The Poet’s Bridge was originally built in 1884 costing £155 donated by Mr. J. T. Davis one of the Recreation Ground Board members. Davis who was an original Board member spent many hours in the Park and often thought how building a bridge halfway down the lake would prompt people to explore the park more. At that time the lake extended down to what is now Goodwin Dell and the path around the lake was no more than a grass track, probably impassable if wet and certainly not suitable for mothers pushing prams. Few people would have ventured south of the Bathing Shed.

The amount of money to build the bridge was beyond the means of the Board so Davis with Richard Cock decided to pool a sum of £10 and enter a national sweepstakes costing £1 per ticket. They had some success with several small wins but eventually their pot was gone. At that time Richard Cock decided he would drop out of their little syndicate. Davis, however, continued to gamble and only two weeks later won a sweepstakes winning £500, which at that time was a small fortune. (In 1883, £300 would have bought a substantial 7 room house.) The winning horse in the sweepstake was called “The Poet”.

In June 1883, With funds available, an advert was placed asking people to kindly submit designs for a bridge spanning the upper portion of the lake. The design by Henry Vere Barclay was chosen from eight submitted.  Mr. Hooker was selected as the contractor to build the bridge, assisted by Mr. Campbell, carpenter, Mr. Bellringer, painter and Mr. Revell, blacksmith.

The construction of the bridge was supervised by Vere Barclay and was completed by early March 1884. The opening ceremony took place on the evening of March 10 with a lot of fanfare. A flagpole adorned with bunting was erected by the lake opposite the Bathing Shed. The Bathing Shed was illuminated with Chinese lanterns which were also suspended from the bridge.

The Mayoress Mrs. Bayly performed the official honours naming the bridge “The Poet’s Bridge”. (Taranaki Herald, March 11, 1884)

Following the opening the officials went to an area near the Bathing Shed and were entertained by a brass band, a fireworks display, and a group of Volunteers who performed a gun volley.

The Poet's Bridge, February 11, 1885 (Puke Ariki PHO2007-030)

This photo is probably taken on February 11, 1885, during a swimming carnival held on that day. In the write up of the carnival there is a mention of bunting being strung across the lake which can be clearly seen on the photo.


The original bridge survived until 1936 at which time it was deemed unsafe and closed to the public. It was replaced in 1938 with money from the Sanders bequest and still stands today. The current design which is similar to the original bridge was drafted by the borough engineer, Mr. Clarke. The building contractor selected to build the bridge was F. W. Whitaker who unfortunately died of a heart attack on the bridge during its construction.

The committee could not decide what colour to paint the new bridge so asked the public for suggestions. The suggestion adopted came from a gentleman who had recently returned from Japan, he suggested using the same colour that he had seen on the Shinkyo Bridge at Nikko Japan. As far as the author is aware the bridge has remained red since then.

The Poet's Bridge 1884-85 (Puke Ariki PHO2001-396)

Above is an interesting picture. It shows a spit of land with a bridge linking it to the east side of the lake. This was the track that led down the east side of the lake from the Bathing Shed to the southern end of the Recreation Ground. This track would not have been well used. The spit of land was partially removed in the 1890s forming two islands in the process, which remain today.