Powderham Street was named after Powderham Castle, seat of the Earls of Devon. William Courtenay, the tenth earl, was governor of the Plymouth Company, formed in England in 1840 to facilitate migration from the counties of Devon and Cornwall to Taranaki.
Built in the 14th century by Sir Philip Courtenay, great grandson of Edward I, Powderham Castle sits on the Exe estuary just outside Exeter. Its name (pronounced locally as “poteron”) comes from the Dutch word ‘polder’ and means “hamlet of the reclaimed marshland”.
The Courtenay family has a rich and colourful history, full of sieges and beheadings. Perhaps the most interesting was the ninth earl, William “Kitty” Courtenay, who became infamous for his love life. Born in Powderham Castle in 1768, the only son in a family of 14 children, Kitty was described as “the most beautiful boy in England” and spent his inheritance amassing a magnificent collection of plants. But when his affair with a male novelist was made public, he was forced into exile overseas and his cousin – who went on to have both Powderham and Devon Streets named in his honour here – inherited the earldom.
The castle is currently lived in by the nineteenth earl, Charles Peregrine Courtenay, and has been used as a location in films like The Remains of the Day and as a concert venue for musical acts including Coldplay and Tom Jones.
Powderham Street has also had a colourful history, particularly with regards to the Salvation Army. The Christian evangelical movement was founded in England in 1865 and established itself in New Zealand in 1883. The army “opened fire” in New Plymouth the following year, its “officers” and “captains” winning the respect of the town by providing refreshments for firefighters when a massive blaze destroyed the block bounded by Currie, Brougham, Devon and Powderham Streets in 1886. The army eventually built a citadel on the corner of Powderham and Brougham which served as their headquarters for half a century from 1927. Now home to the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust, the Citadel is next door to another Salvation Army building, the Young Peoples Hall, currently the restaurant Social Kitchen.
This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.