For many years the Sportsground was the centre of outdoor entertainment in New Plymouth, hosting cricket, rugby, soccer, Floral fetes, athletics events, Brass Band competitions, Anzac Day parades and several receptions for Royal visitors and other dignitaries.

From its beginnings as a swampy area to becoming the famous sporting venue it is today the Sportsground is probably the most interesting development in the park’s history. Looking closely at the Fred Carrington contour map, a ridge can be seen behind the present eastern terrace extending northward across Fillis Street. The ridge extends westward on the north side of Fillis Street, across Liardet Street, then southward across Fillis Street back into the Park. Combined with the hill of the southern terrace the contours formed a huge almost complete basin that contained a swamp that would have drained westward into the stream running through the Park. At the southeastern corner of the Sportsground is King Fern Gully which in 1875 was part of the same swamp. The current level of the playing field is probably two or three metres higher than it was then.

Section of Carrington's 1842 map of New Plymouth.

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In mid-1881 it was decided to try and reclaim part of the swamp to form a croquet lawn. This meant there was a need for carting a lot of fill from somewhere; where better than the ridge outside the Liardet Street entrance? The Board applied to the council to take the fill from the ridge running across Liardet Street, and were given permission to remove two thousand cubic yards provided it was taken off the brow of the hill and for the full width of the street. Alfred Wells won the contract to excavate the fill by which time the plan was to use the ground as a cricket pitch.

In February 1882, the Board were told not to remove any more earth because Liardet Street had been left in a dangerous condition. It appears that at this time the Board had run out of money and the contractor had stopped work.

In November 1882 work restarted on filling the swamp using a new contractor, Mr. G. Thompson. Then in early 1883 the Board called for tenders to expand the lawn. The Board’s accounts show that they purchased grass seed in July of that year. By September 1884 the swamp had been filled and turfed to the extent that consideration was given to its use for cricket; however, the cricket community deemed it unsuitable and looked elsewhere.

In 1885 the Board granted the local rugby team use of the ground but there are no records of any matches being played there. Although the ground had been reclaimed and grassed it would have been very soft when wet and not suitable to play any sport.

Because of its proximity to town and the protection from the southerly wind the Recreation Ground was seen as an ideal location for sport; however, the Board did not have the funds or desire to develop the area. In 1889 a group of local sports administrators approached the Board with a plan to set up a Sports Committee, independent of the Board, and develop the area into a Sports Ground. This was agreed to, and a Sports Committee was set up in October 1889 consisting of Messrs. W. H. Skinner, H. Dempsey, R. B. Roy, W. Bennett, A. Goldwater, F. Watson, J. M. Lightfoot, W. Parker and E. Humphries.

The area was given over to the Sports Ground Committee for a seven-year term at a rent of 1s per year. They were allowed to charge for games or fetes on twelve occasions each year provided the whole of the takings were spent on improving the grounds.

A plan for the development of the Sports ground was drawn up by T. K. Skinner, which the Sports Ground Committee felt was effective and got behind it whole heartedly. Skinner also agreed to supervise the work. Fundraising and the clearing of trees and shrubs started immediately. Messrs. George Bros., of Omata were selected to form the athletics track, and working bees were organised to clear the surrounding hills of ferns.

The first athletics meet was on Easter Monday, April 7, 1890, in front of a crowd of two thousand people, and went off without a hitch.

Further improvements were carried out and by the time a sports meeting was held at Easter 1891 some seated terracing had been formed.

Sports Meeting. circa 1893 (Puke Ariki ARC2003-859)

The hurdles are set up diagonally across the Sports Ground due to space restrictions. The hurdle race was 120 yards with ten hurdles 3ft 6 inches high.

In June 1892 the committee met with local cricket and rugby club representatives, it was agreed to allow the New Plymouth Cricket Club to play all matches and practice on the ground; rugby was restricted to interprovincial, inter-club and cup matches, but no practices. New Plymouth Cricket Club had laid down a pitch by September of that year and the first match between teams from the East and West ends of New Plymouth was played on December 15.

At the end of its seven-year tenure in February 1897 the Sports Ground Committee was dissolved. It was decided any remaining funds would go towards making a drinking water fountain in the Recreation Grounds.  The money was used for the Queen Victoria Jubilee Fountain.

In 1900 there was a further desire to improve the Sports ground and T. K. Skinner was asked to produce a plan. He produced a very ambitious plan that would have removed what is presently the western terrace and also reclaim part of the lower lake at a cost £2000. This plan met with some resistance and never got off the ground.

Over the years there have been many interesting sporting events, one of the most memorable being a 1903 cricket game between a Taranaki team and a touring English eleven that was organised by Lord Hawke. The English team comprised mainly of county players and was touring New Zealand to promote the game. Knowing that the local team would be no match for the visitors the Taranaki side were allowed to play more than 11 players. They in fact fielded 18, all of whom batted and fielded. Lord Hawke’s team won by an innings and 103 runs.

1903 the Board asked Percy Smith and Lance Sladden to prepare a scheme to solve the problem of the ground’s poor drainage. The plan was completed but not acted upon. In 1904 more schemes were put forward including one from the photographer W. A. Collis.

In September 1904 the first provincial soccer game in Taranaki was played in the Recreation grounds. A combined team from New Plymouth and Omata took on a gun team from Auckland. The Auckland side came down to show the fledgling Taranaki side how to play the game scientifically. The Recreation Ground was described as wretched and unfit for play, this played into the hands of the locals who were victorious 3 to 1. The Auckland lads probably felt like the French at Agincourt. They agreed to a return match a few days later but not at the Recreation Grounds.


Following five years of procrastination the Board was approached by the United Sports Committee who proposed to take control of and develop the Sports Ground over a seven-year period estimating to spend up to £1,300 in the process. This was a similar arrangement to that of 1889. After some negotiating the committee was given the go-ahead. The new Sports Ground Committee had its first meeting in November 1905, headed by Arthur Larwill Humphries (Skinny Humphries) an accountant and ex New Zealand halfback who had represented his country on 15 occasions.

The plan was to make the playing area larger by moving the southern terraces back 16½ yards, moving the eastern terraces back 11 yards and cutting into the hill on the western side of the main gates 16½ yards, laying new drains and raising the playing surface 4ft. The scheme was basically the same as one proposed by Collis the previous year.  A lot of the fill to raise the pitch would come from cutting back the terraces. The ground was handed over to the Sports Ground Committee on, August 1, 1906.

One of the first actions of the new committee was to secure 1300 yards of fill from the railway deviation being worked on in Molesworth Street. Until then the railway had run parallel to Vivian Street, then across Devon Street on the west side of the Huatoki River. C. Kyngdon secured the contract to transport the material by horse and dray at 1s /yard. During the process he had several mishaps.

The work of reforming the terraces moved rapidly taking the number of terraces from six to twenty-two. The seating capacity was increased from five hundred to two thousand with an estimated overall capacity of up to ten thousand. Four thousand drainpipes were laid, fourteen tons of special soil for the cricket pitch was transported from Longburn, near Palmerston North and the grass seed was provided by Messrs. Tothill & Co., of Invercargill. The first cricket game on the new pitch was Taranaki v Wanganui on December 26, a few days before the Sports Ground’s grand opening on January 1, 1908.

During the period of construction, the Liardet Street entrance was closed for safety reasons, this led to the formation of the Gilbert Street entrance.

Further major upgrades of the terraces were made in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s and are still going on today.

Newton King's Car with the original pavilion behind

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The original pavilion with the 1956 extension

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Dressing Rooms

Until 1924 dressing rooms took the form of basic wooden sheds. The first being built in 1891, a second was built in 1897 by H. Roberts, and another one 18ft x 18ft, located in the vicinity of the present Bellringer Pavilion built in 1909.

The first substantial building was erected in 1924. It was a single storey concrete structure designed by Thomas Bates a well-known architect.  The walls of this building still exist today as the ground floor of the Bellringer Pavilion. The original building remained unaltered until 1956 at which time a second storey was added. The building was extended again in 1988 and this is what can be seen today. At this time the building was dedicated to Brian Bellringer, in recognition of his services to the community and to Taranaki Cricket. The original stucco building can be seen when entering the changing rooms on the ground floor.

Fordson Tractor purchased in 1925 - Retired in the 1970s.

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