This week on the blog, we look at what we found beneath a local landmark in the community of Lyttelton: the newly refurbished Albion Square.
The Albion Square, on the corner of London and Canterbury streets, is home of the Lyttelton War Memorial Cenotaph. It also acts as a community focal point, and is a testament to the recovery of the port town. However, the longer-standing residents of Lyttelton may recall that this was also once the site of the square’s namesake: the historic Albion Hotel.
We can trace the establishment of the first hotel at this site to 1858, when local merchant John Collier was granted a liquor licence, transforming his grocery store into the Albion Hotel. A year later he added a saddle horses for hire business to the rear of the hotel. An 1862 advertisement in the Lyttelton Times, for the lease of the hotel provides the first known description of Collier’s hotel:
The premises consist of a commodious bar, bar parlour, dining and sitting rooms, with 15 bedrooms, making up 24 beds; also skittle ground and outhouses. This establishment has for the last three years, been favoured with the support of the settlers of the Peninsula particularly.
Lyttelton Times 1/11/1862: 6.
A map of Lyttelton drawn in the 1860s shows the Albion Hotel fronting London Street. Two smaller buildings are shown to the rear of the hotel. These probably represent the outhouses and stables mentioned in newspaper sources (Lyttelton Times 8/1/1859: 5, 1/11/1862: 2).
Collier was fortunate that his hotel survived the Lyttelton fire of 1870, which destroyed much of the Lyttelton central business district. In 1881, the original building was sold and removed from the site (Press 14/1/1881: 4). The sale advertisement described the old building as:
Covered with slates, and contains a large quantity of timber and bricks while the intended replacement was a stylish brick edifice to be substituted in its place, whenever the ancient hostelry is removed.
Press 21/1/1881: 2.
Later in 1881 the stables behind the hotel caught fire (Press 22/8/1881: 2). Little damage was done, but the resulting newspaper item indicates the stables were constructed from galvanised iron. The new Albion Hotel continued operating into the 20th century and can be seen in a photograph taken in 1911. In 1943 a new façade was added to the building (Burgess 2009).
Over the course of the 19th century, the Albion Hotel and horse for hire business had at least 17 proprietors between them, and more still after the turn of the century. This high turnover complicated the task of attributing the artefacts recovered from the site to a specific individual. The dateable artefacts that were recovered from the site all post-date 1857, confirming that the assemblage was associated with the Albion Hotel. However, serval discreet archaeological features may have been deposited at different times. The deposition dates of these features range from 1861 to the late 19th century. It is possible that the piece of salvaged roofing slate may have been part of the original Albion Hotel which was removed from the site in 1881 (Press 21/1/1881: 2).
The archaeological material that was recovered was found in a series of rubbish pits, located mainly toward the rear of the hotel site. From this evidence it is apparent that the back of the section was seen as a convenient location to dispose of the breakages and detritus associated with the day-to-day operation of the Albion Hotel. It is possible that the proprietors of the hotel may have deposited waste into these rubbish pits to avoid rubbish collection costs.
The rubbish pits contained combinations of artefacts that are signatures of 19th century hotel sites, such as alcohol bottles, matching serving ware sets and food remains. The alcohol bottles consisted mainly of black beers, though wine bottles, case gin bottles, spirit-shaped bottles and matching glass tumblers were also present. The contents of these bottles cannot be confirmed, as specific alcohol bottle shapes were commonly re-used for alternative purposes. However, it is probable that beer, wine, gin and other spirits were being served at the Albion Hotel. These vessels are also likely to only represent a fraction of the alcohol that was served. The presence of disposable clay pipes with use-wear indicates that the hotel patrons were also smoking at this site.
The matching decorative patterns that were found on ceramic tableware and servingware sets are representative of a standardised material culture, and this fashion can be associated with the Victorian idea of social respectability (Samford 1997). It is possible that this servingware is an indication that food was served at the hotel. However, there was a notable absence of condiment bottles from this site. This is unusual, as condiment bottles are typically abundant in 19th century hotel sites.
A number of animal bones with butchery marks were also recovered, the most common of which were cuts of lamb and mutton leg. It is probable that these cuts were being served to the patrons of the Albion Hotel. Shellfish, including oyster, rock oyster, cockle and cat’s eye were also recovered. These are all species that were locally available. There is a notable absence of fish and bird remains from the faunal assemblage. This is unusual, as 19th century hotels have been found to be more likely to serve fish and bird than private houses (Watson 2000).
A newspaper advertisement indicates that the Albion Hotel had rooms at the back that were for the owner’s family (Press 9/5/1882: 3). While both commercial and domestic items were recovered from this site, there appears to be a lack of domestic items that are typically associated with family homes. With the exception of chamber pots, this may be because hotel guests would bring these personal items with them during their visits, and would be unlikely to leave them at the hotel to be discarded.
The Albion Hotel artefact assemblage is comparable to other 19th hotel assemblages in Christchurch, such as the Oxford-on-Avon Hotel and the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel. All three sites yielded large quantities of alcohol bottles, with black beer bottles being the most prominent. Glass servingware and matching decorative ceramic servingware sets were also present at all sites: the Asiatic Pheasants pattern was dominant at the Oxford-on-Avon, and Willow pattern was well represented at the Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, while the Albion Hotel appears to have had sets of Willow and unidentified sponged and leaf tableware sets. Unlike Zetland Arms/Parkers Hotel, no evidence that could be associated with the neighbouring stables (such as horseshoes) was recovered from this site, despite the fact that the saddled horse for hire business appears to have been long-running at this address.
By combining the historical and archaeological information from the Albion Hotel site, the activities of those who lived there was revealed to show the use and modification of the section over time. This assemblage has shed light on the operation of a 19th century hotel in Lyttelton, and the provision of food and drink in this context. This site is also comparable to other 19th century hotels within Christchurch, and has the potential to add to our general understanding of similar establishments in the area. This analysis has salvaged a snapshot of one of Lyttelton’s historic watering holes, adding to the charisma of the vibrant entertainment hub of modern Lyttelton.
Burgess, R., 2009. Registration Report for Historic a Area: Lyttelton Township Historic Area (Vol. 2). Unpublished report for New Zealand Historic Places trust Pouhere Toanga.
Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].
Press. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed July 2014].
Rice, G., 2004. Lyttelton: Port and town. An illustrated history. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
Samford, Patricia M., 1997. Response to a market: Dating English underglaze transfer‐printed wares. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 1‐30.
Watson, K., 2000. A land of plenty? Unpublished Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Otago.