed at attracting more people to the Park. One of these was the building of a fountain. The projects were possible because a sum of approximately £21,500 was realised from the estate of Walter and Leah Graham former licensees of the Criterion Hotel.

During the Park’s committee meeting of June 1954, it was suggested by Stanley Anchor that the fountain could be a memorial to returned soldiers and the lake be called memorial Lake. The following month the idea of having it as a memorial for the Queen’s visit was suggested. The Council had a plan to plant trees along Coronation Avenue as a memorial for the visit, but that was abandoned. Commemorating the Queen’s visit was thought to be the best way to get the public behind the proposed fountain. The plan met with a lot of public opposition and the local newspapers received many letters expressing disapproval. However, once the fountain was completed, opposition disappeared, drawing large crowds to see it play and with everyone thinking it was fantastic. At the time it was built it was considered to be state of the art.

Taranaki Daily News, April 4, 1955
Artists Impression of fountain. Puke Ariki ARC2003-1233 B2-07

The location chosen for the fountain was where an island stood in the middle of the lake which was removed. In anticipation of large crowds gathering to see the display a decision was made to fill the lily pond and create the Hatchery Lawn. Some of the fill came from the island.

Truck delivering fill to Lily Pond, January 27, 1955 (TH)

The fountain was designed by the electrical engineering firm of Turnbull & Jones Ltd, Wellington, who had a lot of experience in this field. They also supplied the technical equipment including controls panels, spray jets, underwater lights etc. To keep the cost down local tradesmen volunteered to do much of the construction work free of charge. Plumber, Stanley Anchor organised a group of fellow plumbers to install the pipework and local builders arranged the construction of the fountain bowl and pump-house. Mr G. T. Payne supplied the labour, but the cost was borne by New Plymouth builders jointly. Local consulting civil engineer Alex Brodie acted as supervisor, also not charging for his time. The concrete basin sits on three wooden piles which were driven in by Roebuck Construction Company.

Plumbing the Fountain, March 28, 1955 (TDN)

Pipes feeding the Fountain from the Pumphouse

Puke Ariki ARC2003-859-3

Funding for the project came from the Graham Bequest and public donations.

Construction began the first week in February 1955 with the building of the pump-house and fountain complete and ready for its official opening on April 9, 1955. The honour of starting the fountain display was given to Miss Judith Saxton, the Park Committee Chairman’s daughter, with a crowd of 6 – 8000 people in attendance.

Following the opening the fountain played daily from 2.30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. Times varied depending on the time of year and later in 1955 were reduced to playing only three evening a week due to power shortages.

During construction there were a few mishaps, with vehicles getting stuck in the mud on a couple of occasions, and the Rhind wrought iron gates at the lower Victoria Road entrance being badly damaged when they were hit by a truck.

Volunteers working on the Fountain installation

Puke Ariki ARC2003-859-3

Some interesting details about the fountain

Total water pumped                                           366 gallons/ minute

Total number of Jets                                           228

Main Jet operating at 30 feet                              21        G. P. M.

Inner Ring – 23 Jets operating at 25 feet.            125      G. P. M.

Sprays 4 Jets                                                       25        G. P. M.

Outer Ring – 132 Jets operating at 10 feet            130      G. P. M.

Edge Ring – 66 Jets operating at 6 feet               65        G. P. M.

Pump – 3 inch single stage                                 1440    R. P. M.

Pump Motor – 15 H. P.                                         1440    R. P. M.

15 Under water lights each 1,000 watts –

3 each Red, Amber, Green, Blue and White.

Number of light changes.                                    22

Time for full sequence of light changes.              6.6 minutes.

Number of water changes.                                  14

Time for full sequence of water changes.            5.2 minutes

Combined sequence – Time including

each effect and each colour.                               45 minutes