Club Hotel Sydenham


3:01. Early Struggles.

            Stephen Lawrence hailed from the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands or at least lived there for some time and married a local woman by the name of Harriet Joyce. Together with his wife Harriet and children Stephen Bendigo Lawrence (8), Ann (3), Charles (2) and Alfred (1), he sailed for New Zealand aboard the Rhea Sylvia, arriving on 2nd May 1861. How he made a living in the first few years of residence is something of a mystery but he certainly was involved in pugilism, and was a spongeholder in a famous prizefight held on the banks of the Waimakariri in July of 1862 (MacL95). By 1867 he was a Town Crier and announced that he would post bills, cry the sales, and convey any purchasers to any sales within ten miles of Christchurch for £1 per head. Town Crying then was a fairly dangerous occupation, and Stephen got into a fight with a rival bill-sticker in October of 1866. By 1869 he had found his true vocation and held the license of the Wheatsheaf Tavern, and was also in charge of the Lincoln Fair.

The family moved back into town, and in 1882 Mr. Lawrence built the Club Hotel for the sum of £3000, of which £2800 was borrowed from the brewery, beginning a family tradition of hospitality in Sydenham that was to last for 106 years. Stephen was by no means the first hotelier in the Sydenham area. The Waltham Arms had been operating for ten years and was then run by Alfred Sparkes, after whom was named Sparke’s Road, and the Crown Hotel had been operating since 1863.

Stephen Lawrence was more than a hotelier and the Club Hotel, from the very first, was more than a hotel. Mr Lawrence was involved with community affairs right from the start and before long was demanding that the Sydenham Borough Council upgrade the footpaths and channelling as he was prepared to install lamps for the pedestrians and water troughs for the horses. The Hotel was imbued with the Publican’s civic fervour, and the patrons also were keen to become involved in community matters, organising public meetings on such issues as elections and Chinese immigration, and making the Hotel the headquarters of the bucket pumps used for fire-fighting. This involvement with the community at large was to be a hallmark of the Club throughout its century of Lawrence family ownership.

Perhaps the greatest battle came during the 1880’s and 1890’s, not long after the Club opened for business, when the Temperance Movement was at its height and Prohibitionists were at their most militant. Legislation was being passed that really began to bite into the drinking habits of the people. The Licensing Act of 1881 was the first comprehensively restrictive piece of legislation, and contained some provisions that lasted until the revision of the law in 1962. One of its major and most radical provisions was that henceforth no new licenses could be issued without a poll of the local ratepayers. But it was in 1886 that the heat really began to be turned on when the local prohibition groups coalesced into the New Zealand Alliance for the Suppression of the Liquor Traffic and the Prohibitionist Movement became a nation-wide organisation. The greatest kick in the head for local pubs came in 1893 when the Alcoholic Liquor Sale Control Act provided for a poll every three years on the question of whether local licenses should continue, be reduced, or be revoked altogether. In effect, local bodies could force prohibition within their bailiwicks.

George Booth, Sydenham’s first mayor, was a staunch Prohibitionist and assisted by cohorts such as sometime Member of Parliament Tom Taylor, formed the local Prohibition League which won Borough Council support in its fight to prevent new licenses being issued in Sydenham. The Prohibitionists gained control of the local Licensing Bench and closed five of the eight hotels in the district immediately, shutting down the remaining three not long afterwards. The hotels won on appeal to higher authority, however, and the Club continued to trade although the atmosphere was tense and subsequent Prohibitionist campaigns that packed out Lancaster Park fought hard to deny honest citizens their right to an honest pint of beer.

            Despite this setback, the Prohibition movement continued to grow and to increase its momentum and the “No-License Question” generated considerable heat over the ensuing years. In 1891 a common epithet for the No-license party was “that miserable minority”, but by 1899 the miserable minority had attracted some 122,000 votes largely with the help of newly-enfranchised women. The hothouse rhetoric flew thick and fast for years, as for example at a public meeting of October 17, 1902. Mr Taylor and a certain Rev. Fee of Ashburton spoke on drunkenness in New Zealand at the Christchurch Oddfellows’ hall. Mr Taylor told his audience that those 122,000 votes had been cast by the “most intelligent, sober, industrious and moral section of the community in New Zealand, while the other side were only a few thousand ahead, and in their ranks were the degenerate, immoral, lazy and vicious”. He had “never felt so sanguine” and believed that as a result of the general election to be held that coming November a number of electorates would “go dry”. He expressed sorrow for the many hoteliers who were investing large amounts of money in what was an almost unparalleled boom in the building of magnificent new hotels, as they would shortly be required to surrender their licenses.

3:02. The Dynasty Continues.

Stephen retired at last and passed the license on to his son Alfred Lawrence in 1894. The elder Lawrence eventually died in 1920 at the age of 90 and was buried in Sydenham. Alfred held the license until 1914, when it briefly passed to managers, but was back in his hands in 1922. He may have been a little wary of managers, due to a spot of bother in 1912. In that year Thomas Kennedy, a barman who had been appointed Manager during the licensee’s absence on holiday or business in Britain, was fined 5/- and costs because a barman had sold liquor after hours. The barman was fined £1 and costs of 7/- for what was probably the high crime of pouring a jug perhaps five minutes after the last bell had rung. The fact that the fines were minimal – fines of up to £10 were not uncommon elsewhere – would indicate that the magistrate saw the offence as no more than a technical breach of the regulations, but nevertheless it would have been an embarrassment for the hotel. It is one of the very few blots on an otherwise immaculate copybook.

            Things were not always quite so well-ordered when the Lawrences were not personally in control, as, for example, when William Pritchard was the licensee. In 1927 he came to the attention of the Licensing Committee and his conduct as licensee came under judicial scrutiny. The annual hearing of 1927 was before a committee composed of Messrs H A Young SM (Chairman), H Holland MP, W E Simes, K Mathieson, H H Holland, and H H Wauchop. Inspector Cameron appeared for the Police (Press 7th June 1927).

            The compliant against the Club was, in this case, the perennial problem of after-hours drinking, and the problem of licensee oversight of staff. There were problems with barmen serving drinks to patrons after hours when the publican was absent. Barmen had been convicted of selling liquor after hours and had been dismissed, but, capable staff being few and far between, had been rehired only to reoffend again. Such people had been left in control of the Hotel when the publican was absent, as when Mr. Pritchard had gone off to a dance and had left the keys with a barman on the understanding that the man would lock up after having completed his duties of cleaning up and restocking. The Police had made an inspection and had found men in the bar in circumstances that led them to believe that drinking was going on. On one occasion the Police had found men in the bar on a Sunday morning and one of the men had a dice box. The essence of the Police complaint was directed not so much at Mr. Pritchard’s competence or suitability as a licensee, but at his failure to exercise proper control of his staff.

            There was also the problem of the boarded up window at the rear of the building. Why was this? asked the Bench. The explanation was that the window had been nailed up to keep a check on a maid about whose late homecomings the Police had had complaints “All these matters have been enquired into by the proper authorities and it is difficult to see why they are in the report” (Press 7th June 1927, p5). Inspector Cameron retorted that the Police had no information about the girl whose habits were said to have inspired the nailing of the window. In his opinion, the window was closed to prevent the Police from detecting breaches of the Licensing Act.

            The case against Mr. Pritchard was looking decidedly unpleasant, but at that point Mr. F D Sargent, representing the owners of the Hotel, “interposed with the information that the lease of the Hotel would expire shortly and that the owners had entered into negotiations with a man whose fitness to hold the license had been endorsed by the Magistrates.” Mr. Pritchard was lucky and escaped the judicial censure that was without doubt impending. The case was adjourned until 29th June, by which time his lease had expired and a more suitable licensee was installed.

Patrick Lawrence took up the license with the departure of Mr. Pritchard and held the pub for three years when he decided to move elsewhere. In 1930 no member of the family was available to hold the license and it passed to J J Cotter, but in 1932 was back with the redoubtable Alfred, who in 1936 passed it his son Robert Lawrence. In 1941 David Rodgers managed the hotel, but the license was safely in the hands of Maurice Lawrence by 1942. In 1951 Maurice’s son Bernard became licensee, holding the license until 1988, the second longest tenure on record in Christchurch; his years as “mine host” were exceeded only by the redoubtable Annie “Nancy” Hancock of the Riccarton Hotel.

Bernard was a man of very long vision. He had the ability to perceive trends in the industry long before others, and made innovations accordingly. He introduced a TAB to the premises in 1954, and ten years later, foreseeing the inevitability of a return to 10 o’clock closing, oversaw the construction of the annex to the west of the building in Battersea Street – the lounge bar – to cope with the expected boom in custom. Ten o’clock closing duly started in 1967. Indeed the Club can make a claim to being the originator of the entertainment scene in Christchurch Hotels; pianist Jack Thompson and singer Yolande Gibson were playing at the Club before 10 o’clock closing.

The lounge bar was immensely popular and became one of the major housie venues of the City. In 1982, when the pub celebrated its centennial, two to three hundred people would pack the lounge bar six nights a week for their game sessions. Groups such as the Sydenham Rugby Club, the Gold Band Taxi Social Club, the Christchurch Football Club and the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association all had their nights to raise funds.

The Club Tavern was very much a working man’s pub, and its name was most apt for it was as much a club as a hotel with a strong regular clientele. Being owned and operated by the one family for such a long time the Club became an institution. The Lawrence clan were leading members of the community and shouldered their public responsibilities well, being patrons and benefactors of dozens of clubs, charities and worthy groups over the years. The Club’s community services fund in 1980, for example, raised $1200 for a resuscitation mannequin for the St. John’s Ambulance to use in teaching cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and the year before made donations to the Crippled Children’s Fund, the Salvation Army, Barnados, and Nazareth House In 1984 Bernard Lawrence, in his capacity as patron of the Sydenham 19-year-old rugby league team, provided the players with matching track suits. Perhaps for these reasons, the Club Tavern has been spared some of the more lurid episodes experienced by other pubs. The Lawrence family, in their 106 year tenure, kept a very firm control over their patrons and were deeply involved in community affairs from the first. It is hardly surprising that perhaps the most unruly episodes of the past involved little more than a £1 fine and the occasional immersion of a well-oiled patron in the water-trough in front of the hotel.

3:03. A New Era Begins.

In 1988 the Lawrence family connection was severed when the building was sold to prominent Christchurch hotelier Ian McKenzie. The license passed to Stephen Nicholson, and the old pub was changing to meet changing times and changing demands from a changing clientele. In 1992 the old public bar underwent extensive refurbishment and redecoration to reopen as Dino’s, a restaurant and bar with an American 50’s and 60’s theme. In February 1994, the license was taken by Barry Steans and Dino’s was transformed into the present Churchill’s Public House. It is currently run by Mr. Steans’ daughter Vicki.

19.07.2011. Update. Bevan reports “The Steans sold the pub in 97, To Kevin Brady & Dave Gow, with Gow selling his share to Bevan Gerling in 99. Bevan Gerling becoming sole licencee in 2002 through to 2009.”


  • Bevan  On 19/07/2011 at 06:13

    The Steans sold the pub in 97, To Kevin Brady & Dave Gow, with Gow selling his share to Bevan Gerling in 99. Bevan Gerling becoming sole licencee in 2002 through to 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: