Nancy’s Hotel

11:01. The Traveller’s Home. 

Nancy’s Hotel may well be the oldest surviving Hotel in Christchurch and is certainly the oldest suburban Hotel, owing its origins to its very convenient geographical position. The trackway that is now Riccarton Road wound its way across what would one day become Hagley Park and worked its way across the flat, swampy landscape towards the west. A branch split off towards the Deans Homestead, while the main pathway continued westwards until it forked to the west and south and the site of the Bush Inn. These two routes would one day become the Main South Road and the West Coast Road, and somewhere along this path a certain James Murrey decided that he had found the right spot for a public house. His instincts were proved right, for this place would for a long time be the last chance for a bite to eat and a pint or two for those travelling to the West Coast or south to Dunedin, and the first sight of civilization in a long time for those travelling in the opposite direction.

Little is known of Mr. Murrey’s antecedents. He is thought to have been born in 1801, a native of  Co. Connaught in Ireland, and to have served in the 56th Regiment of Foot in India in the 1830’s (MacM164). He came to New Zealand via the Victorian goldfields, and thus probably demobilised in India. Certainly he arrived in Canterbury at a very early date, as the Traveller’s Home Inn must have been founded within months of the arrival of the first four ships.

The 36 perches of land that comprised the original property was owned by a man named Henry Washbourne, and it was first leased by and later sold to Murrey in 1854 for £50, by which time the Hotel was a certainly a going concern. Washbourne was an original settler and had purchased 50 acres from the Canterbury Association in 1851 for £3 an acre, and as 36 perches is a little less than a quarter of an acre it is easy to see how large fortunes based on land speculation were quickly amassed in the early years of British settlement. Mr. Washbourne became very comfortably off and “Brockworth”, the home that he built for himself and his family not far from the site of the pub, was a handsome residence indeed. It stood on what is now 88 Brockworth Place.

The origins of the Hotel are obscure as licensing records were not held prior to 1857, when the Canterbury Provincial Council introduced its “Beer Bill”. The earliest known reference to the Hotel is a brief advertisement in the Canterbury Almanack of 1853: “The Traveller’s Home. Hagley Park. By James Murrey. This hotel is conveniently and pleasantly situated in the immediate vicinities of Christchurch and Riccarton; and the Proprietor pledges himself that no exertion shall be wanted on his part to promote the comfort of those who may favour him with their patronage”.

Those were rough and ready times, and rogues abounded. Mr. Murrey became embroiled with the Law, and his brush therewith is the earliest recorded case of a Court hearing on matters relating to liquor trading in Canterbury. On Saturday 30th April 1853 “the greatest excitement…prevailed (in Christchurch)…in consequence of Mr. Murrey, Landlord of the “Traveller’s Home” in Hagley Park, having been summoned to this (The Christchurch Magistrate’s) Court upon the information of the notorious Bill Holland (original italics) to answer the charges of selling spirits on the Sunday morning, for allowing cards and dice to be played, and for serving drinks after hours at night.” (Lyttelton Times 7th May 1853, p11). There was much interest in this spectacular case, and when the Magistrates, headed by Captain Simeon, took their places on the Bench at midday the courtroom was packed.

The first two charges had been dismissed after a hearing on the previous Saturday during which the informant William Holland had been extensively questioned by Mr. Murrey’s legal counsel, Mr. Dampier. The only matter remaining before the Court was that of the after hours’ drinking. The course of events here is somewhat obscure, as it is reported that Holland had wanted to lease the stables of the White Hart Hotel and it was necessary for him, in pursuance of this end, to purchase a stack of hay from a Mr. Jackson “but before he could close the bargain it was necessary for him to ‘raise the wind’ .” Quite what was meant by this is not at all clear, but Holland obviously intended thereby to somehow damage Mr. Murrey. The third charge, that of supplying drink after hours, had been adjourned until April 30th at Holland’s request, as a principal witness who would give crucial evidence had been indisposed. The Court had granted the adjournment, and duly reconvened on the specified day to hear the evidence and decide upon the final charge. The proceedings did not take very long.

The principal witness, a certain George Long, was sworn in and examined by the Bench. The substance of the exchange was as follows.

“Do you know anything of this charge against Mr. Murrey?”

“I have heard about it.”

“Were you at his house at any period during the week before last?”

“Yes, on the Thursday evening.”

“At what time of day was it?”

“In the evening. I went up to Town after dusk, and called in on my return.”

“What time was that?”

“I don’t exactly know – may be half-past nine.”

“How long did you stay there?”

“Some twenty minutes or so.”

“Have you had any conversation with Holland upon this business?”

“He has spoken to me about it.”

“Now, upon your oath, state to the Court what took place in that conversation.”

“I saw Holland in at Mr. Thomson’s and he promised if I would come here and swear that he was sober on the evening I was at Murrey’s and that I was served with drink after 10 o’clock he would show me where to find gold, and that it would make my fortune for life.”  There was no other witness, and the matter was conclusive. The Magistrates conferred briefly and, reconvening the Court, addressed Mr. Murrey:

“We are quite unanimous in our decision that this charge against you must be at once dismissed (as) the nature of the evidence brought before us leaves little doubt but that the whole affair has been a base attempt at conspiracy and bribery!” Mr. Thomas Jackson begged permission of the Court to make a statement as “he had found out the secret that had been plotted against Mr. Murrey, and wished to expose the villainous conspiracy that had been got up by certain parties to injure an honest individual, and extort money from an honest man’s pocket.” Presumably this Mr. Jackson was the man that Holland was negotiating with over the supply of hay, and he wanted to distance himself from any involvement with the matter. His plea was denied, and Mr. Murrey left the Court “without the slightest imputation whatever on his character” (Lyttelton Times 7th May 1853, p11). Obviously there is much, much more to this tale, and its full telling would be an episode fraught with skulduggery, conspiracy and other heinous deeds but sadly the records fail us. We can only conjecture upon the state of affairs that gave rise to this confrontation and to the subsequent fate of the “notorious” Bill Holland.

Mr. Murrey, his character unblemished, did not continue at his establishment for much longer. An advertisement in the Lyttelton Times of December 2nd 1854 proclaimed that “the Traveller’s Home Inn, which is advantageously and pleasantly situated at the corner of Hagley Park and Riccarton Road, and has been established for three years”, was for sale. The property included not only the business and the buildings, but also the land on which they stood and the furniture within as the proprietor was about to retire. Applicants were invited to contact Mr. James Murrey on the premises. Thus it would seem to be established that the original hotel was in operation at least by December of 1851 and that the first proprietor was indeed Mr. Murrey.

The premises were eventually purchased by Mr. John Dilloway but the transaction seems to be have been rather convoluted, as Murrey sold the land he had bought late in 1854 to a Mr. Lee on February 9th 1855 , leased it back, and then Lee sold it to Dilloway on 5th March 1855, the latter promptly leasing a further six adjoining acres from Mr. Washbourne on a 21 year lease at £20 per year. Mr. Murrey seems to have been as good as his word and went into retirement. He was by this time about 54 years of age and presumably he came out of the Hotel with a tidy little sum. He died at Kaiapoi and was buried at the Kaiapoi cemetery on 20th November 1862. His family and marital arrangements remain something of a mystery as, although he left some property, including the freehold of two small cottages (MacM164), nobody ever claimed his estate.

11:02 A Cautionary Tale.

John and Hannah Dilloway were  true First Settlers, arriving on the “Sir George Seymour” in 1850 with their four children Ann (13), Mary (11), John Jnr (7) and a second son now known only by his initial ‘E’. John was described in the passenger lists as a carpenter and gunsmith, and first set up in business in Worcester Street near the Land Office (MacD290). According to the 1852 electoral roll, Mr Dilloway was a gunsmith and had a business in Market Square (now Victoria Square). He  purchased the Traveller’s Home Inn in March of 1855 and was holding a general license by 1857, when the licensing records begin. The premises were by then known as the Plough Inn, and it is assumed that the change of name was the idea of the new landlord. A painted sign of a man holding a plough hung over the road outside the pub to advertise it. The Plough Inn prospered, and if the events of Canterbury Anniversary Day of 1861 are anything to go by, it prospered very well indeed.

Although the weather was ominous at first the skies soon cleared. “By nine o’clock the foreboding clouds of early morning lightened and there was every prospect of a propitious day rendered more agreeable by the showers of the previous evening” (Lyttelton Times 18th December 1861, p4). The major event of the day was the cricket match between the Christchurch XI and the Canterbury XI in Hagley Park just opposite the Plough Inn. Wickets were pitched at 10 o’clock and the Christchurch XI won the toss, scoring 105 at the first innings. There were several tents pitched on the grounds and, of course refreshments both solid and liquid were much in demand by the holidaymakers of whom “there could not have been less than twelve hundred…present who appeared to fully appreciate the arrangements made for their enjoyment” (Lyttelton Times 18th December 1861, p4). The refreshment tents did a roaring trade, and supplied the revellers heartily but as time went on supplies began to run out and increasingly demands were made upon the resources of Mr. Dilloway. “The Plough was literally besieged, and although Host Dilloway had made liberal arrangements for the accommodation and amusement of his guests towards evening his resources were completely exhausted”. The revellers had drunk the Plough dry.

Mr. Dilloway continued in his incumbency in prosperity, and was a popular host. “He was a shrewd, humorous sort of man, who was full of chaff, much liked and known all over Canterbury” (MacD290). In 1865 his business had grown to the extent that he was able to improve the premises and the Plough Inn was totally rebuilt in a rather grand manner to conform to the requirements demanded for a full Hotel license. He was moving with the times, of course, but there was some regret. “This well-known inn, so familiar to passengers along the Riccarton Road, has undergone a complete transformation. A large pile of timber buildings has been put up, rivalling in size many of the new Hotels in the City. The alteration may be, no doubt, convenient to the public, and rendered necessary for the increased traffic, yet one regrets the loss of the cosy-looking old-fashioned inn, which always put the passer-by in mind of some quiet roadside tavern in old England.” (Lyttelton Times 27th September 1865, p2).

            It is from about this time that a cautionary tale of the perils of drink is told. R E Green came to New Zealand as a child of six, arriving with his family in Lyttelton in the early 1850’s. As an old man in the 1920’s he reminisced in print of his youth and the first days of Christchurch and told of an experience that illustrates graphically the dangers that farmers encountered in the flesh-pots and dens of iniquity that flourished in the City during the 1860’s (Star 16th August 1925).

            As a lad Mr. Green worked on a farm near the “Wheat Sheaf” at what was to become known as Shand’s Track. The farmer, a genial Scotsman, needed money to pay the men who were coming to harvest the crop on the following Monday. He selected two fine cattle beasts and, with the assistence of young Green, drove them to town to the markets. The pair set off at 5:00 a.m. on the Saturday morning with one horse between them and duly arrived in town where the cattle were sold at W D Barnard’s sale yards (later Tattersall’s Hotel) for £60, a very substantial sum. The sale was concluded by midday, and the farmer had drawn the money in cash. It would have been quite possible for the two of them to have returned to the farm by 5:00 p.m. but the farmer was a congenial man who had many friends and acquaintances and it was necessary to chat and have a drink. Many was the time that a friend greeted him and suggested a drink, and mostly the farmer refused, but not always. Lunch was needed, but the farmer needed to swallow more beer than beef. Friend followed friend, and at every turn there seemed to be a drinking shop.

            It was after 10:00 p.m. when young Green was at last able to extricate the boss from the pub, by which time the older man was well in his cups. Such was his state that the assistance of some nearby men had to be called upon to lift him up onto the horse. Young Green mounted up behind the boss and they finally moved out of Cashel Street by 10:30 p.m., but that was only the beginning of the saga. Before too long they came to the Royal Hotel and the boss decided that he needed another whisky. Green tried hard to keep him on the horse, but he leaned over so far that the saddle slipped around and both of them tumbled off into the tussock. That seemed to sober the boss somewhat, but the assistance of some more men was needed to set the saddle right and remount him. The boss insisted on steering the horse, so he was reluctantly given the reins while the men surreptitiously slipped a rope through the horse’s bit and handed the ends to Green. Thus the boss had the appearance of guiding the horse, but in fact Green was in control. The men whispered to Green, telling him what to do, and the pair duly rode off.

            They progressed without incident until they reached the Plough Inn. Here the horse decided that she needed a drink and walked over to the water trough. This made Himself of a mind that he needed a drink as well, and he began to dismount. Green said that he thought that the horse should finish drinking first, and being a kindly man, the boss agreed. While the horse was drinking he began to nod and then dozed off for a few minutes, which enabled Green to quietly head the horse up when she had finished and set her on the way home again. Some minutes later the boss woke up and, realising that he had been outmanoeuvred, began to remonstrate with the lad. Green explained that the horse had moved off of her own accord and suggested that she was hungry and wanted to get home to her foal. This appealed to the boss as he was essentially good natured and always kind to animals, but he declared that he would partake when they came to the Bush Inn.

            They duly arrived at the Bush Inn and again the boss began to dismount, but Green called out to three men who were standing outside and they came over. Realising the situation, two of the men spoke to the boss while Green whispered to the third man, who happened to be a barman, to bring a drink for the boss but to make it no more than water with essence of cloves. The tasty but innocuous drink was duly brought and drunk by the boss and it satisfied him well enough, as he was by then too far gone to notice the difference. They proceeded homewards, and progress was necessarily slow as if Green had spurred the horse up to a trot the boss would surely have fallen off and that would have caused real difficulties; there were no houses in sight, and Green could not have remounted his comatose boss alone. Besides that, it was pitch dark and there was nothing to show where the track lay. It was just as well that the horse knew the way, as Green could never have navigated himself.

            It was 3:00 a.m. on the Sunday when they finally arrived home and Green, exhausted, fell into bed. The next morning the Mistress asked Green if the Master had sold the cattle. Green told her that the beasts had been sold for £60, and that a further £12 had been realised from the sale of some other produce that they had taken with them. The woman’s look, and the tones of her voice are all to easy to imagine when she told Green that the boss had not had so much as a penny in his pockets when he returned home. What had happened to the money was never discovered. Surely nobody, not even the most drink sodden of dypsomaniacs, could have drunk such a huge sum in one evening and it must be assumed that the bulk of the cash was either stolen or lost, perhaps when he tumbled from the saddle at the Royal Hotel. Whatever the manner of the loss, the effect was the same. “He was a hard-working man, a good neighbour and a good boss. His home, his wife and children were his first thoughts, but the liquor traffic made a fool of him when he got into town. It brought trouble into his home and ruined him” (Star, 16th August 1924).

11.03. The Dilloways and Beyond.

The Dilloway children grew up and all married. In 1858 21-year-old Ann married Frank Slee, and in 1861 Mary, then aged 22, married a certain G H Giggs.

Londoner Frank Slee had come to New Zealand on the “Lady Nugent” in 1850 at the age of 18 or 19, and had pursued something of a chequered career in butchery and in livery and hotel stables (MacS422). By 1857, aged about 25, he was working as a butcher at Riccarton and no doubt frequented the Plough Inn on his evenings off. He and Ann Dilloway struck up a friendship that soon blossomed into something more, with the result that on 23rd March 1858 the couple were married at St. Peter’s Church, Riccarton. Thereafter, Mr. Slee’s ties with the Plough Inn became even stronger. He helped with the administration of the Hotel, organising pigeon shoots and supplying the birds. He was appointed Postmaster at Riccarton in 1864, and secured the lease on the Hotel stables. He and his brother-in-law John Jnr. evidently got on well together to the extent that they entered into a formal business partnership presumably to manage the Hotel as Mr. Slee became licensee manager in 1866. There seems to have been something of a falling-out between the two men as the partnership was dissolved in August of 1867 and Frank and Ann moved away. The following October the Slees took the lease of the Zetland Arms Hotel in Cashel Street. (See Chapter 15: The Zetland Arms.)

Mr. Dilloway Snr. does not appear to have enjoyed his enlarged premises for long however, as the records would suggest his tragic demise in 1868, when, on 24 April, the license was transferred to his son John Jnr. John does not seem to have been able to make a fist of the business and the license was transferred in 1869 to his mother Hannah. Meanwhile  Mary Dilloway and her husband had moved north, where Mr. Giggs had the Selwyn Accommodation House. Sadly, Mr. Giggs was drowned in the Waiau River in 1867 and Mary moved back to Riccarton.

Henry William Dunn was believed to have been the first white baby born in Wellington (MacD534). His parents had emigrated to New Zealand in 1840 on the “Lady Nugent”, and young William was born soon after the arrival in a hut on the site later occupied by the Union Bank. He was baptised by no less an ecclesiastic than Bishop Selwyn. Dunn Snr. started a sawmill in the Hutt Valley, but soon afterwards was drowned, along with 13 others, in a boating accident. In 1849 his mother sent William to Lyttelton and then to Christchurch to be educated and by 1854 he was working on Robert Chapman’s farm at Springbank. He later worked on farms at Springston and Selwyn and on the Rakaia ferry. By 1864 he was farming at Riccarton and no doubt drank at the Riccarton Hotel. He was obviously more than just a patron of the Hotel, being on good terms with the Dilloway family and becoming a personal friend. He joined John Dilloway and Frank Slee in the search for the unhappy Mr. Giggs when the latter was drowned; Mr. Dunn was the one who found the body. Thus it was that he would have been acquainted with Mary Dilloway for some time, and it is possible that he was on hand to comfort the young widow and her two little daughters in their grief. Obviously Mary appreciated his attentions as their feeling for each other developed and they were married in 1869.

Hannah Dilloway held the license of the Plough Inn until 12 June 1872, when it was transferred to William and Mary Dunn. Why she turned over the Hotel to her daughter and son-in-law is not known, but by this time she was nearly sixty years old and perhaps felt she wanted to retire. She eventually removed to the West Coast and died at Westport in October of 1897.

The Dunns presumably owned the freehold as well as the business, having purchased it from Hannah and John Jnr. They continued at the Hotel for two years, but Mr. Dunn does not seem to have been cut out for life as Mine Host. He preferred farming. Accordingly the Hotel was leased it to a series of licensees while the  Dunns took a farm at Waimate. In 1875 the business was in the hands of Mr. William Harris, who had plans for expansion and upgrading, possibly because of the increase in business that came as a result of the building of the new saleyards at Addington in 1874. Certainly he tried to change the image to the extent of giving the premises a new name, and it was during Harris’ tenure that the Plough Inn became the Riccarton Hotel, although the locals continued to refer to it as the Plough until the 1930’s. An advertisement in the Christchurch Press of 1st January 1876 invited tenders for the construction of a nineteen bedroom hotel to be erected at the Riccarton Hotel (tenders to close at 3rd January 1876 at the Riccarton Hotel). Quite what was involved here is uncertain, as the premises had had accommodation for some ten years; was this to be an additional nineteen rooms, or did Harris have plans to replace the building entirely? Whatever the deal was, it seems to have fallen through and Harris passed the license to Peter Pryde shortly thereafter.

            The Hotel was purchased by Henry Qualmer in late 1877 or early 1878. Henry and Theresa Qualmer had had an Hotel in Sydney (MacQ3) during the early 1870’s, but had sold up and moved to New Zealand in about 1876 or 1877. For a while Mr. Qualmer had had no work, but as he had come out of his Sydney business with a sum of £2,000 he had no need to hurry. It is probable that the couple spent some time quietly enjoying the money and looking for a new opportunity. Their chance came when the Riccarton Hotel was put on the market. Why it came up for sale then is not known, but the Dunns bought a store in Waimate in 1878 and it was possibly purchased on the proceeds of the sale of the Hotel.

            By this time Mr. Qualmer’s capital had been reduced to between £400 and £500 (Lyttelton Times 22nd September 1880), but he nevertheless managed to purchase the Hotel and was duly granted the license. It seems likely, however, that Mr. Qualmer bought the Hotel only as a means of making a “quick quid”. By March of 1878 he had sold the Hotel on to Mr. Samuel Manning for the sum of £1,400, making an estimated profit of about £800. He stayed on to run the Hotel for a few more months until the license was transferred to the new owner on 26th November 1878. Mr. Qualmer used his capital to buy land at Bingsland, where he put up a fine new building which he intended to open as an Hotel and, no doubt, sell off quickly at a handsome profit. Unfortunately for him, “Quick Quid” Qualmer ran into a spot of bother: he was refused a license. In desperation the Qualmers tried to start a grocery business but their efforts were in vain. By September of 1880 they were in the dock of the Christchurch District Court on a charge of bankruptcy and His Honour Judge Ward found against them (Lyttelton Times 22nd September 1880).

Mr. Manning leased his Hotel to Charles Lewis who seems to have been a good publican. For some years the business ran peacefully and well, the license being renewed in 1879 and 1880 without opposition. But there were problems ahead. In 1881 Lewis’ teen-age son was caught in the hotel apparently gambling with another man to decide how much should be charged for the hire of a horse and dray. When the license came up for renewal the Licensing bench took a very drastic view of this heinous act and contemplated revoking the license, to the extent that Mr. Wood, one of the Commissioners, said that he would rather lose his seat on the bench than grant the license. The defence counsel pointed out that this action would be equivalent to imposing a fine of £3,000 – £4,000 not only on Lewis but upon the totally innocent Mr. Manning, the owner of the freehold of the property, as substantial revenues would thereby be lost. The Bench relented but insisted that Lewis, even though absent at the time of the crime, was not a fit man to hold the license. On 22nd June a new license was issued to Lewis, with the order that it should be transferred to another by Thursday next; the license was duly transferred to a Mr. Cornelius Dyer of Ferry Road, in whose hands it remained until 13 December 1890.

The reality was that young Lewis had simply tossed a coin to decide the matter of the hireage and the reasoning behind the extreme reaction of the Licensing Bench may be that new licensing laws had come into effect. Sunday drinking had by this time been banned altogether and the criteria for the issue of licenses had become more stringent. Moreover, the moral climate was changing under pressure from anti-liquor groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. It was generally felt that there were far too many licenses being held and the Bench saw this as an excuse to reduce the number.

The next licensee was something of a character. James “Chang” Wallace was a native of Inniskillen in Ireland and due to the fact that he was 6 feet 4½ inches (1.94m) in height his brother, a police sergeant, persuaded him to join the force. He served in the New Zealand Constabulary and as Trooper Wallace was involved in several high-profile criminal cases such as the arrest for murder of the West Indian known as Cadeno, whom he escorted to the gallows in Lyttelton. Upon retirement from the police he entered the liquor industry and became a publican, as did his four sons, and held the license at (amongst others) the Masonic, the Black Horse and Tattersalls. “Chang” Wallace took up the license in December of 1890 and sold it on to J Harris in 1893. Mr. Wallace died in 1926 at the age of 80 (Wilkinson 1983 p8).

            The Hotel passed through a dozen pairs of hands between 1873 and 1908, when the license was taken up by Fanny Schulteis. Her second husband, Carl, had been in the liquor trade for years, having run a hotel in Hokitika and before that a Christchurch hotel, possibly the long vanished “White Swan” in Cashel Street. He died in 1896 and Fanny took over the license of the Riccarton Hotel in 1908. She died in 1913 and her son by a previous marriage, A J H White, took over the license but he lasted only a year, appearing a little later as the manager of the Commercial Hotel at Oxford (Wilkinson 1983 p24).

11:04. A Lady Called Nancy.

The most famous publican of the hotel was a lady known as Nancy. In 1930 Herbert and and Annie Isobel Hancock bought the freehold of the pub and Bert took the license. It was a tragic choice for Bert. He had been at the hotel for only a matter of weeks when, while working behind the public bar, he fell down an open trapdoor and into the cellar suffering serious injuries. This accident led indirectly to his death a year later and on 5th June 1931 the license was granted to his widow. Annie Hancock was her name, but everyone knew her as Nancy.

Nancy was a native of Kumara and had the common sense and down to earth nature of the typical West Coaster. A good-hearted and hardworking woman, she built up a solid business by dint of diplomacy, generosity and shrewd commercial acumen. She ran the hotel for 39 years and two months, the longest tenure of license on record, and became a legend in her own time. A generous and unpretentious woman, many thought Nancy to be a bit of an easy touch as she was always prepared to pass over a few notes, no questions asked or talk of when it had to be paid back, to anyone with a hard luck story. She seemed to ignore things that might threaten good relations with staff or regular customers, and so some people, quite mistakenly, thought that she was a little naïve. But all Nancy really wanted was a quiet life in a smoothly running, happy pub. She achieved that, and the unswerving affection of her clientele. It is always a sign of good management that there are very few anecdotes to tell; no riots or murders, no interruptions by the police or Sunday morning sales of flagons.

An excellent character reference was that of Bill Tait, the local constable from 1954 to 1970. He is known to have said that he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of incidents that he had attended during his sixteen year reign as the local limb of the law and he ought to know; not only was he the local policeman, his house, the police station, was located on the corner of Deans Avenue and Bartlett Street opposite the hotel. He transferred to the Central Police Station a week before Nancy finally left the hotel.

The worst thing that happened to the Hotel during Nancy’s reign was a visit to the public bar by a Christchurch Transport Board bus in 1957, an incident that became firmly embedded in local folk-lore. At 10:50 p.m. on November 28th the bus careered into the hotel, smashing its way into the public bar. The vehicle was of a new type, it seems, with very heavy steering compared to earlier models and the driver had not fully mastered the controls. He was unable to quite make it around the roundabout and skidded, with the result that he, his passengers and the front half of the bus found their way dramatically into the public bar. The barman had to be treated for shock, but fortunately no-one was injured. The bus was driven back to the depot that night by Trevor Phipps, so it was not too badly damaged, and the battered vehicle was later taken to Nancy’s regular George McWhinnie’s panelbeating shop for repair. A large framed photograph of the bus buried in the wall of the bar and taken by a “Press” photographer by the name of Bettison long hung in the spot of the dramatic intrusion, but sadly has vanished without trace.

Time, alas, comes to all, and in 1968, just after 10 o’clock closing was introduced, Nancy fell and broke her hip, a serious injury at any time and even worse when one is in one’s eighties. After much soul searching she sold out to Dominion Breweries in August 1970, and the license was taken over by Bob and Mary Childs. She continued to visit for a while, and then, becoming increasingly frail, she moved to Wellington to live with her brother Johnny Johnston until the closing bell rang for the last time for Nancy Hancock in February 1982.

            There were many additions and alterations to the Hotel over the decades, but there is no record of its destruction by fire or other calamity at any time. It simply kept changing over the years. In 1906 the licensing bench heard complaints that the Hotel was in poor condition, and publican Timothy Keily’s license was so endorsed, but the nature of the problem seems to have been relatively minor as it was apparently remedied by repairs and alterations rather than by total rebuilding. There were more alterations during the 1920’s when the old roof gables and the verandah fronting Dean’s Avenue were removed.

            By 1930 the building was a relatively plain rectangular construction with a central north-south corridor and a range of rooms running along each side, and a similar floor plan upstairs. The main entrance was on Riccarton Road. Coming in from the main door there were several rooms on the right (western) side: a lounge, a second lounge, two small staff rooms, the main staircase, a store-room and finally a third lounge. Leading off from the corridor on the eastern side were, firstly, the bar (with a wall bar), then the dining room, then the kitchen and finally the pantry and scullery. The back door opened onto the yard, which contained two outside toilets, the stand for the water tank and an artesian well. An outbuilding with a laundry, store and stables stood a few yards from the south-west corner of the main building and beyond that again were lawns, gardens, vegetable gardens, fruit trees and walnut trees.

            In about 1940 the wall bar was removed and a replaced with a circular island bar in the centre of the room. Like the wall bar before it, it was serviced by hogsheads of beer that were loaded by block and tackle into the cellar, which was reached through a trapdoor behind the bar. The main entrance to the bar-room was through a pair of double swing doors under a porch on the north-east corner of the building. In about 1945 the hogsheads of beer were replaced by bulk storage tanks, and a lounge bar was created by combining the two small lounges on the western side of the corridor (Wilkinson 1983 p20).

            Major changes were made in 1955, when a whole new single-storey wing was built over the lawns and gardens to the west of the Hotel, virtually doubling the area of the building. This new portion of the building became the new and much larger public bar with ancillary cool rooms, storage areas, flagon washing and filling facilities and a bottle store. The old public bar, the old lounge bar and the front half of the corridor were combined into a single new lounge bar. The back lounge and storeroom of the old portion of the Hotel were combined to create another lounge, and toilets were put in where once had been the scullery and pantry. The new public bar was originally fitted with an oblong island bar, but this was removed in 1960 and a wall bar installed for better staff access to the cool rooms and the flagon filling facilities. Shortly after the completion of the new additions and alterations, the outhouses were demolished, the artesian well plugged, the gardens and trees ripped out and the whole area tar-sealed as a carpark with access from Bartlett Street (Wilkinson 1983 pp 20 – 22).

11:05. Last Orders, Please!

Mary Childs held the license on her own from 1981 and the eighties were years of great changes in both the hotel and the liquor trade. Changing public demands and a need to remain competitive meant that many alterations and reorganisations were made. The configuration of the bars was altered, new carpets and colour schemes introduced, the parking area at the rear was cleared and re-paved, the bottle store was moved and, of course, the bar staff turned over. The old hands gradually moved on to make way for younger people, many of whom were casual or part-time. Mary Childs departed at the end of April 1985 after some fifteen years’ association with the Hotel. A large crowd turned out to bid her farewell and she was presented with a set of golf clubs and a trundler (Press 1st May 1985). A manager was appointed by the Breweries to take her place.

In 1986 the lease of the Hotel was taken over by Mr. Stuart White, who, with the aid of his father John and wife Barbara, set about a complete refurbishment. The Hotel was closed for some four months while much needed renovations were made, removing layers of earlier redecoration until they worked their way back to the bare walls. Then they started again. The saloon bar that stands on the south-east corner was completely redecorated in tones of grey, with black highlights and a background of olive green. Olive and grey carpet was laid throughout to complement the colour scheme and prints of Roman buildings decorated the walls. A sixty-four seat dining room was planned and a cocktail bar fitted out. Mr. White was aiming to attract the 25 – 45 year-old age group and clearly had high hopes for the future. “We’re not the most expensive place around, and don’t pretend to be,” explained Mr. White modestly, “but obviously we’ll be looking at good dress in the new cocktail bar and restaurant.” (Press 24th April 1987, p31).

            Mr. White’s reign as Mine Host lasted until 1991, and in March of that year the lease was taken up by Messrs Mark Radburnd and Darryl Sutton. The lease was for three years, a fairly standard term, with the right of renewal for a further three, bringing the occupancy up to the year 2000. In 1994 Dominion Breweries, under their policy of divestment, put the freehold of the Hotel up for sale and a bid was made by Messrs Radburnd and Sutton, but in the end the property was purchased by Mobil Properties Ltd., the property arm of Mobil Oil Ltd. Mobil have proved to be good landlords, but the ultimate fate of Nancy’s is in doubt.

John Dilloway is long gone, and Mary Childs has gone on to new pastures. John Murray is all but forgotten and the last bell rang for Nancy Hancock long ago. Sadly, the last clang of the closing bell may be rapidly approaching for Nancy’s Hotel. Mobil’s long-term plans for the site are uncertain, but another Service Station is a very likely prospect. There is also talk of enlarging the roundabout outside and of roadworks to come that would necessitate the removal of much of the public bar. The year 2000 approaches rapidly and it can only be a matter of time before the demolition crews move in. This would be a sad pass indeed.

Nancy’s is the oldest licensed site in the City of Christchurch and its near environs. The other primal Hotels – the Golden Fleece, the White Hart, and the King George – are now an office block, a government department and a block of Polytechnic student flats respectively. It would be a tragedy indeed if Nancy’s, having been a focal point of conviviality since the very earliest days of Christchurch, were to become a Service Station, but the pressures of profit are all-important today and little heed is given to the heritage of this country. The transformation of this old site, brimming with human experience and dating from the earliest days of the City, into a sterile and impersonal expanse of concrete and petrol pumps is perhaps a metaphor for our times.

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