In keeping with the English traditions, a village green was allowed for in Napier 1854 by its town planner Alfred Domett.

Alfred, who was sent by Governor George Grey, called this public reserve Clive Square after British war hero Sir Robert Clive.

It was later split into two squares around the 1880s, and the one closest to Napier Hill was renamed Memorial Square in the early 1920s.

The first attempt to place a building on Clive Square occurred in 1862 when a Athenaeum (place for the promotion of literary and scientific learning) was proposed.


This was declined by the Government, which said it had concerns as "to the propriety of erecting it the centre of a square and thus destroying it for ornamental purposes in the future". (In those days councils had to get an Act of Parliament to alter public reserves.)

Cricket and sports were played on Clive Square - there being few other places in Napier at that time for games.

When a recreation ground was created in 1884 off Carlyle St, sport shifted there.

Napier civic leaders began a beautification of Clive Square.

The now Memorial Square was kept undeveloped as a playground for Napier Main School then across the road.

When the Theatre Royal in Tennyson St became outdated, a new theatre was proposed for Napier.

In order to keep the costs down it was proposed in 1910 to build a municipal theatre on the now Memorial Square.

Eager for a new theatre, the Napierites voted by ratepayers' poll to use half an acre (0.2 hectares) of Clive Square for this purpose.

However, those associated with Napier Main School across the road on the corner of Milton and Tennyson Sts successfully lobbied Parliament to stop the theatre being built there.

They didn't want to lose their playground. Many were also not keen on the new theatre being so close to the nearby Provincial Hotel.

Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward became involved in this debate, and the proposal received nationwide coverage (after the school burned down in 1916, it became established as Napier Central School in 1920 on Napier Terrace).

Reserves were seen by many as sacred places, not to be interfered with.

In memory of the sacrifices made in World War I, Memorial Square was named as distinct from Clive Square in the early 1920s.

The present cenotaph was unveiled in November 1924.

Further development occurred when Napier architect Louis Hay (1881-1948) designed the Napier Women's Rest in 1925, and this opened in April 1926.

Louis designed the building in his favoured Prairie-style.

New Zealand's first women's rest was established at Hastings in 1921, and these buildings were for the use of women who among other things could change baby nappies, use the bathrooms, change after work for social occasions - or enjoy light refreshments.

The Napier Women's Rest was funded by a loan from the Napier Borough Council and public donations.

The terms of the loan from the borough council were that it had to be used as a women's rest.

After the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, Clive and Memorial squares were turned into temporary accommodation for shopkeepers, known as "Tin Town" due to its corrugated iron and wood building materials.

The women's rest building can be seen standing within Tin Town from photos of the era, however it was badly damaged.

Repair work involved supporting the roof while the walls were rebuilt.

It wasn't until 1934 that it reopened - and to some controversy. A proposed change in use of the building got the Napier Returned Soldiers' Association (RSA) very upset.

It appears the Napier Borough Council was behind this, and wanted to turn the building into a general utility club for women.

The RSA reminded the council that the building was to be a women's rest and a soldiers' memorial.

Apparently, the playing of bridge in the building by women got the RSA upset after it opened in the 1920s - and it was promptly banned.

"We soon squashed that," a member proudly announced at an RSA meeting.

The RSA's view of the building at that time appears to have been church-like and sacred in mourning and remembrance.

The reasons why the Napier Borough Council wanted to change the use to a more general one are presently unknown to me, but could have been financially motivated.

• Michael Fowler ( is the heritage officer at the Art Deco Trust.