Haven Road and Fountain Place


For many decades Haven Road had a distinct estuary character. At low tide the mudflats and changing channels of the Maitai River were exposed, while full tide inspired picture-postcard views.

A horse drawn carriage, known as the Dun Mountain Railway Omnibus and later the City Bus, utilised the Dun Mountain line between the city and the port. The bus service was available from 1862 until 1901 and was especially enjoyed by those who liked to ride the knifeboard seat on the roof.

A wooden seawall was replaced by a stone seawall when the Nelson Railway line was extended to the port in 1880. This left the Dun Mountain Line in its original position, now inland from the wall.

Houses and businesses pressed against the pavement on the opposite side of Haven Road alongside one of Nelson's waterfront landmarks, the gas works. Over the years more and more land was reclaimed for port-related industry and Haven Road took on its current landlocked style.

Fountain Place
16 Fountain PlaceAtkinson House [16 Fountain Place]. Tyree Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum. Click image to enlarge

Number 16 (left) still stands today. The Tyree Studio has it labelled ‘Atkinson House'. The shingled roof of neighbouring no.14 is just visible amongst the trees. 

Whether or not the children in the photograph of no.16 are Atkinson's is debatable, as are the old stories about which gang was supreme; Beachville youngsters teamed up with Russell Street as ‘the Port rats' and fought fierce battles with ‘the Wood' gang. Sometimes these battles were fought from dinghies launched, depending upon the tide, off the seawall at the bottom of the streets. 

McLauchlan House [21 Fountain Place] Tyree Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum. Click image to enlarge

It is unknown how many temporary dwellings were erected in Fountain Place but the oldest building today is the central part of no.21 (left) built in 1862. Here it is about 1886, ‘McLauchlan House', photographed by the Tyree Studio. The McLauchlan family added to the house over the next 100 years. The last remaining family member died, aged well over 90 years, in 1983; it is possible the small girl in the photograph is her.

The house behind, no. 23, is known today as ‘The Pilot's Cottage', possibly referring to Master Mariner F. Hill who is thought to have built it in 1869. A marine pilot, Captain Crapper, lived here from 1927 - 1937. The house has a Historic Places Trust ‘C' rating.

Within the changing character of the Haven Road locality, Fountain Place has retained an historic atmosphere through the preservation of its architecture and an expression of the local vernacular in its modern dwellings. The street was awarded Residential Heritage Precinct status by the Nelson City Council in 1996. Design guidelines have been created to help conserve this very special place.

For many years Fountain Place was named Beachville Avenue and confused with encircling Beachville Crescent.

Local residents looked back to history for a 1986 street renaming. Fountain Place refers to Fountain Square, the area of land within the locality known as Beachville where a fresh water spring was located at the top of the street. The water was favoured for many years by early seamen to stock their supplies before setting out from the wharf; it was said to be a very fine flavour. No doubt this water was appreciated by even earlier inhabitants: the Māori, who settled around Powhai (the land facing the Haven between Matangi Awhio and Russell Street).

There were six recorded pathways from Fountain Place on early plans, their use dependent upon whether one needed to get on foot to the port, Trafalgar Street or Nelson south via Washington Valley.

Beachville Estate

Fountain Place was originally part of a 21 acre block sold to George William Schroder in 1851 granted by the New Zealand Company. Default on his mortgage resulted in a resale; 12 acres was sold around 1861 to John Lewthwaite who created a residential subdivision called ‘Beachville Estate'. On the various land titles, rights of way were granted over the roads and six footpaths intersecting the estate, as were rights to draw water from the well.

Nelson's Gas Works

For just over a century one of Haven Road’s landmarks was sited near the base of Fountain Place - the Nelson City Gas Works. Over the years three gasholders were built on the site. The third and largest gasholder was constructed around 1920 with a 60,000 cubic feet holding capacity.

Nelson gas works

Nelson Gas Works. Plan drawn in 1930 when plant was renewed. Nelson City Council

Some residents today credit industrial development with the preservation of their historic Fountain Place houses, arguing that if it wasn’t for the smelly gas works and port expansion, prime real estate Beachville would have been redeveloped many times over.

The rise and fall of the Nelson gasometer

  • 1792 Scottish engineer, William Murdock pioneered the commercial practice of deriving gas from coal.
  • 1850s Most American and European cities had gas reticulation.
  • 1860s Some Nelson residents pressured the Provincial Government to provide a gas service.
  • Late 1860s 1.25 acres of private land on Haven Road was purchased for use as gas works site.
  • 1870 Surveyor-engineer Arthur Dudley Dobson designed a gas works for Nelson capable of producing 30 million cubic feet of gas per year.
  • 1871 The Board of Works raised a loan of £30,000 for gas and water works development.
  • 1872 Nelson Gas Works in production; using coal from the West Coast and Golden Bay.
  • 1870s Gas used for street lighting; early customers included the Police Station and Baptist Church. Later, gas was also used for cooking and heating.
  • 1874 Nelson City’s Provincial Government responsibilities, previously undertaken by the Board of Works, were taken over by the newly formed Nelson City Council (included gas works and water supply works).
  • 1892 Nelson celebrated being 50 years old. It had a population of around 6700 and 1362 dwellings.
  • 1890s The gas works were a financial success and provided a source of municipal funds. One Councillor described it as a municipal milch cow.
  • By 1898 £5,622 had been spent on improving the gas works to increase production.
  • 1906 While workmen were searching for a gas leak in the Symons memorial lamp (replica now sited in Trafalgar Street), a match was struck, causing an explosion that destroyed the lamp and killed a council employee nearby.
  • 1922 Nelson City Council built a steam powered electricity generating plant at Wakefield Quay at a cost of £70,000.
  • Power was available to central city 1923. 1928 There were now 2186 consumers subscribing to electric power. Gas demand was decreasing as more households embraced electricity.
  • 1930 The gas works was remodelled to more efficiently utilise local coal. The government restricted the use of imported coal (from New South Wales) to encourage local industry. The local coal produced gas of an inferior quality and the gas service deteriorated, along with the reticulation pipes.
  • 1950s Demand decreased. The Government Price Tribunal refused to allow price increases and profitability slumped.
  • 1966 The gasholder was repaired at a cost of £18,000. Gas promotions were carried out to boost sales.
  • 1971 Gas works had annual net loss of about $18,000. The energy crisis hit the gas industry hard.
  • 1972 A naphtha plant was installed to increase production efficiency.
  • 1973 A second naphtha plant was installed and a gas appliance showroom set up in the old gas works manager’s house on site at Haven Road.
  • 1983 The gas works shut down on October 31 and the gasholders were dismantled.
  • 1980s The framework of the largest gasholder was erected at Founders Historic Park to house industrial heritage displays including the 40 H. P. gas engine that was used to generate D.C. electricity for the operation of the old works.
  • 1990s The site is now used for bulk storage facilities for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) which has filled the demand for gas on the demise of the reticulated system. The old showrooms were dismantled to make way for a new showroom for LPG appliances. Much of the site has been cleaned up, sealed and sold off for other commercial activity.
  • 2003 The remaining site here in Fountain Place was cleaned up, capped and restored to a neighbourhood park.

This text was written for a Nelson Heritage Trust panel situated in Fountain Place in 2004. Updated Jan 2021

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