Downe_St_Sign.jpg Downe Street sign (2013). Mike Gooch. Word on the Street image collection.

Early negotiations around land for the hospital and Western Park stopped Downe Street running all the way from Robe Street to Cutfield Road as the surveyor F. A. Carrington had planned. So it became the short street we see today running between Robe Street and Mill Road.

Downe Street is named after Nathanial Downe Esq., a director of the Plymouth Company. The directors were a collection of prominent West Country citizens, chosen to lend credibility to the ambitious settlement plans.

While Nathanial Downe was clearly a well-respected gentleman (he possessed the title “Esquire”), little is known about him. Even the archivist at the Plymouth & West Country Record Office had scant information about Mr Downe.

Thanks to the 1841 Census of England we do know he lived in Somerset Place, Devonport in Plymouth. He was then aged 70, of “independent means” and was not born in Devon. Downe died in 1847 and his will is held by the National Archives in Kew.

As you turn right into Downe Street from Robe Street you are greeted by the entrance to New Plymouth Prison. For nearly 150 years the prison has operated from this site at the base of Marsland Hill. In March 2012 the Department of Corrections announced that the prison was deemed an earthquake risk and was unsuited to modern standards of justice.  It was closed in March 2013, bringing an end to a significant slice of New Plymouth history.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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