Spirits, skittles and a stolen goose: the life and times of the Caversham Hotel

John Bent leaned over and grabbed the goose. There was a whole flock of them in the street—surely one wouldn’t be missed? It was 11pm, and he had been drinking heavily all night. In his muddled state it seemed like a good idea. “Leave it alone,” his mate Edward Banks warned him. He too was drunk. But Bent ignored him, and the two men walked off with the bird. From his seat in the Caversham Hotel, Robert Hallam saw all this happen, and he told Smith, the hotel’s proprietor, that one of his geese was being nicked. This was not the first time the hotel had lost one of its flock. They were worth 8 shillings each, and Smith was determined not to lose another one. He rushed outside and called to Bent to drop the goose, who, in his panic, threw it over a fence. The next day, Constable Jeffreys paid Bent a visit. Bent said that he knew nothing about the matter but, so that no further bother had to be made, offered to pay for the goose. The constable was not interested in Bent’s simple solution and instead charged him with theft. He was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment (Lyttelton Times 6/5/1868: 2).

During the nineteenth century, hotels were gathering places for the community and sites for a variety of events, and the Caversham Hotel was no exception. As expected, the local newspapers were filled with stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour and the occasional petty theft, but the hotel was also a recreational place for many people to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as a home for others. Its walls witnessed the everyday life of its visitors and residents. The theft of Smith’s goose in 1868 is just one of an infinite number of small stories that make up the history of the Caversham Hotel.

When John Franklin Smart opened Caversham House (as it was then called) on the corner of Madras and St Asaph streets in 1852, that part of Christchurch was the edge of the struggling new settlement, but by the time the hotel closed in 1910, it had been engulfed by the growing city. Smart’s choice of that area was strategic, and he was able to take advantage of traffic passing in and out of Christchurch. As soon as the hotel opened, he advertised in the Lyttelton Times:

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

Lyttelton Times 21/2/1852: 1.

In 1862 John Townsend Parkinson, the new proprietor of the hotel, remodelled and enlarged the building, renaming his premises the Caversham Hotel (Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1). It seemed to have been a good year for Parkinson. On Anniversary Day (originally held in December), he was “feeling desirous of giving his friends and the public an opportunity of enjoying themselves” and set up games of quoits, greasy pole (climbing a greased pole), jumping in sacks and donkey racing in the paddocks adjoining the hotel (Lyttelton Times 13/12/1862: 5).

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

Lyttelton Times 12/7/1862: 1.

In February 1863, Parkinson’s good feelings had changed, and he poisoned himself with strychnine. Poor business decisions as well as the recent hotel work had put him deeply into debt. Several days before his death, the hotel’s barman noticed that Parkinson seemed to be inattentive and disordered. To Parkinson’s wife, who knew nothing about his financial difficulties, he appeared to be in a cheerful mood. When he heard that news of his debt had been published in a report, he sent an advertisement to the Standard offering a reward of £20 for delivery of the “scoundrel” who had written it. The next morning, he decided to take his own life. Soon after swallowing the strychnine, the barman found him on his bed in a seizure. The doctor was called, but the poison had taken its effect and Parkinson died (Lyttelton Times 7/2/1863: 4).

After Parkinson’s death, John Franklin Smart took over the hotel again, and by the end of 1863, Thomas Howes had taken up its management (Press 23/7/1863: 5; Lyttelton Times 14/3/1863: 6). The next year, the hotel was put up for sale:

The main amusement of the Caversham Hotel, like other licensed hotels, was the bar. Over nearly 60 years, the hotel sold a range of wines, ales and spirits. As luck would have it, a few artefacts were found at this site which reflected this drinking culture. These were commonly found bottle types which would have contained beer, wine and gin. As is typical of hotel sites (where patrons dined as well as drank), a serving tureen, salad oil bottles and wide mouth jars which may have contained other condiments or food were also uncovered. The most exciting find was a large flagon that may have once provided cider, beer or water to the hotel guests (Oswald et al. 1982: 74). The flagon was largely intact, and was made by Stephen Green Imperial Pottery Factory, in Lambeth, between 1820 and 1858 (Godden 1991: 289). What was unusual about this vessel was the maker’s mark – it contained the phrase “glass lined inside.” Now lining the inside of a hefty ceramic beverage container with fragile glass didn’t seem like a smart idea to me – but luckily it mustn’t have to Stephen Green either – the phrase actually refers to the glaze of the vessel. Specifically, when the outer vessel was salt-glazed, the inside was glazed with liquid prior to firing (Wood 2014: 102).

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

A selection of the artefacts found – from left: black beer bottle, salad oil bottle, wide mouth jar and tureen. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker's mark. Image: C. Dickson.

Stephen Green flagon with maker’s mark. Image: C. Dickson.

This flagon was extra cool because its manufacturing date supported our idea that these artefacts were likely to have been thrown away into an open roadside drain, and accumulated over time. This accumulation would have happened between the formation of St Asaph Street in the 1850s and the laying of the adjacent lateral wastewater pipeline in 1882 – this pipeline forms part of a broader network of waste water pipes dating to the 1880s in central Christchurch. Much of this network is still present and in use today. In fact, last year we uncovered another section of this earthenware pipeline which had a manufacturer’s mark revealing that the Christchurch Drainage Board imported the city’s sewage pipes from Scotland, rather than being locally sourced (ArchSite 2015).

In addition to being an accommodation house and pub, the Caversham Hotel provided games such as billiards and skittles, an early form of bowling that dates back to ancient times and is the forerunner of today’s 10-pin bowling. Its association with pubs and good times is summed up in the expression ‘Life isn’t all beer and skittles’. The game could be played outside on a lawn or inside in an alley and was seen as a working-class amusement that often included gambling (Lyttelton Times 20/6/1865: 6). The Caversham Hotel was one of a handful of establishments that had an indoor alley, and it was the scene of several petty crimes in the 1870s. In 1874 Joseph Hannan stole a purse, pipe and about £5 from Charles Oliver, who had fallen asleep on a bench in the alley, and in 1877 Richard Coleman was found guilty of taking a coat from a table (Star 19/6/1874: 2 and 12/3/1877: 2). During the 1880s the hotel also had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/1/1885: 2).

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

“A New Game for Ladies: A ‘Skittles’ Competition in Berlin”. Image: The Graphic, 18/8/1900.

 In 1882, owner Edward Ravenhill had the ageing hotel rebuilt in brick (Press 16/5/1882: 4). Fifteen years later, in 1897, the hotel was again in need of repairs, and Ravenhill had the building pulled down and rebuilt on the site with “all modern conveniences” and “every comfort” (Press 11/11/1897: 8). The furniture and effects from the old hotel were sold at auction, and they included, among other things, a billiard table, two pianos, bedsteads, washstands, mats and carpets, 50 Australian chairs, Japanese chairs, kitchen utensils, 50 pictures and even “stuffed birds in cases” (Star 7/8/1897: 5).

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

The new Caversham Hotel in 1898. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 13, IMG0021.

During the demolition work, an 1815 copy of Volume VI of A Select British Theatre was found, reportedly in excellent condition and “quite as good as when it was first issued” (Press 7/6/1897: 5). It contained five plays adapted for the theatre by John Philip Kemble. Who owned this volume? A theatre lover who stayed at the hotel? A university student who stopped in for a drink one night? A thief who hid the book to avoid the constable? The history of the book will remain a mystery, but it shows how diverse life at the hotel was.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Title page for A Select British Theatre from a copy held in the Princeton University Library.

Ravenhill’s new hotel did not last long.  In 1910 the building was sold at auction in sections for removal, ending its 58-year history. The auction lots included a two-roomed cottage measuring 22 by 16 feet, 35 doors with frames, iron of all sizes, tiled grates, mantelpieces, pipes, boilers, shelving, gates, signposts and timber of every description (Press 7/2/1910: 12).

Jill Haley and Chelsea Dickson

References:

ArchSite, 2015. M35/1353. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Oswald, A., Hildyard, R. J. C. & Hughes, R., G. 1982. English Brown Stoneware 1670-1900. Faber and Faber Limited., London.

Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed August 2016].

Wood, F., L., 2014. The World of British Stoneware: It’s History, Manufacture and Wares. Troubador Publishing Ltd.

One thought on “Spirits, skittles and a stolen goose: the life and times of the Caversham Hotel

  1. Interesting.. in the final sale was a “Watters range” we have a Watters range at ferrymead heritage park still working (in Curragh)

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