Many of Masterton's smaller reserves are hidden away in suburban areas. As Gareth Winter of the Wairarapa Archive explains, one such park in the Prime Minister's block recalls the life of one of the town's more interesting characters, the irrepressible Ben Iorns.
In the 1970s a new housing subdivision on the western perimeter of Masterton was developed by Robert Holt of Napier.
The land had previously been owned by well-known local jockey and horse trainer Arthur ("Arty") Messervy, who in turn had purchased it from the estate of Robert Buick in 1955. Buick had purchased the property in 1918, amalgamating two previous titles.
Part of it, including the Ben Iorns Reserve land, was in the Ngaumutawa Block, while some of it had belonged to the rural section 32 of the Masterton Small Farms Settlement. Section 32 had originally belonged to Thomas Chamberlain, whose farm, "The Oaks", is recalled in nearby Oak St.
As part of the subdivision plans, an area was set aside for recreation purposes, with access directly from Vogel Cres and through a walkway from Waterhouse St.
The reserve is comprised partly of a native tree planting, and an open space with play equipment.
Early maps show that much of the western side of Masterton was covered in heavy bush. The map drawn in 1856 by John Hughes, the Small Farm Association's surveyor, shows bush covering the northern boundary of section 32, where the reserve is now situated. As the land in the area is very heavy, it is reasonable to assume that this would have been kahikatea-dominated forest, unlike the drier land to the south where totara was dominant.
It was appropriate then that the reserve should be named after one of Masterton's most interesting characters, the astute local historian and tree lover Bennett Iorns, 1883-1977. He was the great-grandson of the town's founder Joseph Masters, being a grandson of Masters' daughter Sarah who married Richard Iorns and then Henry Bannister. Joseph Masters negotiated the sale of the site of Masterton with Retimana Te Korou on the banks of the Makakaweka Stream, near Ngaumutawa Rd, about a kilometre north-east of the reserve.
Iorns is well-remembered as a local identity, with an inquiring mind and an engaging personality. He had an enormous interest in the environment and was involved in trying to have a National Park established in the Tararua Ranges. He also regularly measured important trees, and corresponded with others interested in trees, both native and introduced. He was a friend of Laurie Robinson, after whom Robinson Park is named.
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