Historical Significance or Value
The Racecourse Grandstand in Reefton has historical significance as a reminder of the important place racing occupied in the communal life of late nineteenth and twentieth century New Zealand.
Built in 1891 to the designs of noted Dunedin architect, F W Petre, the building has undergone piecemeal alteration over the years in a manner representative of many sports facilities throughout New Zealand.
Social Significance or Value:
The Racecourse Grandstand in Reefton has social significance in its links to the whole community and its ongoing use for recreation for more than 120 years. Horse racing and gambling were important leisure activities in New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Grandstands were a key viewing point for watching the races, and the Reefton one was considered to be particularly fine for the views that it provided onto the racecourse. Found throughout the country, grandstands are evocative of the whole racing industry.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Reefton grandstand is a representative example of grandstands erected by smaller racing clubs throughout New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fact that it has been altered and added to in a piecemeal fashion over the years, depending on funding available, is typical of what happens to community facilities as needs arise.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Racecourse Grandstand is associated with the idea of attendance at horse racing events as a common leisure time activity from the late nineteenth century through to the present day. The Grandstand at the Reefton Jockey Club racecourse is associated with well-known architect, F W Petre, who not only designed the grandstand at Forbury Park in Dunedin, but who is most widely recognised now as the architect of numerous Catholic churches including the earthquake-damaged Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The Racecourse Grandstand has strong community associations as a central focus for the racecourse, which has been kept vital through the ongoing efforts of generations of local people.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Grandstand is historically associated with the Reefton Jockey Club’s race meetings. The building is situated among other buildings and structures on the Reefton racecourse including a tea house, totalisator building and a brewery. The Grandstand remains an important fixture of the Reefton Racecourse and is used on the Reefton Jockey Club’s annual summer meeting.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Te Tai o Poutini (West Coast) has a long history of Maori occupation. The Ngati Wairangi and Patea people occupied the area largely undisturbed until about 1700 when Ngai Tahu from the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu began to predate on their territory in order to claim the highly prized pounamu (greenstone) resource. A succession of battles ensued over the next century and the descendants of the eighteenth century Ngai Tahu chiefs Taetae, Wharekai, Tuhuru and Te Koeti Turanga form the foundation of Poutini Ngai Tahu today. The inland valleys of Te Tai o Poutini were well known to Poutini Ngai Tahu as significant battle grounds, as areas renowned for bird-hunting and eel-fishing, and as routes to and from the pounamu rivers of the West Coast. These areas were mainly used as places for harvesting seasonal foods. Wahi ingoa (place names) such as Oweka, located to the north of Reefton, recall this history - 'Oweka' refers to the hunting of weka in the area.
Reefton (or Reef Town) developed in 1870 with the discovery of alluvial gold in the area. Within seven years the Reefton Jockey Club was formed. Its first race meeting was held on 26 December 1877 at a paddock at Fern Flat, Waitahu, approximately six kilometres north of Reefton settlement. Owing to the distance from the township and because of the clash of this race meeting with the Westland Racing Club’s meeting at Hokitika, insufficient support was found among Inangahua residents to hold a race meeting the following summer. In 1880 the Reefton Jockey Club endeavoured to secure a more suitable location for a permanent racecourse, resolving that Fern Flat was the best available land for racing. However, in 1881 the Club negotiated the formation of a racecourse on the agricultural lease of William Thomas Smith, clerk of the Reefton Jockey Club. Construction commenced immediately for a makeshift grandstand to seat 400 people and the first race meeting was held at the racecourse in December 1881.
In 1883 the Reefton Jockey Club successfully negotiated to purchase the property from Smith for £1000. With a permanent racecourse now secured, the Reefton Jockey Club embarked on a series of improvements to the course and facilities. A caretaker was appointed in 1884 and a cottage was supplied on-site. In 1887-88 a refreshment stall, dining and ladies’ room were erected, and track fencing was improved. In 1890 further improvements were carried out including relocating the judge’s box and totalisator house and the provision of additional seating.
In January 1891, Reefton Jockey Club discussed the need for a new and more permanent grandstand. A ‘model structure’ was required, so the Committee advertised for competitive designs from architects, with £25 awarded to the successful design. The winning design was selected from Dunedin architect Francis William Petre (1847-1918), designer of the grandstand at Forbury Park, Dunedin. The estimated cost of construction was £903, a cost readily afforded by the Club on account of being nearly debt-free. It was anticipated that the grandstand, when completed, would be ‘the best on the West Coast’.
In June 1891 tenders were invited for the removal of the existing grandstand. The site of the new stand was at the rear of the earlier one, making room for improving the sharp bend beyond the winning post in the racecourse. The following month tenders were solicited for the construction of the new stand and the successful contractor was W D Aitken, of Reefton at an agreed price of £1,165. Construction commenced immediately and progress was rapid with completion planned for Christmas. The Inangahua Times published the following description of the newly completed grandstand on 21 December 1891:
The building occupies 3000 square feet of ground, being 100ft x 30ft, and divided into eleven rooms consisting of the principal booth, and the dining room, each of which is 36ft 6in x 20 feet 6in, the stewards’ room 20 x 12 and the ladies’ cloak-room, the larder, lavatories, the scullery, and two bar stores, each of which are 12 inches thick and ten feet high resting on a foundation 2ft 6in thick, are of the same material. Each room is lined with tongued and grooved boards, and is supplied with all the conveniences, water being supplied through pipes from two tanks which are placed in the upper part of the buildings. ... the gallery, which affords seating accommodation for at least 800 persons, and there is standing room for fully 200 more. Immediately behind the gallery on the side facing the saddling paddock is a balcony which projects for six feet over the base of the building. Access is afforded to the balcony by a spacious staircase, from which full command is obtained over the saddling paddock. Each end of the gallery is enclosed with glass sashes, and an ample view is thus obtained of the whole course by every one of the occupants. The front is enclosed with a handsome ornamental railing... The distance from the highest part of the roof to the ground is 32 feet, and the top is surmounted with two flag-poles, which tower up 16 feet more. The roof is supported in front by six cast-iron columns six inches in diameter, and at the back and ends by 8 x 8 totara posts. The roof itself is composed of 16 wrought iron T principals curved to a neat radius, covered with galvanised iron and finished with nicely ornamented barge boards and lattice work. ...
The view was considered to be a real success of the design, such that everyone was able to obtain an uninterrupted view of a race from any part of the stand without having to rise from their seat.
Aitken filed for bankruptcy near the end of his contract and the final stages of construction were completed by Greymouth contractor Bignall. However, the newspaper account of the completed stand makes no mention of this, attributing W D Aitken as the local contractor and A Bignall of Greymouth as the overall man in charge.
As with many racecourse buildings throughout New Zealand, the grandstand at Reefton racecourse has undergone a number of changes over the years. In the 1930s, toilets for men were built inside the west end of the stand. In the 1940s a back viewing verandah and back stairway was dismantled for safety reasons.
In the 1950s, with the financial position of the Jockey Club in better shape than it had been for some time, much overdue maintenance and repair was carried out on the grandstand. At this time a ‘photo finish’ camera was built on top of the ‘judge’s tower’ at the eastern end of the building. At the same time, rooms beneath the grandstand were modernised.
In the 1970s a patrol box for race filming was added to the ‘judge’ and ‘photo finish’ tower. At the same time a concrete pad and tiered steps were added in front of the grandstand, with a sloping lawn in front to the outside rail of the track. In 1975 a permanent commentator room was built inside the seating area on the back wall of the stand. In 1977, seven ‘tote’ windows were included in the bar and social area of the grandstand.
A major change to the appearance of the Racecourse Grandstand relates to the roof. According to Dom O’Sullivan’s centennial history of the Reefton Trots, in the 1960s that the roof got lifted completely off the grandstand and it was reroofed through the insurance payout. However, it is also recorded that in 1980-81 the grandstand roof was replaced with a free standing steel frame roof on six aside JRB steel legs bolted to concrete pads. It is not clear if this means reroofing occurred twice, that is in the 1960s and 1980s, or whether there is a discrepancy in the recording of when the roof was blown off in high winds.
In c1996 the grandstand toilets were updated to include women’s toilets as well as men’s. Around the same time, a new concrete floor was added in the bar and social area. In 1998 tote windows were installed for the seating public. In 2000 the front portion of the floor and seats were renewed. It is understood that the building has been repainted recently.
Contextual Discussion: Horse Racing in New Zealand:
As with numerous places around New Zealand, racing is a social affair in Reefton. One or more trotting meetings have been held in Reefton each year since 1898, except for the year 1942 when the races were abandoned due to events surrounding the Second World War. Race days in Reefton have done and continue to involve the whole community. Schools and community groups loan furniture and equipment, private accommodation is made available for patrons and local paddocks are used by horses in transit.
Horse racing and gambling were important leisure activities in New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. C W McMurran, an American writer who toured New Zealand in 1904, observed the respectability of racing throughout the country and noted that ‘some of the most successful businessmen of New Zealand are stewards of racing clubs’. McMurran considered the social acceptability of racing to be unusual, with women and children among regular attendees at race meetings. McMurran wrote:
Racing in New Zealand is done on a far different plan from that followed in America. Even the rising generation are brought to look upon racing as a simple day’s outing. The whole family go together to the races. Women, even with their grandchildren, make up little pools which they send over to the totalisator from the grandstand, and as soon as the horses are started the grandstand occupants become wild with excitement, shouting at the same time the names of their favourite horses. When the horses have passed the judge’s box there is a general scramble from the grandstand - such as is seem between the acts in the theatres in America - not to get refreshment, but to obtain the dividend. The disappointed immediately commence to figure out a pool for the next race, taking their bad luck with philosophic resignation.
Their wagers, which are small, are made mainly for the sake of the temporary excitement rather than for mere sordid gain.
\Their wagers, which are small, are made mainly for the sake of the temporary excitement rather than for mere sordid gain.
The Racecourse Grandstand is constructed of weatherboard timber with a galvanised steel roof. It has a concrete foundation with tiered seating. The upper section of seating is glazed in. At the eastern end of the building is a tiered tower.
Compared to the original description of the building when first completed in 1891, the gallery has been altered, the ornamental railing has been removed, and the roof has been replaced. With its alterations, the grandstand transformed from its original more ornate appearance to become more utilitarian. Despite the changes, the grandstand retains its basic elements and the various ‘tower’ additions at the eastern side add variety to the form.
Construction of grandstand
Various tower additions at eastern end of grandstand
1980 - 1981
Timber, glass, corrugated galvanised steel, concrete.
1st December 2011
Report Written By
Robyn Burgess and Christine Whybrew
Department of Conservation
Department of Conservation
(2003) West Coast Conservation Management Strategy Volume I 2010-2010. New Zealand: Author.
Reefton Centennial Booklet
Reefton Centennial Booklet 1860-1960 Reefton: Reefton Volunteer Fire Brigade, 1960.
Costello and Finnegan, 1988
John Costello and Pat Finnegan, Tapestry of Turf: The History of New Zealand Racing, Auckland, Moa Publications, 1988
O'Sullivan, Dom, The Reefton Trots: a Centennial History, 1998
A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Region office of NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.