Before the 1940s the main winter sport in Stoke was hockey and, in summer, tennis was played on the ground adjacent to the Stoke Memorial hall. Rugby football was not played at Stoke in those early years, although it soon thrived (see below).
Land adjacent to Isel Park became Marsden Recreation Reserve in 1952 and sports grounds were established in 1961 to cater for a growing population. In the early 1980s tennis, bowls, rugby, netball, softball and cricket were established. In 1982, the Stoke Rugby Club opened a Sports and Recreation Centre on the corner of Songer and Neale Streets, and the hall was used by a range of community groups. The development of nearby Saxton Field has created a modern sports ground capable of hosting international events.
Saxton Field is now a major sporting venue, but the land it sits on used to be part of a large farm originally owned by early settler and gentleman farmer, John Waring Saxton (1808-1866) and his family - and is part of Saxton's Legacy to the city.
Saxton Field was the site of Nelson’s first airport, used by the Nelson Aero Club and for commercial flights between between 1934 and 1938. The land was leased from the Saxton family. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith opened the first hanger and landed the Southern Cross at the airfield. In 1935 Cook Strait Airways started operations there. Expansion opportunity was limited and by 1936 planning was underway to shift Nelson’s airport to the tidal flats of Tahunanui. By the 1950's the land once occupied by Nelson’s first airport was held by the Crown, and leased to Henry Robert King-Turner.
In 1977 leaders of the growing city of Nelson recognised the need for sports facilities and Nelson City Council (NCC) negotiated with the King-Turner family, the Minister of Lands and the Broadcasting Corporation of NZ to acquire 23.5 hectares of land, plus a seven hectare lease to be set aside as Saxton Field. The land was within the Waimea County Council boundary, zoned Rural A.
In 1980 Council began consulting with interested sports clubs and preparing concept and layout plans. Five years later, work began on developing the first sports grounds, as well as internal roads, drainage, irrigation, tree planting, lighting and car parking. Hockey was the first sport to be played on Stage 1 sports fields, in 1986, Work continued on developing further stages, with sports groups working alongside Council to determine facilities and contribute funds towards projects.
In the late 1990s, further land acquisitions by NCC and Tasman District Council (TDC) paved the way for a major expansion phase of Saxton Field – now a regional facility. NCC and TDC joined forces to prepare plans. A major step forward was the sign off by both councils of a Saxton Field Extension Concept Plan in 2003. A regional funding strategy was developed. Sporting highlights over the next few years included:
- 2010 The NZ Women’s Hockey Team played India and the NZ Secondary Schools Cross Country Athletics Championships were held on the same day.
- 2011 Saxton Oval Pavilion opened; new home for representative cricket and athletics. South Island Masters Games held for the first time at Saxton Field.
- 2014 One-day Cricket International match and NZ Masters Games held.
- 2015 Three Cricket World Cup games held at Saxton Field.
In 2017 Nelson celebrated their 175th Anniversary Day and one of the projects to be celebrated was this world class, jointly-owned and funded regional sports and recreational facility. The development of Saxton Field has created a modern sports ground capable of hosting international events. The grounds cater for softball, cricket, football, hockey, netball, archery and track/field activities. The Saxton Stadium now facilitates many indoor sports including futsal, handball, basketball, table tennis, volleyball and others.
Stoke Tennis Club
The Tennis Club was founded in December 1908, on a section of the newly formed Marsden Recreation Ground. By 1911 it had three Courts and membership flourished. However, it struggled to retain members through the depression, war and post war years, only coming back to full strength in the 1960s thanks to new member, and Club captain, Jack Cameron from Wakefield. Membership grew and in 1968 the Club moved to Greenmeadows, the courts were lit and two new laycol courts were laid. The club remains in good heart today.
The first horse race meeting in Nelson was a feature of Anniversary Day in 1843, when horses raced a makeshift course starting in Trafalgar Street. In 1846 horse racing in Stoke was included in the annual celebrations. Early settlers of 1842 who were racing enthusiasts, were H.A. Thompson, the first magistrate, and Henry Redwood who later established an internationally recognised horse stud at Redwood Stables. In 1848 the Nelson Jockey Club formed and was based at Stoke Race Course, which occupied land from the Turf Hotel to Nayland Road. The railway line ran through the race course and was packed with sawdust on race days.
Local enthusiasts included Captain Robert Nicholson residing at ‘Woodstock’ on Main Road Stoke, who used his front paddock as a racecourse and guests viewed the action from the front balcony of the house.
The story of Stoke Rugby, 1947-1990
On 19 March 1947, the Nelson Rugby Union approved an application from Tahuna, Wakatu and Stoke to enter a team in the Nelson Rugby Union competitions. This was the result of much lobbying and work by Messrs Moffatt, Walker and Johnson of Stoke. A third grade team was registered in 1947 as STAR (Stoke Tahuna Annesbrook Rugby). It took four years for the Club to post its first grade champion team (6th grade).
In 1961 the Club was relocated to Stoke and renamed the Stoke Rugby Club. By 1984 the Club had 4 Senior Rugby Teams and 8 JAB teams. The Senior team won the Clubs first Championship and on 25th August 1984. That same year the new Stoke Sports and Recreation Centre opened. Since 1984 the Club has continued to grow and the Senior team has won Nelson Bays rugby championships in 1986, 1987, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2009 and 2010.
In 2014 the Stoke Rugby Club sold their Clubrooms to join with the Nelson City Council in the development of a new complex to be built at the Club’s home ground, Greenmeadows. It has been a long fought for goal to have Clubrooms at the ground. Also in 2014 the Club reestablished the links with Nayland College. This has led to all the College teams coming under the Stoke umbrella.
Milestones in the history of Stoke rugby:
- 1951 - The sixth grade won its grade, in the first championship
- 1953 - All players were required to wear boots.
- 1954 - The first shed and goalposts were provided at Greenmeadows and training lights consisted of two kerosene lanterns on a pole. The Club registered 100 players and the junior team won its first game in four years.
- 1957 - At a meeting convened to discuss the survival of the Club, it was revealed that its net assets were thirteen pounds.
- 1959 - The seventh and sixth grade teams each won their grade championship, each losing only once.
- 27 March 1961 - Star changed its name to Stoke Rugby Football Club, and relocated to Stoke in an effort to form a senior and junior team.
- 1961 - The first senior team, coached by Jack Ashley, won two games and finished sixth of seven teams in the regional competition.
- 1963 - The Club had its first Nelson representatives - Les Coldstream and Bert Smith.
- 1975 - Charles Cowman was elected Chairman of Nelson Bays Rugby Union. The Union decided to maintain a senior team in Stoke, commenced coaching programmes, reorganised the management structures, revised its constitution to provide rugby opportunities for all children in Stoke, and developed club facilities.
- 1976 - A stylised eagle rampant was adopted as the Club's emblem, from the coat of arms of Stoke City in England. This had been approved by the City Corporation of Stoke-on-Trent. Senior, senior reserve, junior, and under 18 teams were created and the Club’s Michael Dore, gained representative Honours and Nelson’s Best and Fairest Player Award. A common law claim was settled which took all the Club’s resources.
- 1977 - Michael Dore became NZ Rugby Almanac’s Most Promising Player. There were contributions from Nelson rugby Clubs to re-establish the club’s cash resources. Andy Sellars became Stoke's first Player of the Year.
- 1978 - Midget rugby commenced. The first time all Stoke senior and Junior Advisory Board (JAB) teams won on the same Saturday.
- 1980 - Stoke was represented in the South Island team by Paul McKay. Fundraising began for Stoke Sports & Recreation Centre and 13 members stood as guarantors of loans to commence building the Sports Centre.
- 1982 - Stoke senior team won its first Nelson Bays Championship beating Riwaka 17–0. Willie Dempster was Stoke and Nelson Bays Player of the Year and played for the South Island Wanganui as No 8.
- 1984 - Stoke Sports and Recreation Centre was opened on 25 August after 6,000 hours of voluntary work. Club membership was 468. Unfortunately a fire burned out the Greenmeadows changing sheds.
- 1988 - Stoke Seniors, unbeaten in 31 consecutive games, fell to Huia Rugby Club (Motueka).
- 1990 - Willie Dempster reached 100 First Class Games
- 2014 - the Club sold the Clubrooms and prepared to move to the new Greenmeadows Facility in Stoke, opened in March2019.
2015 (Stoke rugby notes contributed by Mike Carnahan)
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Further sources - Stoke Sports
- McAloon, Jim. (1997) Nelson: A regional history. Whatamango Bay, N.Z.:Cape Catley Ltd, p.56, 87, 111
- Nelson races (1848, March 18) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 10
- Nelson races (1867, March 22) Colonist, p.3