Settlement in Stoke


Stoke was once a swampy area with numerous small streams. When Māori arrived in this area, it was a wetland with numerous streams draining water from the hills to the sea. Covered with flax and raupo it was a mahinga kai.  It was first known as “Brook Green” but renamed by William Songer, who arrived in Nelson in 1841 as Captain Wakefield’s personal attendant. As Stoke’s first settler, he named the place in memory of his English birthplace.

Stoke walk map

Stoke walk map. Numbers refer to places mentioned in the article

Settlers cleared flax and raupo and fruit growing became the main occupation of settlers in Stoke by the mid 1890s.

Early settlers

Early families settling in Stoke in 1844 were mostly small-time farmers, who would have had a house cow, a couple of pigs and transport would have been a horse or horse and cart. They included the Marsdens (Thomas and James), whose stories are told elsewhere on the Prow, Duffey, Walkinshaw, Hammack and Cresswell, as well as these notable names:

William Songers house Stoke

William Songer's house. Image supplied by Havell Stephen-Smith

William Songer was the first settler. When Captain Wakefield was killed at the Wairau, he was given the land, around the area where Strawbridge Square now lies,  by Reverend C. Torlesse, whose son he mentored in New Zealand, and whose daughter was married to Captain Wakefield. Both the Torlesse family and Songer came from Stoke-by-Nayland in England. The families are also remembered in the names Songer Street and Torlesse Street in Stoke.

William Songer 1882 4

William Songer 1882-4. Image supplied by Havell Stephen-Smith

Songer built a mud cottage here in 1843 and grew wheat, oats, barley, turnips and potatoes and ran cattle and pigs. He was very community minded, being a member of the Jury, the Education Committee, Agricultural Committee, and was involved with building St Barnabas Church and Stoke School. He was the first superintendant of the local Anglican Sunday school and very involved in a variety of roles at St Barnabas Church. Sadly he had no children, and when his first wife died he married Mrs Mary Hubbard in his 60s, and was 90 when he died in 1904. His neighbours were the Ward brothers and C. Thorpe.

Hugh Martin arrived in 1844 with his wife, six children and livestock including “a first rate entire draught horse and very superior ram”. A livestock breeder, he settled on his 50 acres in Stoke, building ‘The Hayes’ homestead. 1844 - 45 was a time of near starvation for many and Martin was well remembered for his generous help to those who struggled to feed their families.

Hops and other crops

One of the main crops grown in Stoke were hops - Nelson was the first, and practically the only, hop-growing area in New Zealand, and had the first brewery. Some of the first hop-growers in the Stoke area were Mr Harley (below the bank in Nayland Road), Sir Edward Stafford (the Orphanage Farm), Mr Saxton, Mr John Bradley (the old hop-kiln on Mr Manson's property is a relic of these days), Mr Alf Bradley, Mr E. Chisnall, Mr W. Roil (where the macrocarpa tree stands on the bypass road near the bottom of Saxton Road) and Mr Jellyman.

Other crops grown at that time were oats, wheat, barley and potatoes. The fruit-growing industry, which was to become the main occupation of settlers in Stoke, did not commence until about the middle 1890s, when Mr Miller and Mr Hale planted about five acres each along Nayland Road.1

Poorman's Valley and Stream

Poorman's Stream was an important resource for local iwi and early pākehā settlers. It was rich in whitebait, eels and koura that were important food sources. Water was drawn from Poorman's Stream by settlers as an early water supply for the community.

In the early days of settlement a number of immigrants arrived and about eighty of them were temporarily settled in Poorman's Valley. Here they built themselves cottages, possibly of stone, and it is thought that the piles of stones that can be seen in the valley today are the remains of their settlement. These immigrants were from the poorer classes and conditions in the valley were extremely hard, with the result that the settlers themselves called the place "Poorman's Valley" (the area is referred to as Poorman's Valley in the 1845 Census). The stream that flows down Poorman's Valley became know as Poorman's Stream.

The settlement develops

The road
Work by the New Zealand Company’s road parties to construct Waimea Road from Nelson to Stoke and beyond began in 1842. Drainage channels, bridges and gravel were all required on the swampy ground. Arthur Wakefield ordered Mr Kenning and his road gang to dig what became known as ‘the company’s ditch’ to control water at Stoke. Unfortunately in heavy rain falls, water roared down this channel creating an ever widening gap. The Stoke Road Board were happy as the torrent brought down huge mounds of good usable gravel, which they seized upon, digging out hundreds of dray loads to take away. This annoyed Mr Thomas Marsden as they encroached on his land, digging right up to his gates.

By the 1850s crossing the ‘ditch’ became dangerous and Stoke residents demanded a bridge. A satisfactory bridge was finally built in 1858. A small piped stream can still be seen by the Fire Station.

Stoke panorama

Main Road Stoke in the 1950s. R. Marshall

Twentieth Century developments
Stoke changed from a sparsely populated area in the 1800s to a popular residential area coping with the post World War II baby boom demand for housing. In the 1950s some early housing developments occurred around Maitland, Arapiki Street and Andrew Street areas. Orchard land was slowly converted into housing. At that time Stoke was part of Waimea County, and provision of amenities such as sewerage was a strong reason to amalgamate with Nelson City in 1958.

In the 1920s Main Road Stoke was a narrow gravel road that had to be graded regularly. Few cars were seen. Horse-drawn vehicles were most common, and one woman regularly tied her horse to the big Macrocarpa in front of St Barnabas church while she went inside for a service.

There was no electricity, water supply or sewerage. Water was precious especially in hot weather. Many families had a 20 foot well and used a windmill to pump this water into a tank. They also collected rain water from the roof. Toilets were outside, with either a long-drop or a bucket, which had to be emptied regularly onto the farm. Stoke did not have a night cart collection. House lighting was by kerosene and gas lamps.

Groceries were delivered by Mr Rodley from Nelson in a horse-drawn vehicle. Mr Gledhill cycled from Nelson to Richmond collecting the orders for groceries. The order for the following week could be given when goods were delivered. Bird and Coleman sent their butcher's van from Richmond, and the bread came from at least three different sources. Milk came from the family cow or could be obtained from a neighbour.

In the 1920s young resident Geoffrey Gates recalls: “The village of Stoke consisted of the Turf Hotel, the Methodist church, the Anglican church and the blacksmith W.B. Heath opposite the Turf, who shod the horses and also had one petrol pump. Robinsons had a grocery store and Vincent Dee had a second small (grocery) store down Songer Street, near the railway station. The Turf burned down in about 1927, leaving only the chimneys, and had to be rebuilt. The Reverend Rogers was the minister of St Barnabas, which at that time was a small church with only a handful of parishioners.”

stoke apple orchard

(Railway Publicity photo.) Apple Orchard at Stoke Valley, Nelson, New Zealand. NZETC

The railway
The railway line section that ran through Stoke from Nelson to Foxhill was constructed in 1873 and opened in January 1876.  The first sod for the railway was turned in Saxton’s paddock for the Nelson-Saxton section of the line. Stoke was an easy distance to the city of Nelson and it appears to have been well used. Stoke residents used the rail service into the city for business, purchase of supplies, and entertainments such as those offered at the Theatre Royal. Rail transported produce to Samuel Kirkpatrick’s successful canning factory established in 1881 in the city, and encouraged growers of fruit and vegetables in the region. College students were regular rail users until the last train ran in 1954. The girls and boys travelled in separate carriages and were allowed to use skipping ropes inside to keep warm!

It was always intended to join the Stoke line to the main trunk line. Frustrating delays occurred, then competition from road transport led to suspension of rail services. Despite huge public protest the last train ran in 1955 and the line was dismantled. A walk/cycleway now runs along the old railway reserve (6) encouraging easy self propelled access to and from Stoke.


The early gracious residences built in Stoke in the 1800s that have endured and are open to the public include Thomas Marsden’s Isel House (2) and the Park (3) and Broadgreen Historic House (7) and the Rose Garden (8). The latter was built by merchant businessman Edmund Buxton circa 1855. The early Methodist Church, built by Samuel Ironside, has been removed.

Stoke School
Matthew Campbell, who lived in Stoke, was instrumental in building many schools in the district. The first Stoke School was built in 1845, then moved to land provided by Mr Marsden around 1851. By day the building was used as a school and in the evenings and on Sunday was used for religious services. In 1858 the school moved to its present position, and St Barnabas Church was built in its place. The Nelson Education Act was passed in 1856, and made the Nelson Province the first in New Zealand to have public schools where no fees were charged. A central board was established to run them, and the schools were funded through taxation and public revenue.

Stoke St Barnabas Church

Centenary of St Barnabas Church, Stoke. Nelson Photo News No 40 : March 7, 1964

St Barnabas Church (1) was opened on 22 August 1866 and consecrated in 1870. It was the first stone church built in the Nelson Diocese. The architect was William Beatson, who had taken services as a lay preacher in Stoke since moving there in 1852. A new bell was gifted to the church by Sir Rowley from Stoke-by-Nayland in England, and was inscribed “Come let us go up to the house of the Lord”. The stones came from nearby Marsden Valley stream and the half acre of land was given by Thomas Marsden. It had a new nave added in 1971, which blends well with the original architecture.

The Stoke Library (4) has had many homes, but is now firmly situated in Neale Avenue. Established in c.1858 it first operated out of the primary school. By the 1920s books were held in store cupboards in the Foresters Hall, which was on the present Memorial Hall site, and the service was run by volunteers. Stoke became part of Nelson in 1958 and the Nelson Literary and Scientific Institute, which established the Nelson Library in 1841, took on the operation of Stoke Library from the cloakroom of the Memorial Hall. In 1965, Nelson City Council took over the library system from the Institute, and purchased the former Stoke Methodist church to convert into a pleasant suburban branch. A new library was built in 1992 in Neale Avenue, and further developments are planned in the future.

stoke war memorial1

Stoke Memorial Hall. Nelson City Council

Stoke Memorial Hall (5)
Foresters Hall was a lively spot, with old time dances and weekly ‘sixpenny hop’ dance classes held there. Silent movies were shown with a truck outside to provide the power. Stoke Memorial Hall replaced this hall in 1951. It was built using community volunteer labour as a living memorial to those soldiers who were killed at war, from government subsidies granted in 1945-6 to upgrade  community halls.

The Hall continued to provide a venue for community events for all ages. Baby shows were very popular, with the post-war baby boom providing much talent. Regular old time dances were held there, and there was a dancing class every week for boys and girls. Bands also did the rounds of community halls bringing a variety of music each weekend until dance popularity waned by the end of the 1980s.

Otumarama (9) was the site of Charles John Rayner’s homestead. He built there c.1892 when he retired to Stoke from Temuka. Even though the original house is no longer standing, remnants of his garden are still there. The site is now occupied by a rest home.

Stoke Strawbridge

Mayor Doug Strawbridge (on right) congratulating Mr James Eyles, the first director of the Nelson Provincial Museum to be established at Isel Park, 1964. Nelson Photo News, Issue 63, May 1964, pg. 7. Nelson.

Important names
Stoke Kane

Bill Kane, 1968. Nelson Photo News, Issue 97, November 1968, p.5

Douglas Strawbridge was Mayor of Nelson from 1962 to 1968. A Stoke resident, he worked prior to his appointment as an advocate for Stoke amalgamating with Nelson. Post-war housing developments had sprung up in Stoke to house an increasing population, and improving sewerage and other infrastructure were important reasons for Stoke, part of the Waimea County, to join Nelson in 1958. Strawbridge was educated at Nelson College in 1923 and was a successful building contractor.

William Kane was the headmaster of Nayland College, which was opened in 1966.   William (Bill) Kane was a well-respected leader who chose the school's motto, Loyalty and Honour, both qualities he sought to instil in students. Kane became a Nelson City Councillor in 1968 and served three consecutive terms in office, until 1977. He retired from Nayland College at the end of 1978 and moved with his wife, Florence, to Waikane, where he died in 1995. W. Kane Lane was named after him.

2014 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Notes on early history of Stoke (1961, December) Nelson Historical Society Journal, 1(5), p.4

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