Community Contributed

Foxton 1888-1988 - Recreation and Entertainment

Kete Horowhenua2020-03-23T16:57:19+00:00
No matter what the pressure for survival and the commitments on their time, humans always seem to find time for activities that give them enjoyment and relaxation. Many of these are merely extensions of workday tasks (e.g. the farmer in the garden, the housewife knitting), others are solitary (e.g. reading), some are gregarious (e.g. cricket and rugby), while others may be regarded as therapy (e.g. theatre), or even escapism (e.g. the pub). All these, and many more, have their place in the history of Foxton as with other New Zealand towns of the same size.

So what makes recording those of Foxton a worthwhile venture? Perhaps it is merely to see how things have changed as regards both activities and venues or to discover what activities have been and gone. Whatever the reason the many and various activities that can be classi­fifed as recreation provide an interesting insight into our community. Many have been transitory, arriving and departing with their promo­ters, while others have been with us from the founding of the settle­ment and certainly seem set to remain for many decades into the future. Some were organised and some were spontaneous. Activities such as shooting were part of survival but became recreational activi­ties when life became more settled. Card playing, which helped while away the time, grew into a family entertainment and then into the card evenings of this century. Games of euchre, five hundred and cribbage have entertained many as well as raising funds for good causes over the decades.

Some records are available on the activities that were organised but the informal and personal forms of entertainment can only be a matter of conjecture. The early files of the Manawatu Herald (1878-81) record several recreational activities being organised to occupy the "spare" time of the community. These included a Foxton Mutual Improvement Society, an agricultural association, the Choral Society, Annual Sports Committee, Public Hall Committee, Acclimatisation Society, Dramatic Club, dancing classes, Odd Fellows Lodge and Brass Band. As well as the locals entertaining themselves visiting groups such as the Hart Theatrical Group, E.K.B. Minstrels, Hayes and Boxham Circus, Panor­ama of the Arctic Regions, a lecture by Sir William Fox, Georgia Min­strels, Christy's Company, Carandi Opera Co., Variety Co., Fun and Frolic Troupe, Hudson Surprise Co., Lynch Family Bellringers, The Patchwork Co., readings by a teacher from Wellington, Prof. Weston conjuror, Pompadeur Minstrels, Limelight Views, Herr Bandmann pre­senting Shakespeare, a lecture by Madame Lotti Wilmott and the Lydia Howard Troupe, paid visits.

While these writings are principally directed to the activities of locals some mention must be made of the part outsiders have played in the entertainment of Foxtonians. The list above contains only a small num­ber of such visitors but it does show that even from the early days the Borough's citizens had the opportunity to go out for a night's entertain­ment. Indeed Foxton was part of a circuit that many entertainers fol­lowed around the country. No doubt the quality of the performances varied as much as the variety of the acts. A venue had to be found for these and local entertainers and there have been a surprisingly large number utilised over the century. Before the establishment of Foxton Andrew Jonson had built a store on the northern edge of the present Post Office site. This store later served the town as a meeting place and was named The Athenaeum. It was not only used by entertainers but was also used by the Town Board for meetings in the 1880's. During the 1870's a public hall was built in Loudon Street, now Hall Street. This was a first, a publicly owned building with Messrs Thynne, Young, Whyte and Gray as trustees. After a rather fluctuating life it was destroyed by fire in 1910 by when it was owned by C.H. Symons.

Several of the churches and lodges had halls that were made available as venues for entertainment and probably the best known of these is the Masonic Hall which was available for use from as early as 1894, although then it was a different structure to the present hall. The original hall was replaced in 1905-6 by a larger two storeyed building with the Lodge temple on the second floor. The Temperance movement had a hall built last century, probably originally sited in Avenue Road. This was shifted from the original site to a section next to the Presbyte­rian Church in 1897. Another hall was located in Park Street opposite the school. It was known as the Triad Hall and was probably on the same site as the Lions Hall. The Borough constructed its first hall, the Coronation, in 1911 on the site now occupied by the Town Hall today. The Hall was used for movie projection as well as for social and official functions. The Coronation was burnt down in 1926 and the present Town Hall replaced it. Another major venue was the Royal Theatre. This began life as the Victoria and stood in Clyde Street where the Memorial Hall now is. In 1900 Mr H. Homer purchased the Victoria and renamed it the Royal. Mr Homer already owned the shops on the Clyde-Main Street corner so the purchase gave him a large section of the town's commercial section. Mr Homer later used the Royal as a movie theatre in opposition to the Borough's theatre a situation that led to a lengthy court case when the Hamers challenged the Borough's right to carry out such activities. In 1929 the Royal was burnt out but was refurnished and used as an entertainment centre. For a brief period in 1942 it was used as the Post Office while the Post Office had earthquake damage repaired. After being used for storage the Royal site was selected for the Memorial Hall but some of the original structure was included in the new building. The Memorial has now become the main hall in the community and is used for many forms of entertainment, public meet­ings, sports activities and also houses the Borough Library.

From the start of the settlement people entertained each other espe­cially with music. Both musical and dramatic entertainment was orga­nised by the 1880's. In 1880 a reorganised Amateur Dramatic Society had "Putting It On" in rehearsal and scarcely a year passed when some group did not organise similar entertainment. Minstrel groups were a common form of organisation and enabled local music talent to have an outlet. Formal drama groups were reformed in 1898 and 1909, the latter instance being as part of the Athletic Club. The unbroken line-of drama­tic organisation, which reaches up to the present, began when in 1932 the C.W.I. set up a Drama Circle with Marjorie Barron as its driving force. This group continued for many years producing plays for both their own organisation's competition and those of the British Drama League. Producing for the Drama Circle and later the Little Theatre, Mrs Barron had 14 successes in such competitions. A Repertory Society was established in 1936 with Mr Wm. Thomas as chairman but it did not survive long and it was not until the founding of the Foxton Little Theatre in 1944 that live theatre gained a permanent (it is hoped) place in the town's organisations. Although the prime aim of the new society was the production of plays efforts in that direction were frustrated until 1948 when three one act plays were presented in the Town Hall to be followed later in the year by the three act "Ladies in Retirement" produced by Malcolm Wheeler. Although the Town Hall presented many problems for the staging of plays the society had little choice but to use it as it was the best of what was available as a venue. Smaller halls were used for play readings (e.g. Anglican and Presbyterian Halls, Band Hall) and even private homes. In 1963 the Little Theatre took over the lease of the old Foxton Library next to the Council Chambers as its first "home". However, the Borough found it necessary to demolish the sub-standard building so in 1971 the Little Theatre decided to purchase St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Funds were raised by the usual Queen Carnival and the society made the purchase. After conversion work the society presented three one act plays in 1973 and the next year the three act "Halfway Up A Tree" produced by Daphne Hunt.

Above: The cast and set of the Little Theatre's production of "Wasn't It Odd" on stage in the Town Hall. The gross takings of E92 was a record for a show put on by the Little Theatre up to then. From left to right the cast is - Ngaire Ross, Keith Smith, Jaynie O'Brien, Joy Summers (now highly successful writer Joy Cowley), Daphne Hunt, Howard Rough, Mar­jorie Barron, John Rough (who was also the producer), and Joan Hannay.

Since then the Society has been able to extend their activities with the inclusion of Music Halls and Revues. The Little Theatre has established a reputation for the high standard of production by Daphne Hunt and excellent cuisine of Gordon and Elsie Trotman.

Although in recent years it has been mainly Little Theatre activities that have enabled musical talent to be displayed, organised choral sing­ing was present in the town in the late 1870's. J.R. Russell was conduc­tor and J.N. Flower secretary of a Choral Society at that time. Most of the time however, musical occasions have sprung from informal group­ings or else been organised when needed, for fund raising for example, but there has always been someone at hand to provide music, especially for dancing. Some of these enthusiasts have been Bill Neville, Bob Small, Les Mattar, Ian McLaughlan, Gordon Burr and Neil Ellwood. The history of organised band music in Foxton is worthy of its own publication for within its list of trials and tribulations are found all the foibles of human talent and disarray.

There are records of a brass band performing in Foxton in 1881 and its fluctuating history was to set the pattern for band music for the next Century. In 1896 R.T. Betty was chairman of a reformed band which was basically a private one as each member had to find their own instrument. Another resuscitation came in 1904 and for the next few years the harmony in the music was equalled by the disharmony in band affairs. In 1906 the public were questioning as to whether they were getting value for the money they were providing. In 1907 the Borough Council took the Band under its care but this did not seem to have improved its stature too much for after the opening of the Corona­tion Hall in 1911 J. Golder expressed his disgust at the fact the Council had used entertainment from outside the town at the opening celebrations. The Band was also having difficulty getting a satisfactory practice room from the Council for to get gas connected to their room in the Council Chambers they had to agree to play outside the Hall for twelve consecutive Saturdays. The Band only just survived the war years and in 1920 the Borough Council decided not to pay them the promised subsidy. Dean Goffin of the Salvation Army was also trying to get a band going at the time. The Council decided to let the band find its own solution to the problem but this resulted in two bands existing in 1922 - Silver and Citizens The Silver Band was the survivor and after buying some of their own instruments were lent those surviving from the old Brass Band. A Queen Carnival in 1924 won by Madge Kirkland (now Rough) saw the Band outfitted and ready to go. But once again disharmony. A meeting was held to castigate those who were not com­ing to practice but the accusations were not too well founded as the rolls had not been well kept. Eventually the two sides, represented by

Above: Foxton Silver Band parades in the streets of Invercargill in 1956. With Bill Wilkinson as conductor they won the D Grade march and were second in the Hymn section.

D. Brooks and J. Aitchison, met under the chairmanship of D.W. Robert­son and a new committee was established with J. Newth chairman and H. Osborne bandmaster. But the dust had not settled as J. Golder sued D. Brooks for slanderous comments during the dispute, won his case and was awarded 25 pounds damages. The Band continued to entertain except at the 1927 January races which they boycotted because the Racing Club would not give tickets for their wives. Survival over the next decade was a shaky affair and only a brief revival in 1933 under the leadership of Mr Thomas from Palmerston North stands out.

But gradually interest died away again and in 1939 the band went into recess and thoughts were entertained of selling the instruments. Before that could happen the Air Force asked for a loan of the instruments for their newly formed band. This was done and the uniforms were donated for conversion into clothes for refugees. After the war the instruments were returned and the old Red Gym/Scout Hall in Watson Street was donated to the Band by Woolpacks and Textiles. The section on which the gasworks had been in Cook Street was donated by the Council and the hall moved there and renovated. Enthusiasm was again at a high level with W. Wilkinson as conductor and a Junior Band at practice. Another Queen Carnival raised funds and a lot of time was spent discus­sing the best location for a rotunda purchased from Ashhurst. After considering the space in front of the Court House, the Memorial Hall site, Ihakara Gardens, Seaview Gardens and beside the War Memorial, it was found the rotunda was too decayed to be shifted. But enthusiasm continued and in 1956 the Silver Band won the D Grade Hymn Test at the New Zealand Championship. By then, however, relations between the Band committee and those running the Junior Band had deterio­rated and the juniors were registered as the Citizen's Band. Both bands continued functioning and in 1959 were joined by the Foxton and Dis­trict Pipe Band. The Silver Band went into recess in 1960 but the town was still being entertained by the Citizens, Pipe, and Salvation Army Bands. It was not until 1969 when I. McLaughlan and I.Thomson re­vived the Silver Band which also took over the assets of the no longer active Citizens Band. But the revival was not lasting and in 1979 the Band was officially dissolved. The instruments were donated to Manawatu College but the Hall defied Council attempts to dispose of it. The town had raised a lot of money over the years to keep the band going; and some feel that the bandsmen had had their lot.

The introduction of movies to Foxton was a gradual one. In the early days of the century travelling shows came to town and set up in one of the halls. For example in 1906 showing of a film of the 1905 All Black tour was an attraction. When the Coronation Town Hall was built in 1911 it joined the Royal Theatre as a venue for regular showings. Mark Griffin recalls

"Because silent pictures were a visual and not an aural experience the making of noise was not necessarily a distraction and it was not uncommon for the hero to be cheered on or the villain to be soundly hooted. However when such demonstrations became too boisterous the show would stop, the lights come up and Mr Hamer would walk down to the front of the theatre and threaten to close down. Bill Powell when he was manager of the Town Hall did the same and in both places the return to quietness was instantaneous."

Right from the start the inevitable sweet shop was attached to the theatre business and customers had the service of a boy carrying a tray of goodies around the theatre so they did not have to leave their seats to make purchases. When the talkies arrived the Council debated whether they could afford to install the machinery. Shannon had already done so and in the end it was civic pride rather than economics that swayed the vote and the new plant was installed in 1929. The Royal ceased to be a film theatre at about the same time and the Borough Council became the sole provider of the new phenomena in the entertainment world. Today plant is still in place in the Town Hall but is seldom used due to the competition of television and videos. During its time as a movie theatre the Town Hall has been host to many and varied forms of entertainment with well­ known names such as Howard Morrison and quizmasters Lyall Boyes (an ex-Foxtonian), Selwyn Togood and Jack Maybury featuring there.

Gardeners like to display the products to others and in 1908 the Foxton Horticultural Society held its first show. They very soon found there were several rules they had not thought of. For example Chung Wah was allowed to enter the vegetable section and the "professional" carried off most of the prizes. In addition it was found necessary to erect wire netting barriers in front of the exhibits to prevent the swap­ping of the judges cards. The judges themselves had a hard time as they went about their job. These problems were, however, soon over­come and the Society carried on successfully for over half a century organising two shows a year. Many schoolchildren were introduced to flower arranging through the Society's sand saucer competitions. Although the Horticultural Society is no longer in existence some of the flower enthusiasts of the town meet at the Garden Circle meetings. The group which was founded in 1960 was promoted by Valerie Bowes who became the first president. The group has limited membership so that they can comfortably meet in members' homes. Many trees were planted around the town by the Circle as part of Arbor Day celebra­tions: The gap left by the cessation of the Horticultural Show was filled in part when the Garden Circle held their first show in the Anglican Hall. As part of their 25th birthday celebrations the Garden Circle revived the idea of a Best Garden competition which was won by Ngaire and Ivan George. Most, if not all, of the Circle's members would have had their gardens brightened by spring bulbs purchased from the Cull family. Their stock not only won prizes in local shows but also in national competition. During the early 1970's a very strong Chrysanthe­mum Club flourished and enthusiasts such as Alf Cox produced blooms capable of gaining national honours.

In 1920 Mr M. Perreau and Mrs F. Robinson were the prime movers in getting a Beautifying Society organised. The Society had as its aims the planting of the uncultivated and preservation of the scenic. They organised a Queen Carnival to raise money to develop Ihakara Gardens principally by rebuilding and shaping the sand dune that was there. They then turned their attention to the recently donated Easton Park. Their approach to its development tempered the desires of the sports clubs which wished to take over control of the amenity. When the Society moved toward the building of a pavilion at the park it was pointed out that they were not acting within their aims. Although its life was brief Ihakara Garden's hill remains as a reminder of the Society's efforts. No doubt some of their other plantings have survived and are enjoyed by locals and visitors as shelter from the sun on occasions such as picnics. The picnic day was in earlier times, an integral part of life. Groups travelled up river piaka (using the flax punts as transport)' for the day, or even to Kapiti (on one of the coasters), where there was the added attraction of good fishing. Often these parties went down' on one coaster and were picked up by another.

Above: The "contestants" in the Queen Carnival organised by the Beatifying Society in 1920 to raise funds for the development of Ihakara Gardens. They are from left to right - Bella McGregor, Therza Healey (Robinson), Grace Robinson (Davis), Thelma Heaseman (Proc­tor), Elsie King (Edwards), Eileen Bowe (Lynch).

For many people keeping pets provides them with their recreation. Clearly there had been a desire for some organisation of the districts' felines for when Mr and Mrs L. Carian founded the Foxton Cat Club in 1961 its membership of 157 made it the biggest in New Zealand! The club survived for seventeen years and the success of its organisation is shown by the fact that it had $4000 to distribute to local organisations. Our canine pets have not been as well organised but in 1982 obedience training classes were organised in the town. Barry Vertongen's Ali proved he was a quick learner for 15 months later he was judged top beginner at the National Dog Show. Since then Ali has progressed through to A Grade and has only once not been in the top four of his class at a National Show. In this time he became only the seventh dog to become a double champion with successes in both obedience and work­ing trials. Budgies, canaries, goldfish, rabbits, opossums and magpies have also provided companionship for young and old but nobody has organised a local club for their owners.

Many craft activities have provided relaxation and therapy for the citizens of Foxton. In 1968 many of these activities were united in the Manawatu Arts and Craft Club which continues to give an outlet for the creative abilities of many. Similar aims were in mind by those who set up the Arts Cente in 1976. Their range of activities was narrower but activities have expanded into pottery, painting, ceramics, weaving and porcelain painting. Another art form, photography, has been of interest for many years. Foxton's first Camera Club was established in 1913 but its life was rather brief. However, in 1956, with Ivan Oxnam a major figure, a new club was organised. This club has set very high standards of skill and its members have proven equal to the best in the country. The winning of the Bledisloe Cup from all other clubs in New Zealand confirmed the high standards. In 1968 Marjorie Hale was elected presi­dent of the Photographic Society of New Zealand and ten years later she and her husband Bill were made life members of the Society.

Many recreational activities have self improvement as their goal and such clubs as the Mutual Improvement Club of 1901 were specific in this respect. Their aim was to give young people the chance to experi­ence debating, music and new games. More specific was the Dunhaven Club set up in 1945 to help young women employed at Woolpack and Textile factory to cope with the conditions of the employment. This club was mainly social, but did organise a basketball (netball) team. The town supported a vigorous Literary and Debating Society in the early years of the century and not only did they develop and hone their debating skills but produced a magazine and organised a cricket team. Most of the young people would have taken part in the many dances held in the halls around the town. Several series of Quadrille Assemb­lies in most years and later dances, became an integral part of all fund raising efforts. In the 1960's the Scottish Society began holding Ing­leside dances and these were re-established in 1985. New forms of dancing have held attention from time to time and colour was added to the town in the eighties with the appearance of "The Rockets" a group of young bop and break dancers performing in Main Street.

Other groups which have been part of the self development of Foxto­nians have been the C.W.I. Formed in 1930 and still functioning, and a Luncheon Club, a club founded in 1928 to provide its members with opportunities to hear speakers on topics of common interest while they consumed their lunch. In some respects this club was a forerunner of the modern service clubs. News from outside the district could also be gained from the radio. Like many facets of modern life radio came to the town through the efforts of enthusiasts. One such enthusiast was R.L. Heath who featured in local headlines when he listened to London radio in 1927. In 1932 a Radio Listener's league was established and G. Cull led the setting up of a DX Club in 1936. In 1983 Brian Hart organised the CB radio fans into the Foxton Roadrunners, a mobile section of the radio network.