The Hotels and Accommodation Houses of Wakefield

Written by Betty Bint - see original article here.

The early hotels that came into being soon after the arrival of the settlers in the country districts had to be very much more than places of refreshment and accommodation. They became the very hub of each small community. Typical of these would be ones in the Wakefield area.

The "Wakefield Arms" situated at Lower Wakefield, on what is today the property of Mr Barry Bryant, was established in 1853, perhaps before, but it is not until Thomas N. Trower applied for a bush licence in 1855 that we find where it stood.

Thomas was a son of Robert Trower of Woburn Place, London, and had arrived on the Fifeshire listed as a gentleman of 22 years. Mary Ann Cole, a widow with two sons arrived on the Lord Auckland, she and Thomas were married in 1844. By 1849 they were farming in 88 Valley.

During his term as proprietor the coaches commenced the run from Nelson, collecting and discharging passengers and goods at the hotel. The advertisements for this service had the warning — River Permitting. Another advertisement I noticed advised in 1856 that the opening game for the Wakefield cricket team would take place at the Wakefield Arms.

David Warnock became the proprietor in April 1858 and during his time the Oddfellows Lodge — "Mansion of Peace" — was formed at the hotel 10th August 1859. Joseph Wagstaff was the proprietor in 1867 when stock sales commenced in the yards at the back of the hotel. But it was '68-'69 that the big event, that was to draw large crowds for about the next 10 years, began — the "Waimea South Steeplechase".

The centre of this great attraction was the Wakefield Arms. The course was laid off three miles in extent, commencing on the Nelson side and running parallel with the road, crossing at Hooper's Store to return down the left side and passing through Mr Fowler's paddock where a deep drain presented the worst problem of the race, falling into this meant the inevitable loss of the race. There were 24 fences in the given distance. R. M. Smith of the Forest Inn, and John Disher had refreshment tents so the folk of the Waimeas could not complain of the lack of those necessary sinews of a race meeting. Hodder's coaches left Nelson 9.30 sharp and returned at the conclusion of the last race. Later when the train had commenced they ran a 'special' each race day that stopped opposite the course.

In the best racing tradition there was a fenced enclosure for the horses — Levi James sold hay and water at 1/6 a head. So great was the crowd that many could not gain admission to the grandstand. Charles Elliott was judge, Joe Baigent the clerk and the starter was John Gaukrodger. Horses were entered from all over the Waimeas. McRae's Bess, Blundell's Deception, Baigent;s Sultan, Knapp's Te Kooti, Paap's Blossom, Hatilow's Physic, Redwood's Bones, Monro's Rustic, Dillon's Quick Silver, and Bryant's Minnie were those mentioned in the reports and one added that the rather long intervals between races had been filled by the band, giving some gentlemen the opportunity to display certain steps which had not previously been introduced. Obviously a lot of fun was had by all.

The hotel operated until about 1879. Some of the later proprietors were Joseph Andrews, R. Chamberlain, F. Day and J. F. Plank. In Mr Plank's day the place was known, unofficially, as the "Carpenters Arms". Mr White of the brewery was the owner for some years.

Late in 1879 an advertisement in the Colonist offering the "Olde Ale House" at Wakefield, the "Wakefield Arms" and 25 acres for immediate possession, but in late 1881 the Rev. Bowden advertises for a house suitable for a private boarding school, then opens his "Brierley Farm Academy" in the old hotel in 1882. The school was of short duration but the Rev. T. A. Bowden continued to live there with his family for many years. I think the final owners of the old building were members of the Hill family. I have never been able to find a photograph of the hotel only of the front door.

"The Forest Inn". Situated in Upper Wakefield, on the left going south, just over the Jemmy Lee bridge. It was August 1856 when John Fowler begged to inform the public that he has opened a house where every accommodation can be afforded to travellers.

A good assortment of ready made clothing, good stabling and paddocks for horses and cattle. Orders taken for timber of every description. Henry Hubbard, Thomas Menary, Thomas Hunt, Charles Gentry, G. A. Hollister and R. M. Smith were some of the proprietors over the years.

Robert Martin Smith would have been the longest serving of these 1866–1881. He was an only child of S.T. Smith who came out with Captain Wakefield, and later came to Wakefield as a school master. In 1870 Robert advises his new "Forest Inn", 2 sitting rooms, a billiard room, comfortable bedrooms. In later advertisements he states that a horse and trap will meet every train. I have been unable to find out if he did indeed build a new inn or just enlarge the old one.

In this hotel in 1873 a meeting was held to form the Masonic Lodge of Waimea South, it was named for the inn "Forest Lodge", and they continued to meet there until they built their own building in 1882. Stock sales were held in the yards and continued for some years after the hotel closed. It was obvious by 1885 that the place was on the downward trend and by 1887 Mr Harley had bought Dragers accommodation house as the "Forest Inn" is now history, reports the Colonist".

Mr Louis Charles Drager was born in Hanover 1839 and married in Nelson to Ellen Frances Giles in 1864. In 1868 they had opened an accommodation house in Wakefield, on Part Section 85 in what is today the main street. Louis was a scholar and a very fine musician, under his baton the local band reached great heights and it was with very real regret that the people of Wakefield farewelled the Drager family in 1887.

Around 1879 the building was enlarged on the right hand side, John Scott was the builder. Then in 1902 it was again enlarged this time by Henry Baigent. A much more extensive alteration, it had been the intention to demolish the original part, but they had hardly begun when it caught fire and they were lucky to save the rest.

There have been a few more changes over the years but basically it is the same building that reopened in 1903.

Following is a list of the proprietors since it became "The Wakefield Hotel".

James McLeod 1887
Patrick Henry Duncan 1890
John Charles Williams 1902
Fred Durbridge 1909
Bert Gamboni —
Margaret L. Gamboni 1922
Charles Henry Thomas 1924
Alfred Percy Dawson 1926
George Edwin Marr 1928
David Louis Rees 1928
Henry William Nicholls 1930
Albert Edward Winks 1936
Frank Joseph Sepie 1938
John Stewart 1945
Henry Cropper 1945
Sir Malcolm Arthur 1948
Walter Mowatt 1951
Reginald Waghorn 1952
Dale C. Vercoe 1958
S. J. & J. V. Wannocott 1964
Robbie H. Atkins 1968
Ron Halkett 1970
W. R. & F. A. Cummings 1973
Don Rugg —
Don Thomas 1977
Mr Campbell 1979
Ross & Gail Harper 1980