Friday, 11 September 2015

Grahamstown Gazette: the Hotels edition

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the September edition.

From The Treasury:  
Thames: the town with a hotel on every corner. During the 1870s, it was estimated that Thames had one hotel for every two hundred people. Wherever a gold field was declared in New Zealand, the business people who made a living from the gold miners were as sure to arrive as the gold miners themselves. Even before anything as permanent as streets or houses could be constructed, calico huts and tents were springing up across Thames as unofficial hotels. The Shortland Hotel, on the corner of Pollen St and Grey St, was opened by Captain Butt as early as August 1867 – mere weeks after the gold field was opened - in a building originally intended as a house for Wirope Hotereni Taipari. By 1870, there were 43 hotels in Grahamstown alone, out of a total of 102 for the whole Thames area. 

The hotels of Thames were a focal point and meeting place for the growing population, playing host to everything from dances and theatre shows to skittle alleys and town meetings. Prostitution thrived, gambling was common and rules surrounding closing on the Sabbath were cheerfully ignored. Unlike Auckland, the comparatively ‘dowdy’ provincial capital, Thames’ hotels revelled in the 19th century equivalent of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. 

Even decades after their closures, many of Thames’ most famous hotels are still well-remembered today. Changing attitudes to alcohol, liquor licensing laws and tough economic times forced the doors closed of many well-loved hotels. The Queen's, Shortland, Exchange, Royal, Post Office and Park Hotels played host to a huge farewell pub crawl in 1951, when licensing controls forced all six to simultaneously shut down. 

These days, only a handful of gold rush hotels are still operating in Thames, with the buildings of a handful more still standing. The Treasury has a collection in our Reading Room dedicated to Thames hotels, as well as our extensive Business Register collection.

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