Stratford is situated on the Patea River and on the eastern slopes of Mount Egmont. The surrounding country is gently undulating. The New Plymouth – Wanganui highway passes through the town. Stratford is the junction for the railway connecting the Marton-New Plymouth section with the North Island Main Trunk line at Okahukura. New Plymouth is 26 miles north-west by road (30 miles by rail), Eltham is 5 ½ miles, and Hawera 18 miles south by road or rail. Okahukura is 99 miles north-west by rail.
The main rural activity of the district is dairy farming associated with sheep raising. Butter, cheese, and casein are manufactured in the district. Forestry is important in the hilly uplands north-east of Stratford and there are sawmills at Toko (6 miles east) and Midhirst (3 ½ miles north). Brick and field tiles are manufactured and there are stock saleyards at Douglas (10 miles north-east). Stratford is a servicing and distributing centre with a number of secondary industries which include the manufacture of butter, furniture and joinery, clothing, hosiery, and footwear as well as general engineering, motor-body building, timber impregnation, and milling. There are stock saleyards and a fellmongery and tannery outside the borough. Stratford is also a tourist traffic junction for visitors to Mount Egmont, and Stratford Mountain House is 9 miles north-west by road.
The site of Stratford is on or close to the Whakaahurangi war-track which in precolonisation times was the common inland route between North and South Taranaki. During the 1840s, working parties from the New Plymouth settlement had cleared a bridle track along this ancient trail but it later fell into disuse. In 1866 Major-General Trevor Chute's force reopened the overgrown track during the march through the bush to New Plymouth, and his men probably passed through or close by the town site. In June 1877 a block of 300 acres on the Patea River was surveyed and laid out for a township, the first sections being sold in 1878. The name chosen by the Taranaki Land Board was Stratford, which was that of Shakespeare's birthplace. Sawmilling was the first main activity of the town and district but the clearance of the bush saw the land converted to pasture for dairy farming, and the town grew as a market centre. By 1879 Stratford was linked to New Plymouth by coaching service. The same year the railway from New Plymouth reached Stratford, but it was not until 23 March 1885 that the town was linked by rail to Marton and Wellington. In 1901 work commenced on the Toko branch line which was to provide access to the North Island Main Trunk line, the connecting link being completed in 1932. A town board was formed in 1882 to administer municipal affairs. On 10 January 1893 Stratford was created a town district, and on 22 July 1898 it was constituted a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 4,445; 1956 census, 4,811; 1961 census, 5,273.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.