Oxford Hotel

10:01. From Boarding House to Public House. 

            Antill Alfred Adley was born on the island of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) in 1832, the third son of the Rev. William Adley, later Rector of Rudbarton, South Wales (Cyclopaedia of New Zealand p.355). Adley Snr. had been a missionary in Ceylon for 21 years and then returned, with his family, to Britain. Young Antill was educated at King William’s College on the Isle of Man, but was no scholar and decided to seek his fortune in one of the far-flung corners of the Empire. In 1851, at the tender age of nineteen, he arrived in Lyttelton on the “Castle Eden” and settled in Christchurch. His prospects, in the opinion of some, were not of the best. According to diarist Edward Ward “He (Adley) has no money and no training as a colonist, he … cannot write a good hand, cannot work at anything, but likes gardening” (MacA43).

Mr. Adley started in the grocery trade and secured a position with Mr. George Gould (afterwards Gould and Miles), and three years later was employed by Mr. J S White of Kaiapoi at the Beehive Store (MacA43). The magical golden metal was discovered in the south and young Mr. Adley headed for Gabriel’s Gully, where, it would seem, he made, if not his fortune, at least a solid sum. He returned to Christchurch with his financial backing and, wisely, decided to invest in property.

            The site now occupied by the Oxford Hotel was originally reserved for a store for the Canterbury Association, or for an immigration barracks. Title was at first vested in the Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury (Press 17th April 1929, p2), but the authorities later deemed the land to be superfluous to requirements and decided to put it up for sale. A public auction was duly held at the nearby Royal Hotel on 6th March 1856, and the quarter acre property was knocked down to Mr. Adley for £100.00. Quite what Mr. Adley’s plans were is now a matter of pure conjecture, but, as he does not appear to have developed the site, it may be that the £100 represented his entire capital and he bought the property as a purely speculative investment.

Mr. Adley tried farming, and is listed on the Electoral Roll of 1857-58 as a leasehold farmer at Avonside. Interestingly, he is listed on the Roll as “Antilla Alfred Adley”, possibly the full form of what may be a unique name. He did not appear to make much of a success of farming and returned to the grocery business. He met Sarah East, the widow of a Mr. G P East of Broad Street, Oxford in England, who had come to New Zealand with her four children possibly to start a new life in the Colonies. The couple formed an attachment for each other and were married before the Reverend C Alabaster at St. Michael’s Church on 11th November 1860. He was 28, she was 42.

Sarah seems to have had a bit of money, probably from her late husband, and the combination of her money and his property meant that the couple could begin in business for themselves. Shortly after the marriage, they built a boarding house on the Colombo Street – Oxford Terrace site in 1860. It was managed by a Mrs. East, who, in 1861 advertised as having “moderate charges and every attention paid to the comfort of lodgers”. Mr. Adley, however, had ambitions for his establishment, and, being desirous to expand sought a license to sell spiritous and fermented liquors on the premises. In other words, he wanted to run a pub. His plea was granted, and on 23 August 1862 (he was then thirty years of age), he opened for business as the Oxford Hotel. Quite why he called it the Oxford Hotel is not known. It is possible that he named it for Oxford Terrace, upon which it is sited, for he had no connection with Oxford in England himself. It is probable that Sarah, being from Oxford and having put up the money for the house, prevailed upon her husband to so christen the Hotel because of the fortuitous coincidence of the street name and that of her home town. The name has stuck, and has remained unaltered to this day, a record few other Christchurch Hotels can match.

The first premises were of a somewhat primitive nature and at the beginning Mr. Adley served drinks in a lean-to attached to the boarding house. This state of affairs was good enough for the authorities and extensive additions and alterations were made to the house in 1862 as a condition of his license. Mr. Adley proudly boasted in an advertisement that his up-graded establishment sold “wines and ales of the best brands, Croft and Wards single and double; Diamond Ales at threepence and fourpence a glass always on hand” (Lyttelton Times, 23rd August 1862, p1). This last was evidently of some significance as he went to some pains to add that “the Proprietor begs to observe that this is the only establishment in this quarter of the town where ale is supplied at threepence the glass”. Competition must have been fierce, for it must be remembered that, besides assorted liquor and grog shops, there were by 1866 no less than 56 hotels catering to a population of about 7,000. This is equal to one licensed premises to every 125 residents, compared to today’s ratio of about one premises to 1200 residents.

Building and improvement continued apace. Although the stables were destroyed by fire in 1864, probably as a result of spontaneous combustion in the hayloft, by January of 1865 the premises were up to a high standard. The facilities were adjudged by the authorities to be of a fit and proper character, and a full hotel license was duly granted.

The Oxford thrived, thanks both to its reasonably priced accommodation and its close proximity to the Market Square, that area which is now Victoria Square and until 1876 was the hub of the City’s business. Here produce from all over the Province was bought and sold, and merchants of all kinds plied their wares. Here, in the 1860’s such men as Mr. Swale the fruiterer, Mr. Tuck the cheesemonger and butterman (he also sold bread at 4d the loaf), and Mr. Fiddes the greengrocer exhibited their stock and very probably had a beer or two after work at the Oxford. Maria Sophia Pope and her daughter Sarah set up their first shop in the Market Square in 1863, and Mrs Pope Ltd., “importer of general and fancy stationery, Berlin Wools etc.” was a household name in Christchurch for 130 years. In 1868 the shop of Mr. Swale, who by then was in partnership with a Mr. Rankin, was destroyed by fire. Rankin died in the flames, and Sarah Ann Pope was a key witness in the charge of murder subsequently brought against Mr. Swale. Naturally, this and many other matters of importance were discussed at length in the bar at the Oxford and Mr. Adley prospered.

Proximity to the market square was all very well but there were disadvantages. The Avon River flows right by the door, and rivers are dangerous things for the sober let alone those who had partaken over-liberally of Mr. Adley’s hospitality; at least 105 people were drowned in the Avon between 1850 and 1900. Perhaps recognising that hotels were in large part contributory to this carnage, the authorities ordained that hotels should be constrained to act as temporary morgues for those dragged from the waters and any other casualties that occurred nearby. The Oxford Family Hotel acted in this capacity on many occasions. Hotels at that time were required by law to accept bodies if there was no morgue within a radius of one mile, for which public service the hotel proprietor was paid a fee of £1. Failure to perform the service made him liable to a fine of £5.

            Mr. Adley leased the Hotel to Charles Dann in 1870, possibly to enable him and his wife to take a trip back to Britain. This was a common practice for successful business people at that time, and may have had something to do with a need to parade the prosperity of those who had succeeded in the Colonies to those who had remained At Home. Dann was a well-known and very busy publican of the time, and he held the license of the Garrick Hotel at the same time as that of the Oxford. This did not involve a great deal of difficulty for Mr. Dann as the Garrick, being on the corner of Colombo and Kilmore Streets, was but a stone’s throw away from the Oxford. Mr. Adley resumed the license in 1871.

Mr. Adley sold the hotel and the license in 1873 to Thomas Hall, who in turn sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dann (presumably a brother of the aforementioned Charles) in 1875. Mr. and Mrs. Adley used the proceeds of the sale to purchase some land at Opawa to which they retired and both became involved in the church, he as an organist at Riccarton and she as a church worker at both Riccarton and Opawa. They had one son, Mr. Harold Antill Adley, who eventually became agent and attorney for the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company and was the sometime secretary of the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce. Sarah Adley died in 1890 at the age of 72. Antill Alfred died on 1st December 1911, aged 80.

10:02. Accommodation on a Budget.

By 1882 the building was described to the licensing bench as being “very old”, with the implication  that it was decrepit. It seems that the Danns were either unable or unwilling to make the necessary repairs, and they sold the business to the next incumbent, a Mr. John Batley. In June of 1883 the license was transferred to Mr. Batley and the Oxford Hotel had been rebuilt, although from the records it is unclear if the premises had been completely replaced or simply extensively renovated. Whatever the nature of the changes to the premises, made they were and indeed part of the building was already occupied and business was under weigh when Mr. Batley’s tenure began. Clearly, however, he did not prosper. Unlike the grander establishments such as Warner’s and the Clarendon, the Oxford was always a relatively humble hostelry that catered to the needs of the traveller of lesser means, and it never presented itself as anything more. The proprietors of the Oxford advertised their premises, but never in the grandiose and hyperbolic style of the big hotels.

            Mr. Batley rather fancied himself as something of an entrepreneur and attempted to diversify his financial interests. One of his ideas was to run a steam boat up and down the Avon from the City to New Brighton, a project that had been considered by several businessmen over the preceding years but without success. He entered into negotiations with various parties, and secured a small steam boat from Dunedin. The craft was 45 feet from stem to stern, with a 9 foot beam and a draught of 2 feet (the river was much deeper then), and he commissioned a small steam powered lighter to ferry passengers to and from the larger craft as it steamed down the lower reaches of the river. He sought and obtained from the Christchurch City Council permission to erect a small landing stage on the banks of the river near the Colombo Street bridge (Lyttelton Times 30th October 1883, p4) and everything seemed to be ready for a new and popular venture. Something went wrong, however. Exactly what is not recorded, but the proposed service did not eventuate, and Mr. Batley was forced to reconsider his options.

The Oxford Hotel was modestly advertised in the 1880’s and 1890’s as offering such basic amenities as “superior single bed accommodation for Gentlemen”, and being “strongly recommended to all requiring a quiet home in a well-appointed establishment”, where guests could expect “cleanliness, civility, the best of attention, and most Moderate Charges”. A 19th century budget hotel, indeed, although under Mr. Batley the house boasted the luxury of an Alcock’s billiard table. Obviously Mr. Batley did not fare well, as the business and license was transferred in 1885 to Tom Dalzell from E C Latter, Trustee in Bankruptcy. It seems that the capital costs in setting up the newly renovated hotel had rather overtaxed Mr. Batley financially and he was forced to go into liquidation.

The license passed to Frederick Storey in December of 1885, to Edward Herbert King in June the following year, and in 1887 to William James Simmons. Mr. Simmons was an engineer and, arriving in Canterbury in 1861, opened a blacksmith’s shop in Ferry road, later becoming a coach-builder and then expanding into the cab and coach business (Macs348). His health was not good, sadly, and he departed the physically demanding engineering business for The Trade, taking the Queen’s Hotel on the corner of Manchester and Cashel Street in 1877. In 1887 he took the lease of the Oxford Hotel, but his health deteriorated all the more. Suffering from chronic and acute rheumatism, his condition eventually became so bad that he was unable to leave the house, and he died at the Oxford Hotel on 5th November 1890 at the age of 58. His widow Jane retained the license and ran the business until 1897. They are buried side by side at Addington cemetery.

Thereafter landlord followed landlord, and the licensing laws and the policing thereof became more and more strict in an increasingly tense battle between Prohibitionist and drinker, and the Police were zealous in their duties. Alfred Prior, publican in 1900, found this out to his cost.

At 11:20 p.m. on 1st August 1900 Sergeant Rogers and Constable Trahey of the Christchurch Police were on their rounds and in the close proximity of the Oxford Hotel. They noticed that a light was burning in the public bar and could hear voices within (Lyttelton Times 22nd August 1900, p3). The front door was locked. Constable Trahey knocked at the door and after a minute or so a voice came from within.

“Who’s there?”

“Police!” said Sergeant Rogers authoritatively. “Open up!”. The person within seemed then to go away for another half a minute and then opened the door.

“We have been waiting” said Sergeant Rogers, “for some time. Why were we not admitted at once?”

“People often knock on the door late at night,” said the man within “and demand to be let in in the name of the Police. They do it to gain admittance and drink!” The Policemen looked around and noted that the door to the public bar was closed but not locked and there was no light within. Their suspicions were aroused and felt that they could, with just cause, lay a charge of failing to admit a Police officer in the execution of his duty without undue delay. Later, in the Christchurch Magistrate’s Court, Alfred Prior, through duty solicitor Mr. Kippenberger, defended the charge.

Mr. Prior, Mr. Kippenberger contended, had been ill in bed at the time and had given orders that no-one was to be admitted after hours without his sanction. This had caused a small but not inappropriate delay in admittance. His Worship was not inclined to allow this defence and said that he would convict on principle as the Police should not be impeded in the discharge of their duty and had to be admitted to licensed premises upon demand. Mr. Prior was fined 10/-, but there was no endorsement of his license.

The first World War saw regulations introduced to further restrict drinking, and the penalties for breaking the rules grew. The liquor laws, indeed, were quite rigidly enforced, and the war years saw an upsurge in convictions for their infringement. On 23rd November 1917, Mr. Paul,  the then licensee, was convicted and fined £5 and costs of 7/- under the anti-shouting laws and his barman was fined a similar amount. On 17th May 1918 Mr. Paul was again before the magistrate who fined him a further £5 for permitting drunkenness on his premises. On 10th October 1922, landlord Mr. Blackie was fined £5 and 7/- costs for permitting drunkenness on the premises, and on 31st January 1923 was again fined a like sum for supplying liquor for sale after hours. His wife was fined £2 and costs on the same charge.

These fines were indeed quite moderate. Compare them with that imposed on one William Jones, barman at the Café de Paris Hotel in Cashel Street who, on 20 October 1916, was fined no less than £10 and costs for breaching War Regulations – that is to say, the anti-shouting laws – by allowing customers to buy each other drinks. To gather some idea of the value of these fines, it is appropriate to note that in 1924 a case of gin cost £1-12-6 to the trade and at the very least twice that at retail prices. A £10 fine, therefore, was equivalent to the cost of about 12 cases of gin.

10:03. The Lion Roars.

Thereafter the license passed from hand to hand over the decades until finally the freehold came into the corporate ownership of Lion Nathan in 1977, during that decade when the two big breweries were battling each other to buy up every available liquor outlet in the nation.

Shortly after acquiring the Hotel, the Breweries decided that the Oxford, in the light of its history, should become part of a new concept in pub environments, a concept that emphasised family dining. Extensive renovations were carried out and, after some weeks and half a million dollars’ worth of labour and materials, the Oxford Victualling Company was born and Major Bunbury’s restaurant opened for business. And business was brisk indeed, although the prices of 1978 may look a little odd by today’s standards. A plate of roast beef with roast potatoes, green beans, carrots and lashings of potatoes was $2.30. Braised sausages and onions; 95¢. Chilli con carne; $1.65. Curry and rice; $1.75. Spaghetti Bolognaise; $1.50. T-bone, rump, porterhouse and rib eye steaks were cooked to order, the most expensive being $2.50. Desserts were between 50¢ and 65¢.

            Business at the Oxford Victualling Company was brisk, and the takings were very healthy indeed. Sadly, the proximity of so much cash is always a temptation and to some irresistible, as with the sad case of Alan McGregor. In 1986, McGregor was 31 years old, married and enjoying a burgeoning career with excellent prospects. As proprietor of the Oxford Victualling Company for three years he was well-thought-of by his employers and was considered a very effective and able manager. In 1985, at the age of 29, he was the Canterbury finalist for the Wilson Distillers Tourism Award, a prestigious award established to foster greater professionalism and higher standards in the tourism industry, and which offered as first prize a seven week course at New York’s internationally regarded Cornell University of Hotel Administration, a package valued at $15,000 (Press 3rd May 1985). Who can guess what motivated him to jeopardise such a promising career?

            In March of 1986 senior staff began to notice that the till reconciliations were not in order (Star 12th December 1986). Suspicions were aroused and checks made over a two month period. Sure enough, money was definitely going missing and the loss was being covered up as over-rings. The police were advised and an investigation began with the result that Alan Wayne McGregor was arraigned before the Christchurch District Court the following December on multiple charges of theft as a servant. The sum involved was conservatively estimated at $37,500, a figure later revised upwards. He was found guilty on four of the charges brought against him, having stolen a total of $43,693.44 from the restaurant takings, and was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment (Star 24th March 1987), a tragic and abrupt end to the fine future of an otherwise fine young man.

Major Bunbury was retired after 13 years of salubrious entertaining, and the dining room was again revamped into its present form. On 5th November 1990 the new restaurant was launched and a new era began. But it was not entirely new as it retained much of the traditional atmosphere and the Hotel is as you see it today, a delightful blend of old and new, traditional and modern that combines the elegance of the past with the expectations of the 90’s.

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