Durham Arms Hotel

6:01.Pretentious Beginnings. 

            The Christchurch Club, a well-known Gentleman’s Club in the City, was inspired by the tradition of the English coffee house. These establishments, which first appeared in the early 18th century, were places where gentlemen of leisure could foregather to discuss politics, literature, the arts and sciences, and other such matters, in an atmosphere of salubrious geniality. The Christchurch Club, long established on Latimer Square, is almost as old as Christchurch itself, and its first site was that now occupied by the Durham Arms Hotel.

            The first meeting of the Christchurch Club was held at the boarding house of a Mr. Woodman on the corner of Durham and Peterborough Streets. Mr. Woodman had originally built the house as his private residence, but later turned it into a boarding house to take advantage of the fact that he was very close to the route from Christchurch to Papanui. The runholders and “squatters”, the country gentlemen of substance who fancied themselves as the pioneering landed gentry, wanted a suitable establishment to which they could repair when visiting the City and in which they could enjoy all the comforts of home. For reasons now unknown, Mr. Woodman’s house took their fancy and the various interested gentlemen felt that his would be the ideal premises for a Club. Thus it was that the inaugural meeting of the Christchurch Club was held on March 16th 1856. Those present were Captain B Woolcombe RN (President), George E A Ross (Secretary/ Treasurer), Edward Jollie and John Hall. Various other gentlemen were invited to join, and the Club leased Mr. Woodman’s establishment in its entirety as its first premises. Mr. Woodman himself was retained as the first steward of the Club.

            George Braund Woodman was a Devonshire man, born in 1826, who arrived in New Zealand with his wife Elizabeth aboard the “Canterbury” in October of 1851 (MacW723). A carpenter by trade, he quickly acquired property, as he appeared on the jury list as early as 1853, and his qualification may well have been his house in Durham Street and the quarter acre section upon which it stood. In later years he was involved in road work contracting in the new City, and ran unsuccessfully for the fledgling Christchurch City Council in 1862. Later still he removed to Ellesmere where he was involved in the Leeston races and the Christchurch Hunt, and he won prizes for his cattle in the first Ellesmere Show which was held at Southbridge in 1871. But in 1856 he was fully involved in the beginnings of the Christchurch Club.

            Barely two months after the foundation of the Club the gentlemen members decided that something a little stronger than coffee would be to their taste and duly established a “Libation Fund” for the purchase of ales, wines and spirits for their own consumption. This was the beginning of the license of the Durham Arms, and it could quite rightly be said that a liquor license of one sort or another has been attached to the premises since 1856, making it the oldest extant such establishment in the City. But the premises, comfortable as they were, soon began to show signs of overcrowding and adjacent property was purchased, the house extended, and stables added for the use of the gentlemen members. Still things were less than ideal; the gentlemen members, for instance, had to walk to the Avon River at the end of the street for a bath. Mr. Woodham himself suffered declining popularity as the members complained that his catering was less than satisfactory, and he did not pay them the attentions to which his duties would enjoin him. The end result was that he resigned his position as steward, although he seems to have retained ownership of the premises. His place was taken by Mr. and Mrs John Collins.

            Despite the new arrangements, the original quarters of the club were clearly less than adequate for the long term, and something larger and more permanent was sought. To this end the Club purchased an acre of land on the corner of Latimer Square and Worcester Street from Mr. Samuel Bealey. Plans for permanent premises were drawn up by architects William Mountfort and Isaac Luck, building began, and on May 1st 1862 the Canterbury Club was able to hold its first general meeting in its new premises. The new quarters did indeed have an air of permanency; they are still in operation 134 years later.

            When the Club transferred to its present location, Mr. Woodman retained the liquor license and opened his premises as a public house under the name of the Devonshire Arms after his home county in the south-west of Britain, but he was clearly not in his element. The country life called, the Hotel was put on the market and in 1863 the premises were taken over by Mr. Charles G Dann (MacD440) in association with a G Dell. Charles Dann later took the license of what became known as the Garrick, a rather decrepit establishment on the corner of Colombo and Kilmore Streets. The Garrick lost its license in 1893 and became a boarding house; it was pulled down in 1915. Charles Dann died in 1919 at the ripe age of 88.

            Mr. Dann’s interest in the Devonshire Arms lasted no more than a year, although he did not desert The Trade; he next appears at the Oxford Tavern (1870 – 71), and then at the Royal George in what is now FitzGerald Avenue in 1886-88. An Hotel license for the premises was granted to John Henry Hart in May of 1864 (Lyttelton Times 5th May 1864), and in April of 1865 Inspector Pender of the Police could report to the quarterly licensing meeting before Mr. C C Bowen, Resident Magistrate, and Mr. J Ollivier, Justice of the Peace, that the “House (is) very clean; all the conditions applied with in every particular” (Lyttelton Times 6th April 1865).

            Despite his auspicious start, Mr. Hart fell on hard times. Increasingly he found himself unable to satisfy his creditors to the extent that by August of 1870 he was bankrupt. It is possible that, like so many of his contemporaries, he fell prey to the occupational hazards of the Demon Drink (see next chapter: The Excelsior). The Devonshire Arms was offered for sale (Lyttelton Times 21st July 1870 p4) as an “excellent freehold corner quarter of an acre of land, with Hotel, stabling and every convenience” at an “extremely moderate price, and easy terms of payment”. The Hotel was then taken by a Henry Lewis, of whom virtually nothing is known save that he married a Margaret Davis at St Michael’s Church on 9th July 1868 (MacL215). He had the Hotel for some six years, selling it on to one of the City’s leading hospitality entrepreneurs in 1876.

            Two years later the freehold was purchased by Irishman Mr. John Barrett, who also retained the license. In those days the Hotel was on the outskirts of the town, and was convenient to the tram route along Victoria Street to Papanui. Despite its elite beginnings it became (and remains to this day) very much a working man’s pub and seemingly it had deteriorated during Mr. Hart’s tenure. To make matters worse, Alfred Money’s commodious Carlton Hotel was directly on the City – Papanui route and was also much more conveniently situated for the farmers travelling from North Canterbury. As a consequence the Devonshire Arms lost much of its travelling custom.

            Something had to be done to raise the tone of the place, and Mr. Barrett had the energy, the experience and, most importantly, the finance to do it. He called upon the services of architect William Armson to design new and more substantial premises. The result was that the Hotel was virtually rebuilt as a sturdy timber building that set a standard for other corner Hotels and may be compared with Samuel Farr’s very similar design of the Grosvenor Tavern the following year. The Hotel was the earlier of Mr. Armson’s two Christchurch Hotel designs, the later one being the Excelsior on the corner of Manchester and High Streets. Armson’s original drawings for the premises are still extant and are now in the archives of architects Collins, Hunt and Loveridge of Christchurch, a partnership of which Armson was a member. The new two storey building was designed with a comprehensive range of 12 foot stud rooms on the ground floor; a large bar, a tap room, a dining room, several bedrooms and two large sitting rooms for the convenience of guests. The upper floor contained numerous further bedrooms and had a ten foot stud (Lyttelton Times 14th March 1876 p2). The newspaper report was effusive; “The building is to be erected in the most substantial and commodious manner, and promises to be one of the best in Christchurch”. Substantial it was indeed. Although added to and altered and redecorated many times internally over the years, the present building is essentially the same today as when Messrs Armson and Barrett stood back to admire their newly finished handiwork 120 years ago.

            A new building meant a new beginning, and what more appropriate for a new beginning than a new name? The Devonshire Arms was rechristened The Gladstone Hotel after the great William Ewart Gladstone, Liberal Prime Minister of England and long-time proponent of Irish Home Rule, which made him very popular with staunch Catholic Irishmen such as John Barrett. The Hotel would trade under that name for the next 114 years.

            Two years later, having prospered, Mr. Barrett was able to expand his business interests with the proprietorship of the Borough Hotel (later the Excelsior Hotel) in Manchester Street, which he shortly thereafter purchased outright and renamed Barrett’s Family Hotel. He retained ownership of the Gladstone, leasing it out to a long succession of publicans, most of whom seem to have been of Irish origin.

            On 5th June 1885 Mr. Philip McDevitt was granted the license. He was a native of Donegal in Ireland, being born in 1853 to Philip McDevitt Snr and Mary McGlinchy; he married Margaret McNamara of County Clare in February of 1882 (MacMac99), almost immediately thereafter taking ship with his new bride for New Zealand. He had served for a time in the Royal Irish Constabulary and on his arrival in New Zealand joined the Canterbury Police Force and also the Irish Rifles, in which he became a sergeant and was apparently a good man with drill. His service with the Force was very brief indeed and he left the Police at the end of 1882 to take the lease on Alfred Money’s Carlton Hotel from whence he moved in 1885 to the Gladstone.

            Despite Mr. Barrett’s extensive restorations, standards at the Hotel declined and The Gladstone was not at that time numbered amongst the most prestigious of hostelries; the first instruction of the Licensing Bench to Mr. McDevitt was to improve the water closet and urinal facilities to the satisfaction of the Sanitary Officer. They strongly recommended that the Gladstone be hooked into the sewerage system. Whether or not Mr. McDevitt was able to comply with this instruction shall never be known as he was to hold the license for only a year. He died at the Hotel on 16 June 1886 aged 33. The cause of his passing is not known, but it is possible that he succumbed to the perils of his own unsanitary effluent disposal. He left an estate worth £400 to his wife Margaret who continued to run the business and was granted her own license on July 10th 1886. Margaret McDevitt ran the hotel for two years, until, on June 1st 1888, she sold the license to Henry Saunders.

6:02. A Gruesome Obligation.

The safekeeping of the bodies of those who died by misadventure was something of a problem in the last three decades of the 19th century. There was no city morgue as such, and corpses suffered somewhat in the earliest days, especially in the heat of summer. Hotels, having the best public facilities of any buildings, had long been the venues of first choice for any gatherings of a public nature, which included coroners’ hearings. This situation was formalised in 1867 with the passing of the Coroner’s Act, which compelled public houses to accept corpses as they were usually the only buildings with cellars and facilities for keeping things cool. Thenceforth hotels were required under the threat of a £5 fine to accept corpses, a situation that ignited a complex thirty-five year, five-way argument between the publicans, the police, the City Council, the Canterbury Hospital Board and the medical profession.

            The publicans, of course, maintained with some justification that the housing of cadavers was a matter for the police, who had to investigate deaths, or the hospital, which housed the medical profession. From November of 1875 to June of 1878 the publicans won a respite and the hospital was forced to take the bodies of the victims, many of whom were fished out of the Avon River. Post mortems were also held at the police station in Hereford Street, which posed some considerable problems. The examinations were carried out in a cramped little room with one table and two forms, which meant that there was not enough room for the jurors and some had to stand during the proceedings. In 1882 Dr Nedwill complained that the amenities were so primitive that neither towels nor soap were provided, and the police complained that some of their members slept in the room next door and were worried about health hazards. The Government was duly informed of this unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The Colonial Secretary, the then equivalent of today’s Minister of Internal Affairs, wrote to the City Council suggesting that it was the Council’s responsibility to provide a public morgue. The Council replied that it had neither the funds nor an appropriate site for such an amenity. Perforce the bodies continued to pile up at the hospital and in the hotels, and in 1888 the North Canterbury Hospital Board informed all and sundry that as of March 31st the hospital morgue would not be available for public purposes. The publicans let out a howl of dismay as a result of which the Government kindly passed legislation that September relieving hotels of their obligation to accept dead bodies if the hotel was situated within one mile of a morgue.

Finally, in 1896, Parliament enacted that all communities with a population of 1000 or more had to provide a public morgue. This did not mean an immediate respite for the hoteliers, of course, as such buildings take time to construct, and the Christchurch City Council was in no tearing hurry to do anything about the matter. Eventually, however, a public morgue was built on the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets, on the site of what is now the Southpower building. It opened for business in 1901.

The Gladstone has the doubtful distinction of being the last hotel in Christchurch to host a post mortem. The examination was carried out in July of 1901 by a Dr. William Diamond, who told the coroner that there was extreme difficulty working in such cramped and unsuitable quarters as those provided by a hotel and he sincerely hoped that something would be done about it soon. His wish was granted, for on that very day the eminent architect Mr. S Hurst-Seager, designer of the new morgue, had handed the keys to the completed building to the City Council.

            John Barrett’s wife, Honora, died in 1884 and it is not known that he married again. He removed to Kirwee in 1889 and farmed there until he retired in 1907. He returned to the City, taking a house in Bealey Avenue where he died in 1919 at the age of 83 at which time a J P Anderson held the license for the Hotel. The Gladstone passed by will to Barrett’s family, who upheld Mr. Anderson’s lease until 1924 when it was taken by Patrick Quirk, and then by Mr. J S Patterson in 1926. The following year the Barrett family sold the freehold to Mr. Patterson, and the Gladstone remained a Patterson family business until November of 1970 when it was purchased by Dominion Breweries as an operating hotel (it still had 12 rooms available). The final publican of the dynasty, Mr. D B Patterson, was the latest in a long line of Christchurch hoteliers; his great-grandfather had been at the Golden Age Hotel (later the United Services Hotel) in 1884 (Press 10th November 1970;p2).

6:03. Another Image Again

            By the early 1970’s the Gladstone, or “The Glad” as it was more usually known by the regulars, had become one of the swinging hot-spots of the City. In the words of the Press (27th July 1972, p5), it was “an ideal entertainment place for young people” and a “meeting place for all the young people who like to listen to up-tempo music and dance to their hearts’ content”. The partying took place in the main lounge, a room noted for the wall posters and dim lighting so popular at the time, while the Bamboo Lounge catered for private functions. Revellers danced to rock bands with such names as Footsteps, Page One and Tradition. The members of The Tradition, who played on Thursday and Saturday nights, were Dave Whiting on guitar and vocals, John Chappel on drums, and Neville Claughton on bass guitar and vocals.

The man behind this change of style was Gary Ling, who came to the Gladstone in early 1971 after five years as publican at the Otematata Hotel. He was an innovative man, attuned to the needs of the time, and he was able to turn the pub around from its “Flying Jug” reputation thanks to both imagination and discipline. Gary Ling was not one to suffer any nonsense and was noted for his ability to impose both efficiency and orderliness.

There were plans for the Gladstone Hotel, however. It occupies a very strategic site for the tourism industry and in 1985 plans were laid to make huge changes.

The project was to be known as Durham Towers and it was to cover the site from Kilmore Street to Peterborough Street, the corner of Kilmore and Durham being vacant at that time. The arrangements were made by Williams Property Holdings, a Christchurch development company who had been responsible for Kent House on the corner of Durham and Kent Streets, Chancery House and Winchester House. The $14 million, 127 suite complex was to cover some 7,800 square metres and would include several small conference and dining rooms on the first floor, with restaurants, house bars and a lounge on the ground floor. Each suite would include one or two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen facilities and a separate living-room, with an average area of 42 square metres.

Mr. Arthur Williams, chief executive of the company was optimistic for the future. He did not believe that the construction of Durham Towers directly opposite the site of the proposed five-star Parkroyal Hotel would create a glut of inner-city hotel accommodation in the City. “The tourist growth that New Zealand is experiencing will only continue if an ever-increasing amount of good-quality accommodation is provided” he said (Press 18th September 1985, p9). He firmly felt that this would be an Hotel that would appeal both to overseas tourists and New Zealand travellers. All was ready. The date was set. Canon Bob Lowe was ready to bless the site and the Minister of Tourism, the Member for Papanui, Mr. Michael Moore, would ceremonially turn the first sod of ground to signal a start to the construction that would last for 16 months. The Durham Towers would open to the public in March of 1987.

Financial backing vanished at the eleventh hour and the project collapsed. The old Hotel was reprieved , and the Gladstone Hotel continued on its own quiet way just as it had done for nearly 130 years. In 1985 the accommodation was closed and the establishment became the Gladstone Tavern. In 1990 it became the Durham Arms. In 1992 the lease was taken over by Mr. David Marriot and in 1994 the freehold was purchased from Dominion Breweries by Mr. David McCracken. The Durham Arms trades on in much the same way as it ever has.


  • Nick Burrows  On 11/03/2022 at 12:51

    It should be noted that there were two John Barretts owning/running hotels in Christchurch. The original owned by the Barrett Bros, Thomas, John, Joseph and Charles was on the corner of St Asaph St, Ferry Rd and Madras St. John ran the “Barretts Hotel” but died 1866 and the hotel was sold to a Mr Schmit. The later Barretts hotel, Barretts Family Hotel etc. was owned and run by another John Barrett but no relation to the first John Barrett.

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