In the NEW ZEALAND REFEREE of 5th February, 1919 it was reported that the Metropolitan Trotting Club had effected the purchase of a large area of land in the Riccarton district covering some eighty seven acres at a cost of £21,000. The new site comprised seventy acres previously owned by Mr T W J Shand, seven acres by Mr W Robinson and two smaller blocks of six acres. The property fronted Riccarton, Blenheim and Wharenui Roads and with the exception of one or two small sections covered the whole block opposite Puriri Street within a stone’s throw of Dean’s Bush and not more than two miles from the city. The article went on to say that the Club’s Addington property, though quite up to the standard of any trotting grounds in Australasia, had the distinct disadvantage of being held only on lease with certain conditions attached which restricted the Club’s scope for expansion. In its desire to cater for the public the Club realized that the appointments at Addington were not ideal an that if the sport continued to advance, as in the past few years, the outside accommodation would be absolutely inadequate.
The new property was served by the Riccarton Tram with the rear of the property being in close proximity to the Addington and Middleton Railway Stations while the Riccarton Railway Station was not more than ¾ of a mile away. The closeness of transport would enable country patrons to be well served in their travelling arrangements.
The article mentioned that the Club’s lease of the Addington Course had only seven years to run and it was anticipated that racing would be in full swing at the new venue before that period elapsed. It was the Club’s intention for the new grounds to be up-to-date in every respect and to take full advantage of the natural beauty of the property and to make its surroundings the most picturesque of any racecourse in New Zealand. Plans for a six furlong track had been drawn up and it was proposed that the work of establishing the new racecourse be treated with the utmost urgency.
At the Annual Meeting held in June 1920 the Chairman stated that all liabilities on the land at Riccarton had been liquidated and the property was now freehold. In November 1922 Mr Hill of Auckland was employed to prepare the layout of the grounds in consultation with Luttrell Brothers. Three months later Mr Hill met the Committee and was asked to furnish a plan and a report as early as possible.
A leading article appeared in the REFEREE of 1st March 1923 and stated
“Although it will probably be a couple of years before the Metropolitan Trotting Club finally removes its headquarters from Addington to its new grounds at Riccarton, the plans for the equipment of the property are now receiving careful consideration. It is impossible for any work to be undertaken at present as the land is leased to tenants whose term of occupancy does not expire until May.
The first work to be undertaken will be the formation of the six furlong grass track which is to be a chain and a half in width with two straights of eleven chains each and the turns being nineteen chains. It need hardly be said that special care will be taken to make this new track provide as perfect a racing surface as possible and by having it put in hand early it will be given a chance to set properly before it is required for racing. The work for laying out the grounds and for providing the necessary equipment will require careful consideration but with expert advice and past experience to guide them the Club’s Executive may be relied upon to provide a trotting ground that will be the last word in general completeness and efficiency. The operations in connection with the Metropolitan Trotting Club’s new grounds belong more or less to the future as plans have not yet been decided upon.”
In May of that year Luttrell Brothers and the Secretary were authorized to deal with the residents and secure their rights over undedicated roads so they could be closed.
Mr Hill’s fee foe planning the layout of the new grounds was 100 guineas.
The following August a deputation of representatives of the Riccarton Borough Council was received by the Committee and the deputation outlined the various works that would be carried out around the property if the Club would consent to join the Borough. The works proposed were to consist of roading and channeling and the Council also undertook to urge the occupiers of the sections in Euston Street to consent to the closing of undeclared roads. In view of the offer made by the Council the Committee decided to join the Borough. In October two Committeemen were authorized to sign a deed petitioning the Government to transfer the Club’s property from the Waimairi County Council to the Riccarton Borough Council.
On Saturday, 28 June 1924 a Commission chaired by Mr E D Mosely, SM, sat in Christchurch to consider whether of not a large area of ground owned by the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and a small area owned by H Mayne on Riccarton Road should be transferred from the Waimairi County to the Riccarton Borough. The Club now owned 91 acres, 3 roods and 7 perches of the total area of the block which was 92 acres, 2 roods and 1 perch. The District Health Officer said it would be better to transfer the land to the Borough in order that a suitable drainage system could be carried out which was essential with the large crowds that would attend trotting meetings. After hearing evidence from the Secretary of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and the Mayor of Riccarton, the Commission reserved its decision.
At the annual meeting of Members the Chairman in referring to the new course said that the grounds had been bought and paid for but the construction of the course and the erection of new buildings would be a very expensive matter and he was not prepared to say when the work would be undertaken. A Member mentioned that reports stated that a trotting course could not be formed on the new property. The Chairman asked the Member where he obtained that information and the Member said it was heard frequently. The Chairman said that the rumour was incorrect.
It was reported in the NEW ZEALAND REFEREE of 31st July 1924 that the Christchurch Presbytery had forwarded through Mr George Witty, MP, to the Minister of Internal Affairs a resolution passed by the Presbytery protesting against the establishment of a trotting course I close proximity to the Riccarton Presbyterian Church. The Hon. R F Bollard, Minister of Internal Affairs, informed Mr Witty that the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club, which up to the present, had been racing on leasehold property at Addington purchased the property referred to three years previously with a view to making a new trotting course and had since disposed of its interests of the leased ground at Addington to the Canterbury Park Trotting Club. The Minister stated that he had no statutory powers to prevent the NZMTC from forming a new racecourse on its property at Riccarton.
In the NEW ZEALAND REFEREE of 7th August 1924 an article stated:
“In connection with the recommendation of the Commission recently announced to add the Metropolitan Trotting Clubs new grounds at Riccarton to the Riccarton Borough the Mayor of Riccarton, Mr A D Ford, when interviewed by a representative of the “REFEREE” stated that the inclusion of the Club’s grounds in the Borough was what his council desired.
Mr Ford said that both Mr Mayne and the Club had petitioned the Governor for the land to be added to the Borough and the Riccarton Council supported the request. Mr Ford said that the Riccarton Council desired to carry out substantial improvements in this locality and to put certain roads in order. The Borough boundary was along the whole eastern side of the property, right along the north side and half way down the western side and most of the roadways and paths were thrown into the Borough originally with the boundary line along the Club’s fence instead of the centre of the road as usual. This threw into the Borough the roads and paths, or most of them, and prevented the Borough from getting the benefit of the rates from the block. When asked as to how the district would be affected by the opening of the land as a trotting track Mr Ford said that the first desires of a Council are always the cutting up of large blocks into building sites and for such sites to be built on. In the present case this of course would not come about and therefore the establishment of a trotting track was as good as the next best thing. If the area had been cut up it would have produced about 78 acres net for rating purposes whereas now the whole 92½ acres would be rateable. As the Riccarton Borough rated on unimproved value it would be seen that the difference between rates on 78 acres and 92½ acres would be a fair sum. Mr Ford stated that the Club’s ground was first class good heavy land out of which a very fine racecourse could be made. There was ample road provision on the east side to lay the necessary tram tracks as well as several cross streets running eastward which would provide numerous outlets for any amount of traffic and thus prevent congestion after the races were over each day. Access could be had from four sides for both vehicles and pedestrians and this should greatly assist in handling large crowds. Mr Ford said he hoped later on to approach the trotting club with a request to allow the centre open space, that is inside the track, to be used by the public for recreation. If this could be done then Riccarton would be provided with a very fine ground which would answer the purposes of a park.”
In August 1924 a sub-committee was set up to go into the question of proceeding with the new grounds and in October of that year they submitted a favourable report on the drainage of the property.
In November the Club agreed to give a strip of land half a chain wide to allow Wharenui Street to be widened. In exchange the Club was to receive the freehold of unformed streets within the property. In June 1925 it was pointed out that the annual report of the Club made no reference to the Committee’s proposal in regard to its Riccarton property and it was suggested that it could be presumed that the question of the removal of the Club’s headquarters to the new ground had been deferred indefinitely. It was mentioned that it would be a costly business to equip the new grounds as an up-to-date trotting course and the Club was proceeding on cautious lines in deferring the work until it has accumulated funds that would justify the undertaking.
In July of that year Mr D McCormick offered three acres adjoining the Club’s property and fronting Blenheim Road and it was agreed to purchase the land for £1,500. In March 1926 the Club’s Solicitor was instructed to communicate with the Riccarton Borough Council regarding the closing of the roads and to ascertain the current position. Letters from the Solicitor regarding this matter were received in April but no information was minuted.
In February 1927 authority was given to terminate Mr Shirley’s position as caretaker if it was deemed necessary and in the middle of that month he was given three months notice.
In April 1928 the Riccarton Borough Council requested the Club to connect their properties to the sewer. Mr F W Freeman, surveyor, was asked to submit a sketch plan showing the subdivision of the Riccarton property similar to that proposed by the late Mr Shand. Later in the month Mr Freeman was asked to prepare complete plans for a subdivision.
In May it was reported in the REFEREE that Mr H Shirley had been appointed caretaker of the Napier Park Racing Club’s course and that he was well known in Canterbury having been caretaker of the Canterbury Park Trotting Club’s Sockburn grounds for nine years. When Mr French resigned his position as caretaker at the Metropolitan Trotting Club’s grounds at Addington Mr Shirley was his successor and remained there for about four years. The Canterbury Park Club then acquired the Addington grounds and the Metropolitan Trotting Club placed Mr Shirley in charge of its new property on Riccarton Road which he supervised for about four years. As there did not seem much likelihood of the Club racing on its new grounds, and Mr Shirley being anxious to secure a position on a property that was being used as a racecourse, he applied for the Napier Park position and secured the appointment from over 100 applicants. It was reported that during the time Mr Shirley was in charge at Canterbury Park and at Addington his maintenance of the grounds was of great value especially in the provision of good tracks, one of which was grass and the other dirt.
In July 1928 Tonks, Norton & Company and Jones, McCrostie & Company were asked to report on the planned subdivision, the best method of its disposal and to place a value on the sections. A sub-committee was appointed in November to investigate the subdividing of the property with power to act. No record can be found as to the reason for disposing of the Riccarton property but it probably can be assumed that it was a question of finance which lead the Metropolitan Committee to make the decision to dispose of the Riccarton Property. In December 1928 the land agents reported that they were unable to obtain an offer for the selling of the property as a block and it was then decided to ask the surveyor to complete the plans for its subdivision.
In April 1929 the Riccarton Borough Council was pressed to complete the roading works associated with the loan which was raised especially for that purpose, and during that month the subdivision sub-committee reported that 4½ acres at the Blenheim Road end of the property had been offered to the Riccarton Borough Council for a reserve at £500 per acre. The next report minuted was to the affect that in October 1932 four sections were sold.
In August 1934 arrangements made with Tonks, Norton & Co. to collect the rents on the various properties on the Club’s behalf were cancelled and the collecting became the responsibility of the Club’s administration.
In May 1935 the Riccarton Borough Council was requested to proceed with the extension of Wainui Street and in July 1937 it was reported that a block of 78 acres, 3 roods and 17.8 perches was offered to the government for £14,000. As most of this area is now devoted to state housing it can be assumed the Government accepted the offer.
In April 1941 three properties were still owned by the Club. 91 Wainui Street was let to Mr C W Ayers at a weekly rental of £1/6/0 and this property was sold in December 1970 for a net return of $5,744. 95 Wainui Street was let to Miss Henery at £1/2/6 and this property was sold in September 1941 giving a net return to the Club of £793/8/9. The third property at 97 Wainui Street was let to Mrs J Russell at £1/4/0 per week and after she had vacated the property was sold in June 1970 for a net return to the Club of $5,930.
The selling of these properties brought to a close the Club’s ambitious project of establishing its own freehold Racecourse in the Riccarton Borough.
Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker