20 km north-west of Palmerston North, Feilding had a 2013 urban area population of 14,826. The town was laid out in 1874, the first township on the Manchester block developed by the London-based Emigrant and Colonist’s Aid Corporation. It was sited in a natural clearing and named after Colonel William Feilding. A director of the corporation, he had come to New Zealand and bought the land. Streets were named after other corporation personnel or New Zealand political figures.
Feilding’s population reached 4,500 by 1921. It had the most important saleyards in the lower North Island: 42,000 sheep were yarded there as early as 1902.
The establishment of Feilding Agricultural High School (1921) and New Zealand’s first Young Farmers’ Club (1927) marked the importance of farming in the community. But the 1920s to 1940s were uncertain years both for dairying and hill-country sheep farming. The town thrived again after the Second World War, and at one point the freezing works employed 2,500 people – about half the labour force.
The freezing works have declined, but the town provides other rural-related employment. The twice-weekly stock sales are a feature of Feilding life. Many rural businesses once sited on Rangitīkei Street in Palmerston North now have their offices in Feilding. Conversely, many Feilding residents work in Palmerston North.
Two historic meeting houses, Manaiahu and Kauwhata, are at Aorangi and Te Arakura, a few kilometres south of Feilding. Both belong to Ngāti Kauwhata and have close links to Ngāti Raukawa.
The Manfeild car racing track attracts crowds on race days, while the town has many farm retirees from ‘up country’. Its centre has a deserved reputation for being one of the most well-tended and attractive in the lower North Island. The reserve at Mt Lees, with gardens and bush tracks developed over 70 years, is a popular spot.