Criterion Hotel




4:01. Obscure Beginnings.

            The origins of the Criterion Hotel (now known as the Coachman Inn) are obscure. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that it was founded in 1863 by a Mr. B Jones, but this is at present unsupported by contemporary records. If this was the case, however, who was this B Jones? There is a possible explanation, but at the moment it must remain pure speculation.

            In 1863 the Lyttelton Hotel (later the Clarendon) was taken over by Mr. C H Smith, who left the following year and the license was then taken over by a certain B N Jones, an American Jew. This gentleman and his wife had been involved in theatre in the past and were extremely adept at staging feasts, banquets and entertainments in general, but Mr. Jones’ money management was not equal to his theatrical talents and later in 1864 he was bankrupted. Some years later he removed to Auckland where he was again bankrupted in 1870. Financial patterns of the time would suggest that if someone was bankrupted once, they would be bankrupted several times, so it is not unlikely that Mr. Jones had been before the magistrate’s bench on other occasions. The question remains: was the B Jones of the first Criterion the same B N Jones of the Lyttelton Hotel?

            John Etherden Coker, known to his many friends as Jack, was a man about town whose greatest desire was to open and run a gentlemen’s club, or at the very least a prestigious hotel. He made several attempts, and his first forays into the world of commerce were fraught with problems. He took over a butchery business in Lyttelton and went bankrupt. For a while he was Inspector of Nuisances for the Christchurch City Council and in 1863 opened the Hotel in Cathedral Square that would eventually become known as Warner’s. He was bankrupt again within six months. Jack was on the ropes but not out. He rallied like the trouper he was and by May of 1864 had made representation to the Licensing Bench for a general license in Gloucester Street. Whether he was successful or not is uncertain, and he seems to have leased the City Hotel for a brief time. He then took the Criterion. The question is: did he start the Hotel, or did he take it over from Mr. Jones?

            I would suggest a scenario that may explain the above concoction of information, a working hypothesis that fits the available facts and can stand until further evidence either refutes or supports the statement.

            Mr. Jones, finding the appropriate backing, opened the Hotel at 144 Gloucester Street in 1863 at more or less the same time as Jack Coker opened his Commercial Rooms in the Square. The new establishment was christened the Criterion and Mr. Jones being an ebullient man with a flair for entertainment the business prospered at first. Coker’s premises in the Square likewise had auspicious beginnings, but financial problems very quickly overtook him and he was bankrupted. Undeterred, he sought a license in Gloucester Street, but his recent bankruptcy militated against him and his application was denied by the Licensing Bench. Furthermore, nobody was prepared, in the light of his recent history, to back him with the necessary capital for a new Hotel. To bide his time, earn a living, and let the furore die down, he took the lease of the City Hotel or perhaps took a job as licensee manager. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones was in financial difficulties and in 1864 he became bankrupt. Coker saw his chance. An existing business was up for sale, probably at a bargain price. The cost of taking over a working hotel was only a fraction of the cost of building an entirely new hotel and business from scratch, and he was able to convince a backer of the viability of his proposition.

The above is, of course, speculation and unprovable either way at this point. Whatever really happened, there is no doubt that Coker was able to take the Hotel, either as a going concern or starting it from the ground up. More, it was, at least initially, a success. In his report to the Licensing Bench of April 1865, Inspector Pender commented that he had “found the house clean and comfortable as usual; accommodation extensive and of the best kind. An extensive bar business done on the premises; but, as at the City Hotel, the proprietor always manages by his prompt and energetic interference, to prevent any attempt at disorderly conduct” (Lyttelton Times 6th April 1865 p5).

Coker’s aspirations were high and he desperately wanted to have the great and grand patronise his Hotel. Governor Sir George Grey visited Christchurch in 1866, and Coker struck on the idea of a fine billiards room to tempt His Excellency. He acquired a first rate billiards table from the White Hart Inn and hired the leading billiards professional Mr. Roberts, who was fortuitously visiting New Zealand at the time, for a week to give demonstrations. Coker’s long term ambition seems to have been to run a Gentleman’s Club rather than just an Hotel, and the billiards room at the back of the Criterion began to assume the characteristics of such an institution; it became Coker’s Exchange Rooms, then Coker’s Canterbury Exchange. It was, in fact, so far to the rear of the Hotel that it was actually accessed from Cathedral Square. It was open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily and afforded office space to commercial travellers. Colonial and English papers were provided, current commodity prices listed, and a special messenger was always in attendance to see to the commercial gentlemen’s needs. Refreshments, of course, were always on hand and “déjeûners et dînettes ready at all hours” (Southern Provinces Almanac 1865, p161).

Mr. Coker seems to have been upstaged by George Oram of the Clarendon, who provided the supper for the Grand Ball held in Sir George’s honour at the Provincial Council Chambers on 16th January. Despite his obvious ability as a manager, the Criterion did not work out either, and Mr. Coker’s financial backing disappeared. Once more the Resident Magistrate’s Bench beckoned and Coker was once more bankrupted. The premises were taken over by Thiel, Mytton and Co., probably one of the creditors, and the lease was taken over by a variety of gentlemen with mixed success. The first was the ill-fated John Edward Darby.

4:02. A Run of Bankrupts.

Sergeant-Major Darby was a drill instructor with the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry, and a swordsman of such skill as to be able to open a fencing academy in Cashel Street (MacD53). What motivated him to take the lease of the Criterion cannot be known, but take it he did early in 1866 to his very quick ruin. At 12:00 noon sharp on Friday 5th October 1866 auctioneer Mr. W D Barnard, under instructions from the official sequestrator Mr. H F Seager, put the goodwill and the license of the Criterion under the hammer at public auction. The terms were cash, and there was no reserve (Lyttelton Times 4th October 1866). Darby took his failure hard, it seems, and took to drink. Shortly after New Year’s Eve of 1867 he was drinking at Coker’s Hall (the irrepressible Gentleman Jack had several irons in the fire at any given time and had an interest, through his Canterbury Music Hall Company, in the Gaiety Theatre, sometimes known as Coker’s Music Hall) and seems to have bragged of his skills as a pugilist. The gloves were put on, and he had bouts with several men. He had then made his way to his home in Colombo Street, where he gradually fell into a coma. He died at his home on 3rd January 1867 at the age of 38, leaving a widow, Elizabeth. As a member of the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry, he was buried with military honours.

Being a bankrupt, Darby had no funds and his widow and orphaned children, therefore, were thrown upon the mercy of the community. As was so often the case in those times, the response of the community was to organise a Benefit Concert. Thus it was that on Thursday evening, January 10th 1867, Miss Joey Guggenheim, lessee of the Theatre Royal, placed her premises at the disposal of the Officers and Members of the Christchurch Yeomanry Cavalry, and a benefit concert was given by the members of the “dramatic profession” supplemented by the talents of “several ladies and gentlemen who have kindly volunteered their services”. The organisers, members of the Yeomanry Cavalry, “begged respectfully to inform the public” that the concert was to be held and trusted that “in offering the following programme, they (the public) may patronise it, not for its intrinsic merits, but overlooking its weaknesses, receive it kindly for the sacred object” (Lyttelton Times. 9th January 1867 p3).

The evening began with a “charming, petite comedy in one act” entitled “Who Speaks First”, featuring Mesdames Herbert and Edwards, and Messrs Fawcett, Carey and Pollock. After the intermission there were musical items from Mrs Carey (making her first and only appearance on any stage) and Messrs Foley, Thompson and Dunlop. Mrs Foley gave a flute solo, Mr. Ness performed a selection of dramatic pieces, Mr. Furby recited some “Comic Canterbury Rhymes”, and a band made up of Messrs Kohler, Zinkgraff, Poore and Son played for the entertainment of the throng. The evening concluded with a “screaming farce” entitled “The Dumb Belle”, starring Mr and Mrs B N Jones, Mr. Carey, Mr. Fawcett and Miss Herbert. Quaint though the entertainment may have been, one can only have admiration for the organisational skills and repertory talents of those who were able to produce a full variety concert at no more than 5 days’ notice. It was obviously a sell-out success and Mrs Darby seems to have done well; later that year she was able to take over John Coker’s delicatessen shop and set herself up in business. It is almost certain that she was able to take the business and become financially self-sufficient thanks to the generosity of those who supported the benefit concert. Elizabeth Munro Darby remarried to a Mr. W F Price in June of 1871 at St. Luke’s Church in Manchester Street.

A moral may be drawn from this tragic episode. In an age that had no social welfare, no domestic purposes benefits, no grief counsellors, indeed virtually no official social “safety nets” of any kind, human compassion was commensurately wider. Friends could rally around in a crisis, arrangements made at a moment’s notice, and money raised for the relief of the destitute very quickly and efficiently. Elizabeth Darby, thanks to a few hours’ frantic effort and an evening of entertainment for the people of Christchurch, was able to obtain sufficient funds to buy into a little business of her own and become once more a self-supporting and self-confident member of the community, without having to go cap in hand to a government agency or a professional charitable organisation. This is a cautionary tale from which modern society may well learn a lesson.

Not long after this sad saga, in April of 1867, Mr. Davis took over the management of the Hotel. He did not, at first, hold the lease of the Hotel, but appears to have been a licensee manager put in to run the business by Thiel Mytton and Co, taking up the lease a little later. Things did not go well, and by August of that year Mr Davis was before the Court suing his own landlord for damages.

            The rather brief and obscure reporting of the case (Lyttelton Times 2nd August 1867), which seems to presuppose a prior knowledge of events on the part of the reader, is not easy to unravel, but the course of events would seem to begin with Mr. Davis buying the furniture of the Hotel preparatory to taking over the lease. The house had been advertised for lease while Mr. Davis was managing it, and he had approached the agent, Solicitor Mr. Wynn Williams, with an offer to take the house. Mr. Williams had offered the lease of the Hotel to Mr. Davis but there was obviously mention of additional ground rent over and above the ordinary rental, a matter that had not been made apparent in the original advertisement, and in Davis’ opinion the gross rent was too high. The rental offer was later set at £200, to which Davis agreed, but insisted that he would have nothing to do with back rent, an agreement that seems to have been made verbally. He then undertook to lease the Hotel for three years, but when the documents were made out he found that additional ground rent had been included and he refused to sign.

Then came a direct conflict of testimony. Mr Williams deposed that he had told Mr. Davis that having reached an agreement he (Davis) would have to surrender his license to the landlord until the lease was signed, and would only get his license back once the instrument had actually been signed. Mr. Davis stated that he had been told nothing of the sort. The result was that Mr. Williams was now of the opinion that Mr. Davis was a trespasser on the property, had told him to get off the premises or be subject to an action of ejectment. Mr. Davis had remained obdurate, the bailiffs had moved in and sold his property, which thus incited him to sue.

Brewer Alfred Lewisson testified that he had been present at a meeting between Mr. Davis and Mr. Williams when the arrangements had been made, and confirmed that Mr. Williams had told Mr. Davis that he would not be held liable for back rent, a statement that Mr. Garrick (acting for Mr. Davis) submitted would have made distraint of Mr. Davis’ property illegal. A W D Barnard testified that he had spoken to Mr. Williams about the lease on the Hotel and that Mr. Williams had told him that the rent was £200 a year and nothing more than that had been said. Despite these testimonies and the comment that the agreement was a very imprecise bargain for a lease, His Worship could see nothing illegal about the forced sale of Mr. Davis’ property, and presumably the unfortunate man lost his money. He also lost his association with the Hotel, and other hands took over the running of the Criterion.

In August of 1868 the curse of the Criterion was broken and at last a capable publican took the house. The license was taken by John William Oram, one of the five Oram brothers of Midsomer Norton in Somerset who between them in the 1860’s and 1870’s controlled half the Hotels in Christchurch. In the 1860’s John had the Criterion, Matthew had the Golden Fleece (sometimes known as the Cold’n Fleas) on the corner of Armagh and Colombo Streets, Charles had the Pier Hotel at Kaiapoi, George had the Clarendon and the Carlton and also controlled the Market Hotel (on which site is now the Quality Hotel City). Only Hubert, a painter and paperhanger by trade, was not involved with some hotel or other; he had his interior decorating business in Kaiapoi. John Oram, perhaps the most able of the five brothers, had the Criterion for a year, taking over the City Hotel from Mr. Ruddenklau in August of 1869.

Thereafter the Criterion was run by competent publicans such as John Baylee (1870) and R Wallace (1879). George Bird had the Hotel from about 1878. He had been employed for many years with the Telegraph Department, becoming station manager at Lyttelton in 1864 and in 1866, and as Provincial Telegraph manager had been largely responsible for running the lines to the West Coast. He became Inspector of Telegraphs and left the Public Service in 1876, later taking the license of the Criterion for a while but he did not keep it for long. Hotel keeping was not his calling, and he became a court reporter for the Press for some twenty years (MacB443).

There was, of course, the occasional failure. One such was John Olphert, who took the lease in 1883. Olphert was a very experienced publican, having had the Hotel at Cust and then the Oxford Hotel at Oxford (MacO77). From there he moved to Little River, where he had the Little River Hotel for some years and appears to have been both popular and successful. Why he moved into town and took over the Criterion is not known, but, like so many before him, it was his downfall. By October he was forced to instruct his solicitors Garrick, Cowlishaw and Fisher to place a sombre public notice in the Lyttelton Times to notify all and sundry “that John Olphert of Christchurch in the said district has this day filed a statement that he is unable to meet his engagements with his creditors. The first meeting of creditors to be held at the Supreme Courthouse, Christchurch, on Monday the twenty ninth day of October 1883 at eleven o’clock in the forenoon” (Lyttelton Times 23rd October 1883, p7).

4:03. Changing times, changing needs.

Changes were on the way for the Criterion and the man who oversaw them was the energetic Mr. William Burnip, who took the Hotel in 1892 (MacB993). A sawyer by trade and a keen rower and cricketer, Burnip had been in “The Trade” since taking the Ferryman’s Arms at Kaiapoi in the early 60’s. Over the years he had had a whole string of Hotels, including the Kaiapoi, Middleton’s, the Railway Hotel in Lyttelton, the Canterbury Hotel and the Terminus Hotel opposite the Christchurch Railway Station. He renamed the Criterion Hotel the New Criterion for reasons that are at best obscure as by then the old house was becoming quite run down.

The original hotel was a plain, workmanlike, two storey structure with four canopied windows on the upper floor facing the street. The western wall abutted hard up against the solid structure of the Lyttelton Times building and by the 1890’s the decrepit old building may have relied on its sturdy neighbour for support. The street frontage of the ground floor contained two doors, one on the west which opened into the bar, and one on the east which was the entrance to the office and the accommodation. The doorways had semicircular architraves with lunette windows in the tops. Two double sashcord windows occupied the space between the doors. Ornamental wooden corbels supported the eaves and the front elevation was topped by a plain wooden parapet painted with the title “Criterion”. In the centre of the parapet and above it again was an ornately carved wooden signboard bearing the name W. Burnip. No doubt the building was adequate when built and served the purpose for which it was designed well enough, but it is unlikely that it was ever intended to be a long-lasting structure.

By 1900 many of the older Hotels in the City had attracted deep criticism from the Police. Old wooden buildings such as the Provincial Hotel, the White Hart (which stood on the site now occupied by the Department of Labour in High Street), the Clarendon, the Carlton, the Prince of Wales, the Zetland Arms in Cashel Street, and the Criterion had, in the opinion of the Police, deteriorated to such an extent that they would have to be completely refurbished or demolished. Refurbishment was not really an option. Times were changing and the day of the small, wooden Hotel, cosy at it may have been, was drawing to a close as far as the City accommodation market was concerned. The day of the new, grand hotel, built of permanent materials in classic designs and offering the very latest in amenities, was dawning. Large, elegant premises such as the Terminus and Warner’s Hotel, had been built around 1900 and they offered not only vastly superior accommodation but a huge range of amenities such as hot showers, telephones, and electric bedlamps. To try to renovate the little old wooden Hotels to this standard would have been a hopeless waste of money. Not only that, the Great Exhibition was coming shortly, and the thousands of tourists who would pour in the City to visit the extravaganza would expect to be catered for in the best possible style.

To make matters worse, the older Hotels, because of their increasingly run down condition, were attracting the more unsavoury classes of drinker. Decent people visited the better establishments such as the Excelsior or Coker’s Hotel, and avoided the sleazier Hotels. Sadly, such a social movement increasingly polarises the position of a Hotel; the more rough types patronise a bar, the less likely decent folk are to drop in. Hotels, unless run by a very strong publican, can sink lower and lower into the social mire, attracting more and more attention from the Police, who in turn are increasingly forceful in their demands for the forfeiture of licenses. The Prohibitionist Movement also was rapidly gaining strength in the 1890’s, and demands for a reduction in the number of licenses were becoming increasingly strident. Public Houses were under severe pressure to improve their performance or disappear. High standards were the price not only of economic success in an increasing discriminating and sophisticated consumer climate, they were essential for sheer survival. Publicans all over Christchurch were faced with the age-old demand: “Shape up, or ship out!”

The result was a sudden cloud of dust, the by-product of old wooden buildings being torn down all over town and a following frenzy of monumental building. “Never in the history of the Colony” reported the Press of 8th October 1902 (p7) “has there been such an amount of re-building of hotel property in such a short space of time as is now, and has lately been, the case in Christchurch. Warner’s and Tattersall’s have recently been rebuilt, and the following hotels in brick and stone are now in the course of erection:- Royal, Clarendon, Provincial, Carlton, Prince of Wales, Zetland Arms, and Criterion.” Mr. Jones’ ramshackle old building was razed and a brand new Criterion of surpassing elegance arose in its place.

This may have come as something of a relief to Mr. Burnip, and indeed may have been most convenient as he had recently been struck by fire (Lyttelton Times 13th February 1902, p2).

At two o’clock on the morning of 13th February 1902, the night porter at the adjacent Warner’s Hotel smelled smoke. He quickly noticed that the storeroom of the Criterion Hotel was alight and promptly raised the alarm. The flames took hold rapidly, but the fire engines were quickly on the spot. The fire had by then taken hold of the rear of the building, threatening the main portion of the Hotel and the adjacent “Lyttelton Times” building. Fortunately the night was very still, with no breath of wind, so the firemen were able to work unhampered and, concentrating their efforts on the seat of the fire in the storehouse outbuilding were, after thirty minutes, able to reduce the conflagration. Nevertheless it was a terrifying ordeal for the residents of the house, and Mr. and Mrs. Burnip, who were asleep in the Hotel at the time, being awakened by the smoke, fled, having first, with the assistance of the barmaid, gathered together a few boxes and articles of clothing. Six lodgers, who were staying in the back part of the building also managed to escape without injury

Warner’s Hotel, which was then packed with visitors, also roused its guests and people evacuated the building. The night porter who had raised the alarm “at once roused the employees, who are drilled in fire work, and had everyone called, and all preparation made to prevent a panic. The ladies were taken to the fire escape and balcony, and they fully appreciated the life-saving apparatus in use at the hotel” (Lyttelton Times 13th February 1902, p2). What happened to such men as may have been on the upper floors remains unexplained. The Criterion was badly damaged, but not sufficiently so as to prevent a continuance of business, and anyway the building was insured for £1,000, £500 with the Standard and £500 with London and Liverpool and Globe, with a further £300 on chattels. Perhaps this episode, coming on top of everything else, convinced Mr. Burnip that the time was ripe for a change.

And change there was, although the cost was, of course, enormous. It is possible that Mr. Burnip found it a severe financial strain (despite the insurance), which may explain why, in 1904, the license was held by W Burnip, George Fox and W Samson. The probability is that he had to join with partners to spread the economic load.

4:04. The Dominion Hotel.

            The new Hotel, built in 1902 – 3, was designed by Mr. J C Maddison, builder of so many of the magnificent late Victorian and Edwardian Hotels of Christchurch. Some of his other works include the Clarendon, The Carlton and Warner’s Hotel. The New Criterion was an elegant three storey construction, built of solid brick and stone in the classic Italianate style with iron fire escapes and all the modern conveniences of the time. Unlike the old wooden Criterion, it was not actually built up against the wall of the adjacent “Lyttelton Times” building, but was separated from it by a six foot wide alleyway.

            Messrs Burnip, Fox and Samson did not long retain the Hotel. In 1906 the lease passed to Mr. J G Green and in 1907 to Henry McArtney who changed the name to the Dominion. Even he did not hold the license himself for long and in 1908 the proprietor was Mr. E E Daniels. And so the succession of landlords continued and the Criterion, now the Dominion, enjoyed a long period of business, sometimes prospering, sometimes on hard times, sometimes elegant, sometimes seedy, as indeed all hotels go through such cycles. For over seventy years it was business as usual for the Dominion and the days and years passed without more than the usual problems.

            There were, of course, the occasional moments of drama (Press 19th January 1925, p4). Around 1:30 pm one Saturday afternoon shortly after Christmas of 1924 an employee thought that she smelled smoke. At 2:30 pm a waitress called the alarm, having seen smoke issuing from the top floor corridor of the Hotel where the fire had begun in the staff quarters and spread rapidly. Soon afterwards great clouds of smoke were billowing from the front and back of the hotel and onlookers were convinced that the Hotel was doomed. Members of the Muriel Starr theatrical company, who were staying at the Hotel, made quick use of the back fire escape, throwing down hats, boxes and piles of clothing onto the little patch of grass that then lived in Press Lane to the east of the Hotel.

            The Fire brigade, under the command of Fire Superintendent Warner, was quickly on the scene and made a textbook rescue. Hoses were laid up the staircase to the loft, the pumps were manned with vigour, and despite the intense heat and voluminous quantities of smoke the fire was substantially under control by 3:30 pm.

            The fire was not quite the conflagration that it seems to have appeared from the street, although it was serious enough and only prompt and efficient action on behalf of the Fire Brigade saved the Hotel from destruction. The seat of the fire, it would appear, was in a pile of bedding and stores stowed away in the loft and the smouldering of these items had perhaps produced more smoke than fire. Nevertheless, there was substantial damage. Almost the entire roof, which covered the staff quarters, was burnt away, and several rooms were severely damaged. There was considerable water damage also, as water from the hoses dripped down through the ceilings to the lower floors. The cause of the fire was never truly ascertained, although the firemen were of the opinion that the initial cause of ignition was an electrical short-circuit somewhere.

            The building was then owned by a Mr. David Young, a former licensee of the City Hotel, who had purchased it only weeks before at a cost of some £25,000, and was under the management of licensee Mr. Percy C Curtis. The amount of the insurance was not available at the time (Press 19th January 1925, p6), but the damage was certainly made good and the Hotel continued to trade.

            The years slipped by, publican followed publican. The interior of the building was substantially altered in 1930 by Williamson Builders to designs by architect Frank Willis, and in 1970 the Hotel was acquired by New Zealand Breweries. Like so many inner City Hotels of that decade, the Dominion suffered something of a decline and the standard of clientele in the public bar deteriorated, although the accommodation was maintained throughout. But something had to be done about the Hotel, and New Zealand Breweries, after nearly two decades of ownership, began, in line with new marketing strategies and philosophies, to divest itself of its Hotels. The Dominion was put on the market.

4:05. The Coachman Inn.

            In December of 1979 the old Dominion Hotel was purchased by Mr. B W Bellis, owner of the Coachman Steak House in Chancery Lane (Press 15/12/1979, p6). He had bought the Coachman in 1979 and had built it up over the years into a very popular middle of the road dining venue, which was something that Christchurch really needed. In the seventies, those out to dine had the choice of a hamburger and chips, or fine dining. There was a nothing in between these two extremes, and the Coachman filled a real demand for a “family” dining room, where people could have a meal at a table at a reasonable price without having to patronise the few good restaurants which were, all too often, prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of people. The Coachman Steak House, with its capacity of 80, became a great success and by the end of the decade Mr Bellis was looking to not only expand but to be able to offer patrons a glass of beer or wine with their meal.

Licensed restaurants were then in their relative infancy in New Zealand, and those that existed in Christchurch were in that “prohibitively expensive” range. The notion of having a drink with a meal was still quite a radical departure, but the Coachman Steak House was on the brink of that step. Unfortunately it was too small for Mr. Bellis’ expanding clientele, and larger premises were sought. A number of options, one of them being the Theatre Royal, were considered, but by far the best site was the Criterion Hotel which was then up for sale by its owners, New Zealand Breweries.

            Under the terms of the agreement, New Zealand Breweries would continue to run the Hotel until the official changeover date of 25th March 1980. It would then be closed for up to six months, for which the Canterbury Licensing Committee had granted permission (Press 15th December 1979, p6), during which it would be gutted and completely renovated inside. Hotel occupancy would be reduced from 33 to 24, and facilities would be built into each guest room to bring it up to international standards. A restaurant, seating up to 240, would be built on the ground floor, and there would be an adjacent bar. The public bar, which Mr. Bellis hoped would become a “white collar” bar catering to the needs of neighbouring business houses, would be moved to the first floor, and a house bar with featured entertainment would also be built next to it. It was all organised and well-thought-out. Almost. All plans are liable to be plagued by unforeseen problems.

            The problem was not of Mr. Bellis’ making. It was a spat between the Breweries, the Hotel Association, and the workers. The sweeping changes about to take place would, of course, involve the laying off of staff and as the dreaded day of closure drew nearer trilateral talks were held on redundancy arrangements for the ten staff members. Early in March of 1980, representatives of the owner, Lion Breweries, the Hotel Association and the Canterbury Hotel Workers’ Union met to negotiate redundancies. The sticking point in the discussions was whether casual workers were entitled to redundancy payments in the same way as full time workers. A settlement was not reached and the staff went on strike. A black ban was then placed on the Hotel by the Canterbury Trades Council (Press 13th March 1980, p6), which meant, in effect, that no beer deliveries would be made to the Hotel. The Hotel manager, Mr. Haitana, could not run the premises on his own and applied to the Canterbury Licensing for permission to close the Hotel because of insufficient staff. Permission was granted and The Dominion closed its doors.

            The confrontation was accompanied by the typical rhetoric and jargon. Mr. R W R Broom, executive officer of the Hotel Association, a former publican at the Carlton Hotel and a man who regarded the Trade Union movement as dinosaurian, pointed out that the Union had overlooked the fact that there was no redundancy clause in the Hotel Workers’ Award, that the majority of staff had worked at the Hotel for a very short time, and that those who had been employed for less than twelve months were not entitled to redundancy payments under the terms of the Wages Protection Act anyway. The Union agreed that there was some difference between amounts of redundancy awarded to workers based on their length of service, but did not differentiate between casual and full-time workers over the question of redundancies. “A worker should not receive second class treatment just because he is casual”, said union Secretary Mr. G D Harding (Press 13th March 1980, p6)

            The end was inevitable and the Union was in the wrong. The acrimony faded from public view and the planned reconstruction went ahead as scheduled. Building contractor B J Phillips Ltd began work on a seven month restoration process that involved strengthening the old building with steel rods. Holes were drilled into brick walls and epoxy resin injected to make the structure into one unit, walls were knocked out, the building was completely rewired and replumbed, and air conditioning and fire alarms installed. Walls were removed on the second floor to increase the size of guest rooms and bathrooms were added. The Coachman Inn would be more than just a restaurant; it would be a licensed Hotel with accommodation for 24 guests, two bars, a restaurant bar, and a restaurant seating 150 diners.

            The Coachman Inn was duly opened to the public on 12th November 1980 by the then Prime Minister Mr. (later Sir Robert) Muldoon. The Premier remarked that the Coachman Inn represented a type of enterprisem that was still very much of a novelty for New Zealand the kind of success story that he liked. Mr. Bellis had started his business in a small way and it had grown to the point that it could now generate up to 67 new jobs in a renovated building. Mr. Muldoon was of the opinion that people with initiative could progress in New Zealand.

            The old Dominion Hotel had been a meeting place for some of the rougher elements of the drinking public. Groups such as bikies had congregated at the bar and, although largely well behaved, their presence had tended to deter others. “Unsavoury incidents” had occurred. It had been Mr. Bellis’ intention to raise the tone of the premises and open a business that would be attractive to a better class of clientele such as families and “white collar” workers. To this end the old public bar was not reopened. Instead it was redecorated with elegant wooden panelling, a dress code was imposed and it was turned into a lounge bar. Mr. Bellis applied for an exemption from the public bar rule. This move brought a reaction from the Canterbury Licensing Commission, as at that time it was obligatory for a licensed Hotel to maintain a public bar that was open to everyone, nor could anyone, provided they were of age and behaved themselves, be refused service in a public bar.

            Two weeks after the Coachman Inn was opened to the public, Mr. K N Hampton, solicitor for Mr. Bellis, appeared before the Committee with his client to plead the case. He explained that Mr. Bellis wanted to maintain a high standard throughout the premises and that “unsavoury incidents” had occurred in the past. There was evidence that “undesirable elements” were trying to return although the Hotel had been open for barely a fortnight. In one incident recently an intoxicated man had smashed glasses in the lobby and had shouted obscenities before being ejected. The Committee clearly was sympathetic to the situation and was aware that it had granted such an exemption to The Shades Tavern in Cashel Street recently, and that neither the Police, nor the Hotel Association, nor the Inspector of Licenses had opposed the application. However, the rules are the rules. The Committee pronounced that the Coachman was not “sufficiently unique” to warrant a departure from the requirement to provide a public bar, and that the public interest dictated that all members of the public had the right to use the bar (Press 8th December 1980, p12). Mr. Bellis’ application was rejected and he was obliged to continue the public bar.

            Despite this setback, the Coachman Inn proved very popular and trade was good. However, times and conditions change and in August of 1986 Mr. Bellis put the Coachman Inn on the market “for personal reasons” (Press 15th August 1996, p4). Potential buyers from Canterbury, Palmerston North, Auckland and as far away as Australia had shown an interest, but in the end it went into the hands of a Governor’s Bay farmer whose name was not at the time disclosed, and for an undisclosed sum. The purchase took place early the following September (Press 8th September 1986, p47), with the new owner taking over on 1st December. It was planned to retain the Hotel in its current form.

4:06. Into The Future.

            Over the next decade the Hotel evolved from an integrated business into a number of related but diverse entertainments. The second floor bar went through several transformations. In 1989 it became The Loft under Ian Costello and Wilf Hale. Mandolin player and band leader Mr. Costello was “mine host”, running the bar, organising (and often providing) the entertainment which took advantage of the increasing popularity of Irish music, and The Loft became one of the more successful of the many “Irish” bars that proliferated during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Wilf Hale, the business and management member of the partnership, departed after some months to pursue other interests, leaving the outgoing and musically talented Mr. Costello to continue the now thriving business and a programme of entertainment that packed the bar room out night after night. Bonhomie and musical talents are useful attributes for a publican, but other pressures come to bear upon one who enters “The Trade”, and stern demands are made of those who enter it. Sadly, the Loft was not to last. By 1993 Mr. Costello, in the sombre tradition of the now venerable premises, walked that well worn path in the footsteps of Mr. Jones, Mr. Darby, Mr. Davis, Mr. Olphert and “Gentleman” Jack Coker. The Loft Bar became the Finbar.

            The steak house restaurant on the ground floor became a Theatre Restaurant. Excalibur’s offered a continually changing programme of risqué comedy theatre to appreciative diners who sat at long tables attended by waiting staff dressed in costume appropriate to the current production. For example during the performance of “Rinse the Ham off My Toga”, a spoof on the Wayne and Schuster  comedy dialogue “Rinse the Blood from my Toga”, itself a spoof on imperial Rome, waiting staff wore ancient Roman togas and tunics. Other shows have included “Hamalot”, “King Arthur’s Hamster”, and “There’s Ham in My Fortune Cookie”. The programme is one that would have thoroughly appealed to both Jack Coker and Mr. B Jones, and is very popular indeed; bookings have to be made several weeks in advance.

            Despite the popularity of the bars and the restaurant, the future of the Coachman Inn is in doubt. On 23rd June 1995 the owners of the property, Coachman Inn Ltd., gave the Christchurch City Council three months notice of their intention to demolish the old Hotel. They also applied for and received a certificate of compliance that preserved their right to demolish the building for up to two years (Press 5th July 1995, p4). The move was a strategic one, and did not necessarily imply that the Hotel would be knocked down within the three months. The application was made on the 23rd as on the following day, the 24th, the new City Plan was notified. Under its terms owners of properties that were listed as historically or architecturally significant would be subject to yet more stringent rules for the demolition or alteration of their old buildings. Thereafter an application to demolish a listed building would require a resource consent and might be considered by a hearings panel which would have the authority to decline it.

            The Coachman Inn Ltd. was therefore hedging its bets, or taking out a form of insurance to keep open its options for the future. The building was still standing a year later and the option had not been taken up, but time passes swiftly and, like so many other old buildings the old Criterion is in dire peril. Yet another foundation stone of the City’s heritage is in danger of being chipped away.

Stephen Symons

374 Barbadoes Street,

Christchurch 1.

Ph: 3656-943 Fax 3659-559

The Coachman Inn

            Formerly the Criterion, the New Criterion, The Dominion.

Licensees                                                       Freeholders.

            (as the Criterion Hotel)

1863    B N Jones (?).

1865    John E Coker.                                      1865    John E Coker.

1866    John Edward Darby                             1866    Thiel, Mytton & Co.

1867    Davis.

1868    John W Oram

1870    John Baylee.

1876    George Bird

1879    R Wallace.

1883    John Olphert.

1885    R H Conlon

1886    John Edward Derby.

1892    William Burnip.

            (became the New Criterion)

1904    William Burnip, George Fox, W.


1906    J G Green.

1907    Henry McArtney

1908    E E Daniels.

            (became the Dominion)

1911    J T Sutton.

1923    T A Cloudsley, Percy Curtis.

1925    David Young.                                      1925    David Young.

1928    Catherine Young.


1970    Licensee managers                               1970    New Zealand Breweries.

1979    B W Bellis                                           1979    B W Bellis.

            (became The Coachman Inn)

                                                                        1986    The Coachman Inn Ltd.


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: