Showing posts with label Hamilton hotels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamilton hotels. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Northern Star Hotel

‘This must be the best position in Hamilton,’ Des Ramplin observed to his wife Marie, as they were discussing the prospect of buying the 110 year old Northern Star Hotel, in Hamilton.

It was 1986; interest rates were affordable and the Ramplins were ready to take on another challenge.

Marie was born nearby in Cleary Street, and grew up in Hamilton.

‘I never dreamed I’d come back one day as the owner of a hotel,’ she tells me.

In 2016, the Ramplin family will have owned and operated the Northern Star Hotel for 30 years.

Father and son: Des and John Ramplin, 2000
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

The early years

Richard Nickolls[1] was the first licensee, operating the Northern Star Hotel at 112 Beaumont Street, Hamilton from 1877.[2] This date is important, because it places the Northern Star Hotel as the earliest Hamilton hotel still in existence on the same site, and with the same name. [3]

In 1882, the Northern Star Hotel was put up for sale but withdrawn from auction as the reserve price of £600 was not reached.[4]

We learn something of what the earliest building on the site was like, from a later auction advertisement, in 1884. The Northern Star Hotel is described as:

‘one of the best brick, two storey buildings in Hamilton, with stone foundation, cemented fronts, a spacious and airy balcony, and nearly new, containing 8 beautiful and well finished rooms.’ [5]

The hotel had a bar, underground cellar, detached brick kitchen, a three stall stable, plenty of water, and a 4 room weatherboard cottage at the back with a detached kitchen.

A couple of decades later, in 1912, the hotel underwent what was probably its first major renovation.

1912 renovation plans for the Northern Star Hotel, displayed in the hotel bistro
Photograph by Craig Smith

Five bedrooms were added, along with a new bar, dining room and a cast iron balcony on the upper floor. [6]

Northern Star Hotel, Hamilton (n.d.)
The name of C W Weiss, a prominent Hamilton businessman, is on the front of 
the elegant renovated hotel
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

In 1915, Charles Weiss lodged an application for his Northern Star Hotel license to be transferred to Harold J B Robinson.[7]

A match case inscribed with Harold Robinson’s name is in a display case
in the Northern Star Hotel
Phone: Hamilton 21

In 1919 the hotel received a glowing write up in The Catholic Press:

‘Harold J B Robinson is the proprietor of the Northern Star Hotel, and so it is run on the best possible lines. Everyone in and out of Hamilton knows this hotel, because it has acquired fame, being well kept. The accommodation is excellent and the cuisine perfect, for everything is of the best quality.’ [8]

In such a central position, and with a balcony offering a commanding vantage point, the Northern Star became a popular spot for speakers to address the people of Hamilton. In 1916 a gathering heard a debate on whether hotel closing time should be extended from 6pm to 9pm; in 1917, the Mayor of Hamilton presided over a recruiting rally addressed by Trooper Squires and Sergeant Huntley. Aspiring politicians and later, local Councillors would make their case for election from the balcony. The widening of Tudor Street was discussed in 1922.

The following year, in 1923, further renovations were undertaken. The hotel acquired two new bathrooms, a hot water system, a new ‘vermin proof, kitchen,’ and a lounge with an open fireplace. Notably, the Northern Star became the only hotel in the district where guests could park their cars.[9] This had been made possible when, in 1922, a cottage in James Street next to the hotel was purchased and demolished.

Northern Star Hotel, Hamilton, 1924
The roofline appears to have changed by 1924
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Up until the 1930s, hotels were important community venues for many different activities which brought people together. Football, trotting and other clubs held their meetings at the Northern Star, as did unions. Formal events ranged from an installation ceremony of the Star in the East Lodge of the Freemasons, to auctions and inquests.

Hotels could also be sites of criminal activity – reports of convictions for theft, offensive behaviour, brawls, and unruly behavior in and around Hamilton hotels often appeared in the local press.

Northern Star Hotel, Hamilton, 1968
The balcony would soon be removed
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

In 1969 the Newcastle Sun carried the headline, LANDMARK GOING. It reported plans for the complete modernization of ‘one of the best known buildings in Hamilton,’ involving ‘the virtual demolition of the existing building.’ Its distinctive verandah with cast iron railings would also be demolished, replaced with a modern awning over the footpath. Its replacement would be ‘one of the most modern hotels in Newcastle.’ [10] But first things first – a temporary bar was established, so that despite the building works, the hotel could keep trading and look after its regulars.

A family hotel – the Ramplins

While Des Ramplin had begun work as a fitter and turner, worked on building construction sites and in power stations, and even owned a taxi, he and Marie were not novice publicans.

Their first experience in hotels was as a husband-and-wife manager of the Plough Inn Hotel at Buladehlah. The couple went on to buy the Royal Hotel in Taree as members of a syndicate, and later, the Fire Station Tavern at Wallsend.

Marie Ramplin (right) and daughter Michelle, Fire Station Tavern, Wallsend, c1982
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

Marie was no stranger to work. She’d begun in Woolworths variety store in Newcastle, eventually clocking up nearly 15 years there. Marie learned flexibility, multi tasking and the ability to turn her hand to anything as she juggled work and their children, Michelle and John.

When the opportunity to buy the Northern Star Hotel came up in 1986, Marie was there to support her husband. ‘It’s what we did,’ she says. ‘I used to tell Des that if we didn’t make it, we could just start again.’

The Northern Star Hotel as it was when Des and Marie Ramplin purchased in 1986
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

Des managed the bar and soon had son John ‘stacking up’ – after school and weekends. By the time he was 15 or 16, John was behind the bar – something that could not happen today. Michelle too served when she was home from Sydney, where she was working.

Des Ramplin’s original two page hotel license was a fraction of the length of today’s license
Document courtesy of the Ramplin family

Along with other tasks, Marie attended to the accommodation – 12 rooms upstairs, a mix of double, single and family rooms with bathrooms that are still popular today.

One of the hotel cooks told Marie how she was once asked: ‘Who is that lady who “running walks”?’

‘It’s the owner,’ the cook replied.

Marie Ramplin unpacking stock in the cellar of the Northern Star Hotel c1990
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

In 1987, the career of the renowned boxing trainer Tom Maguire was commemorated when a plaque was installed on the southern wall of the Northern Star Hotel. Maguire had trained hundreds of boxers, including Dave Sands LINK and had often enjoyed a quiet beer in the hotel. Between 1920 and 1957, Maguire trained 22 Australian champions, one Australasian champion and one British Empire champion at his gym in Beaumont Street, where another plaque was installed.

A plaque on the southern external wall of the Northern Star commemorates
veteran boxing trainer Tom Maguire
Photograph by Craig Smith

Cocktails were a popular offering at the Northern Star in the late 1990s. John taught himself the cocktail trade, and the hotel became ‘one of the best cocktail bars in town’. A relaxed, romantic atmosphere was created, with candles everywhere. Sometimes there were fun themed events like Austin Powers nights.

Once, when a customer’s hair caught fire from a candle, John patted it out with his hand, and then found himself wondering why it was throbbing so much. He ended up in the hospital Emergency Department.

In the Public Bar (l-r) Vladimir Mileski, Nick O’Connell, John Ramplin, late 1990s
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

In 1996, Michelle Ramplin returned to Newcastle. Completing her Master’s degree in hospitality, she quickly became an essential member of the family team.

A place to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

In the 1990s, ‘Tinker’s Curse’ was a popular band playing Irish music around Newcastle. When it first appeared at the Northern Star Hotel before an enthusiastic crowd in 1996, Shawn Sherlock, a band member who is now a well known brewer, suggested to John that the hotel ‘do something’ for St Patrick’s Day.

The Ramplin family got behind the idea for the first St Patrick’s day to become a big event at their hotel. It was 1998. Marie remembers decorating the bars with shamrocks they’d made themselves and strung on fishing line. Staff and customers were encouraged to dress up.

The Tinker’s Curse at the Northern Star Hotel, St Patrick’s Day 17 March, 1998
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

The hotel was already well known for Guinness, Ireland’s best-selling alcoholic drink. With the party atmosphere, Tinker’s Curse on the band stand, and Irish dancers, and there was no going back from that first event. ‘The place was going nuts’, says John.

They ran out of Guinness. John was temporarily off duty but was summoned back urgently by his father to get behind the bar.

That first hugely successful event was the genesis of the Irish theme that the Northern Star Hotel uses to such advantage today.

John Ramplin and his niece Marie-Lee, dressed for St Patrick’s Day 2000
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

John remembers one St Patrick’s Day when there was a fire in the cellar, because a refrigeration unit exploded. It was a frightening experience. ‘We put the fire out, and went on trading,’ John says. The customers knew nothing of the drama unfolding below.

Having a great time - St Patrick's Day, 2001
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

St Patrick's Day crowds at the Jazz Festival, 2001
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

The Ramplin renovations

It was time for the Ramplins to begin a phased series of renovations of the hotel that hadn’t seen any changes since its major redevelopment in 1969. Respected hotel architect Bruce Boland was engaged to work with the family to recreate the hotel with the look and feel of a traditional Irish pub. First, in June 1998 was the kitchen and restaurant.

In 2000 the Public Bar was renovated and renamed. It became Finn McCools, after the legendary Irish hero who was protector of Ireland, and Chief of The Fianna, the elite bodyguard to the High Kings. The Lounge was renovated in 2003.

Bar, Northern Star Hotel, 2015
Photograph by Craig Smith

The dining area has been updated as a casual, Irish-themed bistro, also known as Finn McCools
Photograph by Craig Smith

Pew style seating in the bistro lounge creates the comfortable, welcoming feel of a family hotel
Photograph by Craig Smith

Irish proverbs cover the ceiling and walls of the bistro lounge and dining area
This one is a favourite of Marie Ramplin
Photograph by Craig Smith

Des Ramplin was passionate about Australian music, and set out to support young, emerging bands. Michelle Ramplin shows me a book that meticulously documents hundreds of bands that once played at the hotel, including now-familiar names like The Whitlams, the John Butler Trio, Eskimo Jo, Iota and Missy Higgins.

Full-on bands are a thing of the past at the Northern Star Hotel. These days, because of concerns about noise affecting the neighbours, single musicians are dispersed throughout, wherever the customers are seated – no one is far away from music on Friday and Saturday nights. The hotel closes at 11 pm.

Often a hotel is one of the few places open late at night. In suburbs like Hamilton, where there is no longer a local police station, it is not unusual for people escaping violent situations to come in looking for help. Staff can, over time, be exposed to stressful and even traumatic situations.

‘A business is so much more than bricks and mortar,’ Michelle says. ‘The family really acknowledges the contribution of so many staff over our 30 years here. They foster the family atmosphere of the place – sometimes former staff drop in and say they worked here twenty years ago.’

The Ramplin family would have to face its own tragic loss. Des was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and died within a year, in 2006. It was a bitter legacy of his years in construction and the power industries.

Des Ramplin (right) in the midst of renovations in the Lounge
Photograph from the Ramplin family collection

Yet the hotel goes on, adapting to each new challenge. Greater responsibility has fallen on John and Michelle’s shoulders. The operating environment for hotels has become even more complex as a result of changes to the Liquor Licensing laws in NSW.

Nothing seems to stop the Northern Star Hotel from opening.

‘We kept trading through the Pasha Bulker storm,’[11] says John, ‘and the 1989 earthquake. Even the recent super storm!’

Miraculously, the Northern Star Hotel was one of the very few businesses on the western side of Beaumont Street that did not lose power for several days during the storm.

‘Call it the luck of the Irish,’ laughs John.

The Northern Star Hotel, 2015
Photograph by Craig Smith


Thank you to Marie, John and Michelle Ramplin for sharing information and photographs for this story, and to Craig Smith for his photography. Unattributed photos are by Ruth Cotton.

[1] Sometimes spelt Nicholls
[2] Peter Murray, 2006, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921, Peter Murray, Newcastle, p. 148; also The Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society, Vol. VI Part XII, September 1952, Hamilton Part II by W J Goold, p. 185
[3] Bennett’s Hotel in Denison Street is on the site of Thomas Tudor’s Agricultural Hotel, and holds a license that can be traced back to 1865. Other contenders for the earliest hotel still in existence in Hamilton are The Exchange Hotel, also in Denison Street, formerly the Miner’s Exchange which opened in 1880, and the Sydney Junction Hotel, opening in 1881 under the name of the Woods Family Hotel. See
[4] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday 6 May, 1882
[5]  Peter Murray, 2006, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848-1921, Peter Murray, Newcastle, p. 148
[6] Newcastle Sun, 16 July 1969
[7] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Friday 26 November 1915
[8] The Catholic Press, Thursday 28 August, 1919 p. 47
[9]  Newcastle Sun, Saturday 28 July, 1923.
[10]  The Newcastle Sun, 16 July, 1969
[11] The MV Pasha Bulker ran aground on Nobby’s Beach during a major storm on 8 June, 2007. The ship was waiting to enter Newcastle Port to load coal.  A severe storm (dubbed a super storm) said to be worse than the Pasha Bulker storm hit Newcastle and the Hunter on 22 April, 2015. An earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter magnitude scale occurred in Newcastle on 28 December, 1989.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Kent

Acrobatic dogs balanced on two front legs on impossibly slim posts, somersaulted, danced and waved goodbye. Responding to the skilful hands of trainer Mr Bill Massey, the small dogs enthralled kids and adults alike. [1]

It was the early 1920s. Massey’s Dog Circus was the first recorded use for a large corner block at 59-61 Beaumont Street, now The Kent. Sometimes the dogs would parade down Beaumont Street to perform at ‘Gilbert’s Paddock’, another vacant block backing onto Murray Street, behind 99-101 Beaumont Street. There, behind the Westpac Bank of today, once the Roxy Theatre, the little troupe would join a steam driven merry-go-round, a joy ride called the Razzle Dazzle, and tightrope walkers mimicking the world’s most famous tightrope walker, Blondin. These couple of blocks could have been the beginnings of an entertainment precinct for Hamilton.

As it would have been - Razzle Dazzle ride, Cony Island, New York (c1900)
Where are the tee shirts?
(No known restrictions on reproduction)

Perhaps anticipating the becoming of Beaumont Street as Eat Street, one of Massey’s terriers was famous for his discerning palate. Local historian Mavis Ebbott tells me that this dog was said to eat meat six days a week, but on a Friday, he would consume only fish.

When The Kent was built in 1924, Massey’s Dog Circus had to find another home. The corner block had been advertised as a splendid site for a family hotel, and so it would become. Hamilton was burgeoning, with 400 businesses and a population of some 14,000 – only slightly less than the city of Newcastle.

The first licensee was Mr William Weiss, followed by Mr Charles Weiss, beginning a family involvement with the hotel that would last for several years.

Hotel Kent, Hamilton (1924)
Charles W Weiss, Proprietor
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Articles and court notices in the Newcastle Miners Advocate and Morning Herald show that The Kent accommodated both guests and longer term boarders. The Hamilton Bowling Club arranged for its competition guests to stay at The Kent – in 1929, the Millions Club from Sydney visited and was ‘entertained to lunch’ at The Kent before the match.

The personal story of Charles Weiss is a tragic one. A highly regarded, kind and very generous member of the Hamilton community, he had many friends. He was listed as one of the most generous donors to the Hamilton Distress Fund in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression. In another example, during Hamilton Shoppers Week in 1924, he donated a prize. In 1929 Charles Weiss and two business partners purchased the land where Hamilton’s first theatre was built. This was the Union Theatre, later to become the Roxy.

By the time war came, Charles was no longer the licensee of The Kent, although he could have been operating it, and by then had other business interests. All this was to come to a sudden end.

Of German ancestry, Charles Weiss’s birth name was Karl.

Australia interned about 7000 residents in prisons and camps during World War II, many of them Germans and Italians classified as ‘enemy aliens’. The fear was that they might be a risk to Australia’s security by assisting their home countries. Charles Weiss was one of those rounded up and taken away, to spend the rest of the war in a prison (or prison camp), somewhere in NSW.

Adele Weiss, a descendant, writes in Lost Newcastle Facebook:

Everything was taken from him and he was devastated beyond comprehension. Not so much because of material things but he loved and adored Hamilton, and his many, many friends. Sadly, he never emotionally recovered from his ordeal here in Newcastle... and was believed to have died of a broken heart.’ [2]

The story of Charles Weiss shows the terrible consequences that would have been repeated in many, many immigrant families in Ausralia.

The outbreak of war mobilised the community. Hamilton had its own Send-off and Welcome Home Committee. In August, 1941 the Committee staged a dance in the Club Ballroom of The Kent, with 500 dancers attending. [3] The puzzle is – where was the Club Ballroom? I believe the first floor was given over to accommodation, prior to the remodelling that created today’s function room. Perhaps there was a ball room squeezed in somewhere upstairs?

Over the 12 years between 1936 and 1948, the licensee of The Kent changed six times. At that time, it was not unusual to have such turnover.

In 1947/48, an influx of Italian migrants was making Hamilton the focus of their community and commercial life. In 1947, 150 families from the village of Lettopalena, in the province of Chieti, in the Abruzzo region of Italy, migrated to Newcastle. Lettopalena had been devastated by an earthquake in 1933, and suffered greatly from bombings in World War II – it has since been rebuilt nearby.

Most of these migrants settled in Islington, to be close to the BHP steelworks where the men could find work. The Exchange Hotel and The Kent became favourite gathering places. There was still a cultural divide. Desmond Watson remembers that when he first became a customer of The Kent fifty years ago in the mid 1960s, aged just 17, the Italians were at one end of the public bar; the ‘Aussies’ at the other.

Today a small group of well dressed, retired Italian men gather each morning at the eastern end of the front bar. They meet for an hour to ‘discuss the affairs of the day’. For years, Briscola, Italy’s most popular card game, and Three Seven (Tresete) were played in this alcove by their predecessors, but now only one of them, Domenico, remains. After the chat, it’s over to the Benvenuti Italian Restaurant for coffee.

The company of men (2014)
(L-R) Mario Lot, Cesare Gattazzo, Domenico di Claudio,
Giacinto di Bernardino

Local historian Doug Saxon recounts his memories of growing up in Hamilton in the 1950s, writing:

‘I used to walk past The Kent almost every day and remember the cellar doors which were set in the footpath and where wooden kegs of beer were lowered by rope into the cellar below. The lasting memory is the smell from the cellar – probably of stale beer. Hotels were essentially male establishments - I can remember men taking drinks to ladies sitting in cars outside the hotel although The Kent did have a female section – ‘The Ladies Lounge’. ...Hotels closed at 6 pm from 1916 until 1955 when 10 pm closing was introduced.’ [4]

When 6 pm closing still ruled, Des Watson remembers drinkers inside the hotel sending drinks and hot chips to pacify women and children waiting in the car. Shandies (beer diluted with lemonade) were considered ‘suitable’ drinks for women.

‘The six o’clock swill’ was a consequence of these limited trading hours. Doug Saxon quotes Bill Muir, who lived opposite  The Kent in Cleary Street:

‘Beaumont Street became a rush of bicycles as workers from the BHP and other industries rushed from knocking off work at 4 pm to get to the pubs for quick afternoon drinks. The hotels were crowded with drinkers almost spilling onto the pavement before the pub doors closed at 6 pm’. [5]

The original public bar – shown below – looked rather different from today. It was set up for access, efficiency and fast action. The barmen worked at speed to serve the shoving, pushing workers desperate to get as much beer into their systems as possible in the available time. Bottle shops only began to appear in the 1960s, and this daily binge drinking had many negative consequences for families.

Public bar in The Kent c1948
Mollie Gahagan is in front
Photograph of bar and his mother is from the personal collection 
of Peter Pearce

Court reports from the opening of The Kent in 1924 over the next three decades abound with convictions of licensees for ‘having persons on the premises at an unlawful hour’, and of patrons ‘for having carried liquor away during prohibited hours’. In one reported case in 1948, police - who happened to be at the back of the hotel - spied ‘bottles of beer being handed over the fence’. And of course, a multitude of charges for fights, causing affray, assaults and ‘offensive language’.

Kent Hotel, Hamilton, NSW (1959)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Museum

What was the ‘saloon bar’ is at the back of the public bar – in this more ‘refined’ setting, drinks would cost a little more. Even the public bar was a misnomer, however, as women were not allowed there, or in the saloon. A common excuse from many hotels was that there were no ‘ladies facilities’.

The Kent had some facilities for women as early as the 1950s.

Giving the boss a hand - cleaning toilets at The Kent (c1950)
(L-R) Bert Harris (Publican), Taff Jones, Ken Burns
Photograph from the personal collection of Robyn White, 
daughter of Ken Burns

Ken Burns was a regular at The Kent, every afternoon after work. He always stood in the same place, against a window that looked onto Cleary Street. On her way home from the bus and work at BHP, daughter Robyn White would tap the glass against her father’s bald head. If he was ready, he’d get up and join her for the short walk to their home in Cleary Street. Robyn tells me a name plaque was placed at his favourite spot – but was lost in the earthquake.

In 1973, after a sit-in by a group of feminist activists at Hotel Manly in Sydney, gender segregation in hotels gradually began to break down. Des Watson remembers the Ladies Lounge at The Kent well. He disputes it was a ‘lounge’ in any sense of the word today.

‘It was a small enclosed room with a table and chairs’, he tells me. ‘The women had to order drinks through a hole in the wall.’ He describes how they used to bring peas to shell and beans to slice, so they could have dinner ready for their husbands, as soon as they got home.

Ladies welcome (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

Extended hours, followed by the introduction of bottle shops and the freer availability of take home liquor, meant that hotels became less frenzied, more leisurely places. Newcastle playwright, novelist and comedian Grahame Cooper writes this rainy day reminiscence:

When I was young and stupid (though I’ve learnt the two may not be mutually exclusive) I spent a ‘decent’ amount of time in pubs. This was back in the days when cigarettes didn’t give you cancer, pubs were not generic restaurants/gambling halls, the barman knew your name and invited you to sit at the bar, ‘characters’ gathered to lie about their lives and offer alcohol-fuelled folk wisdom to the young...On rainy days such as today, I was inevitably drawn to the hotels of Beaumont Street, Hamilton and my recollections are of a black and white, or at least sepia-toned stretch of suburb where one could escape the rain and enter a dimly lit, smoky, warm and inviting front bar. The Kent Hotel was one such place’. [6]

Kent Hotel front bar (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

This peacefulness was shattered on Thursday, 28 December, 1989.

The front of The Kent was savagely stripped away by the 5.6 Richter magnitude earthquake, as the verandah collapsed, taking the external brick wall down with it. Gaping holes that once were rooms in The Kent were exposed to view.

Devastation wreaked on The Kent (1989)

Photograph by Craig Smith of framed photograph hanging in The Kent

Mr Cec Abbott died under The Kent fall.

Clearance was a slow job
Photograph by Craig Smith of framed photograph hanging in The Kent

There was pressure on John and Pauline Stirling, part owners of The Kent, to demolish the entire building. Extensive renovations had just been completed, and they resisted strongly, arguing that the damage not structural. Although it looked shocking, it was the hotel façade that was mainly affected. Damage had occurred all along Beaumont Street. The solid timber stays that had supported the awning posts had been replaced by wires in a street-wide safety improvement program instituted by the Newcastle Council.

Clearly visible, wires failed to hold up awnings

Photograph by Craig Smith of framed photograph hanging
 in The Kent

The Kent was closed for up to three months for repairs; long term boarders were found alternative accommodation. Bar patrons moved to other pubs.

 Following the earthquake, the front bar was updated. Local historian Mavis Ebbott tells me that when the panels were stripped back, five were found with the words STRIKE HERE. These were used for striking the ‘strike anywhere’ Swan Vestas matches popular with smokers.

One of two panels from the original bar preserved at the entrance
Photograph by Craig Smith

Renovations following the earthquake saw The Kent acquire a veranda upstairs, with a bull nosed iron roof over the Cleary Street windows.

Kent Hotel 1990s
Photograph by Craig Smith of framed photograph hanging in The Kent

 Now, veranda patrons have protection from winter winds and the western sun in summer.

New look veranda (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

Successive renovations, too large a task to document in this story, have left their mark on The Kent. Hamilton resident Craig Smith had taken his last photograph for this post and was on his way out of the hotel when he noticed a hole in the floor, with the wooden hatch suspended back on its chains. He emails me about the experience:

'It took me awhile to realise that this was the cellar door, and I was thrilled to spot the layers of jutting brickwork that descended beneath the surface. And not just the surface flooring of The Kent but the street itself - it was like gazing at a cross-section of Beaumont Street on some archeological dig. It was a fitting way to leave the premises, to then walk out onto the street and carry with me that sense of something hidden and secret, a sense of unexpected delight that is to be cherished in such a historic location in Hamilton'.

Opening The Kent cellar (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

Up until the late 1980s, NSW breweries owned almost half the State’s hotels. A series of corporate crashes led to breweries divesting themselves of the freehold of individual hotels, with purchasers often being former lessees. Thus, hotels became once again, family businesses.

It was not just pub culture that was changing, but also the very purpose of pubs themselves. Accommodation had long been an essential service offered by hotels. As the market changed, along with customer preferences for more spacious rooms and an ensuite bathroom, hotels such as The Kent found themselves becoming redundant.

On the first floor, perhaps 15 rooms remain of the 20 or so that were once used for guest accommodation. Mostly single, there was one double for the occasional travelling couple. Bathrooms were shared. Long term office staffer Wendy Berlin says that with high ceilings, neat curtains and bedspreads, the rooms would have been well presented for the time.

Each hotel room had a hand basin for guests (2014)

Decorative detail of picture rail in guest room (2014)

The Kent stopped providing accommodation around 1998. Today the rooms are used for office space and storage, although present owner/manager Stephen Hunt recalls that soon after he took over in 2002, an elderly patron was provided with a room until his end days.

While 1998 saw the close of the accommodation era, it also marked a boost in hotel income with the NSW government approval for hotels to purchase up to 15 poker machine/licences. This enabled hotels to compete more directly with the club industry, which had long held a monopoly on these gaming machines. The Kent responded with another renovation to make space for the new machines.

The Hunt family bought The Kent in 2002, having been involved in owning and managing pubs since the 1940s. Part owner Stephen Hunt moved to Newcastle from Sydney with his family to manage the business. The Kent appealed because it is in a thriving area with many reasons for people to visit – a good mix of retail, food and entertainment - with the railway station, the Hunter Stadium and the Newcastle Entertainment Centre close by. Stephen loves the heritage style of the building, its history, and the unique touches that have managed to survive renovations and disaster.

Original fireplace in first floor lounge at The Kent (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

Throughout The Kent, pressed metal ceilings are still evident.

Pressed metal ceiling, first floor, The Kent (2014) [22]
Photograph by Craig Smith

The hotel dining room was originally at the front, facing Beaumont Street. When the gaming area was enlarged, the dining area was moved to the back.

Remodelling meant these elegant external doors have been permanently closed (2014)

Photograph by Craig Smith

Since 2002 the dining room has been run as part of the hotel - prior, it had been the privately operated Beaumont Restaurant. In 2014, new renovations are under way that will see the dining area restored to the front hotel, hopefully with pavement dining.

Diners will once again enjoy this heritage leadlight

Photograph by Craig Smith, 2014

A large function room on the first floor continues to be important for private celebrations and events.

Stairway to function room, veranda and offices
Photograph by Craig Smith, 2014 

First floor function room has a warm ambience
(Photographs by Craig Smith, 2014)

A piece of history has been retained on the first floor. A club lounge area, billiard room and bathroom was once the private quarters of Newcastle businessman and Kent licensee, Terry Teagle.

Club lounge which opens to verandah
Photograph by Craig Smith (2014)

Patrons can move from the function room to the veranda for a bird’s eye view of what is happening on Beaumont Street.

The veranda is now firmly secured (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

The Kent has changed over time. Like the whole industry, this hotel has had to respond to broader changes in society, and adapt to survive. Craig Smith emails again after taking his last photos for this blog:

'I've been thinking about The Kent often since I visited last week. It has undergone such a change in its culture and in public perception in the past ten years - from a guaranteed place to witness a close-up fight on a Friday night as I've done - to a rather charming place to enjoy a family meal. It's been so good to watch its new colours flourish'.

The Kent (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

So much of this positive change at The Kent is due to the influence of Stephen Hunt and his family. In April, 2014 they celebrated 12 years of ownership, and are now a firm part of its 90 year history.

They have always liked the linkage between The Kent and the country of Kent, in England.

The motto of the county is the Latin word, Invicta. It means undefeated, unconquered.
That too, is The Kent.

Thank you to Stephen Hunt, Wendy Berlin, bar staff and patrons of The Kent for their help and contributions. Also to Adele Weiss, Robyn White, Peter Pearce, Lorraine Castle and Desmond Watson.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.

View a complete set of Craig Smith’s photographs of The Kent on:

[1] Watch a silent film of performing dogs from the 1920s at
[2] Adele Weiss, Lost Newcastle Facebook.
[3] Trove. Newcastle and Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate. 6/8/1941. 6.
[4] Doug Saxon: Hamilton. Memories of Life and School in the 1950s. 6.
[5] Doug Saxon: Hamilton. Memories of Life and School in the 1950s. 6.
[6]  Grahame Cooper, Lost Newcastle Facebook.