Clive Square was included in the original town plan mapped out in 1854. Abutting downtown Napier, it provides a verdant vista for shoppers and cafe-goers looking west down Emerson Street.
The park was conceived as the equivalent of the English village green, and Napier's first cricket and football matches were played here. A track that cut across the middle of the square later became the street that divides the area into two - Clive Square and Memorial Square.
In 1886, the square was enclosed with white picket fencing and gates at the corner entrances. Most of the enclosed area was in lawn, with trees and shrubs planted around the perimeter. The Clive Square side boasted a large centred circle, and seating around the outside of this faced inwards to a central band rotunda.
In 1918, the surrounding picket fence was replaced with the low limestone wall that is still there today. New plantings were added and extra flowerbeds formed to break up areas of lawn. This innovation provoked a conservative outcry that "the square now looks like a Chinese cemetery".
The "Memorial Square" name was bestowed in 1921 when the Cenotaph was erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers of World War I. The square was laid out and palm trees planted in 1920, at the time of the visit of the Prince of Wales. More simply landscaped than the older garden beds in Clive Square, it includes the Community Rooms, originally called Mothers' Rest, designed by Napier architect Louis Hay in 1925.
The 1931 earthquake devastated Napier's commercial heart and in its aftermath temporary buildings were constructed in the two squares to provide premises for shops and banks. Phoenix palms were temporarily removed to make way for the timber and corrugated iron structures, which were affectionately referred to as "Tin Town". For two years, these improvised buildings played an important role in sustaining retail and banking activity while the central business district was rebuilt.
After Tin Town was dismantled, the gardens were restored and upgraded. The band rotunda in the centre of Clive Square had been badly damaged in the earthquake and was replaced in 1934 with a goldfish pond. Three years after they were moved to another part of town, the Phoenix Palms were returned.
The ornate Edwardian period fountain on the south side was donated in 1904 in memory of W R Blythe, who had been a strong promoter of the development of Clive Square. The central lily pool was built in 1934 after 'Tin Town' was removed. The water jets and light were added in 1999.
The harp shaped Centennial Carillon, located next to the main path in the north-west section of the garden, was a gift from Rothmans Ltd to commemorate the 1974 Centenary of the Borough of Napier. The Carillon plays a selection of tunes every half hour, from 11.30am until 2pm.
Over the years, the historic gardens have acquired some interesting and unusual trees and plants.
Parking is available around all sides of the two squares.
Bound by Clive Square East, Dickens Street, Clive Square East and Tennyson Street.
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