This section extended from the corner to the north side of Woolworth’s Variety (now DEKA) store and down to the present Chamberlain St. This is a slight correction to an earlier story. To the south to Bath St was the gravel reserve which the borough still owns.
An elderly Maori lady when looking at the holes for the foundations remarked that they were digging a grave for the Maoris.
The building was two storeyed. The hotel was sold to Mr McCormack in 1891 with Mr Frank Garland owning it by about 1895.
Mr Dan Hannan bought it in 1900. He and the Hannan family owned it until 1941 though they did not operate the licence all of that time.
An extension was built on the south in 1902. Howard’s Hardware shrub arcade is there now (fenced). This section had the kitchen and dining rooms with staff quarters above. This addition had a narrow alleyway between it and the original building. It has been said that footballers after a game at the Park Domain would go in this alleyway to have showers and change.
The entrance to the public bar was on the corner. For many years there was painted above the doors Speights XXXX (ale). The main entrance was from Oxford St.
Most early hotels had a room called the commercial room where commercial travellers could interview clients and show their wares. These rooms were used for many purposes. Small meetings were held in them, and many organisations still existing in Levin had their beginnings in the Levin Hotel commercial room which was apparently on the frontage.
This was the second home of the Horowhenua County Club (later the Workingmen’s Club and now the Cosmopolitan Club), now sited in Weraroa.
The first home of this club was in a shed in the yard of the hotel. The house bar was apparently the private bar. As did all hotels then, there was accommodation for travellers at the hotel.
There were two shops on the frontage of the south section. Mr Day had a chemist’s shop in the larger north shop starting a chain of pharmacies through Mr Southwicke, Mr Keedwell, Mr Bill Nockels to the present Mr Bennett, but in two other locations.
Mr Shalala, a Hindu, operated a greengrocer’s business in the south shop in the 1920s.
About 1930 Mr James Webb followed on with a barber’s shop, with Mr Barry Webb his son following in the business from 1947 until 1966 when Lands Bags leased the shop until 1975, when they moved into one of the New Levin Hotel shops. This business is now Bags’n’Things.
In the small south shop, the earliest known occupier was Mr Bates, a tailor. In 1963 Mr Laurie Moffat operated a real estate agency until 1973, when Mr Roger Parker took the business over until 1975, then shifting to the corner shop in the New Levin Hotel building. He sold the business to Premier Properties in 1978.
Stories abound of the old hotel. One night two men wanted some beer. One went into the back of the hotel and bought the beer. His friend was waiting outside the high board fence that was on the Queen St frontage. A police constable came along so the outside man fled. The inside man handed the bottles over the fence to the waiting hands of the constable.
Another story is that a Maori ordered a handle of beer. On being served he paid over fourpence. The barman said – “A handle is sixpence, you are tuppence short.” The Maori answered “I have my beer and you have fourpence, you are tuppence short.”
In the 1930s when many people rode bicycles to work there were usually many bicycles leaning against the front of the hotel after 5pm.
A zealous new police constable removed many of them one night to the Police Station, thinking they were on the public footpath. He had to bring them back when the proprietor pointed out that the bikes were on the hotel strip at the front of the hotel.
About the 1930s the hotel was raided by the police one night. Johnny Hopa escaped out the back way with Constable Gillespie in pursuit across the backyard. He called out “Stop Johnny, I know you”, Johnny yelled back “You stop, nobody is chasing you”.
Some lessees or proprietors from the 1920s who were well known were Mr Matt Suhan, Mr Evan Jones, Mr Bill Hannan and Mr Fitzgerald, a Hannan son-in-law.
Counter lunches were a feature in the bars perhaps up to the 1940s. These were served up to twice a day free from the hotel kitchens consisting of pigs trotters, small pies and various savouries.
Over the years shops were built on the hotel land north of the present Woolworths Variety, being let by the hotel owners or sold later. Sections were sold over the years on the Queen St frontage. Six o’clock closing was enforced in hotels in 1917 as a war economy measure and was not repealed for 50 years.
The original hotel had a balcony on the second floor onto Oxford St. What stirring sights must have been seen from it. The intersection was the scene of many ceremonies and celebrations.
Mr Ernie and Mrs Florence Ward bought the hotel from the Hannan estate in 1941, operating the licence themselves.
When the American army was in camp at Paekakariki in 1942-43 Levin was a popular place for weekend leave with the hotels getting a lot of custom. About 1946 the law was changed allowing Maori women to drink in hotels. Previously they have only been allowed to buy liquor and take it away.
Horseshoe shaped bar
In 1957 new bars were built at the rear of the site with entrances from Queen St. The public bar was large with a long horseshoe shaped serving bar. The private bar and bottle store were on the east side. Later a ladies and escort bar was installed to the west of the public bar, where the bottle store is now. It was not acceptable for ladies to be in a public bar.
The main part of the hotel was demolished in 1957 leaving the south section. During demolition hidden under the stairway a board was found with the Roe brothers names studded out in tacks or nails.
The New Levin Hotel was then built. This was built square as the old hotel had been still leaving the triangular strip by the footpath. Five shops were built on the frontage on Oxford St with the main hotel entrance from Queen St.
Mr Ward died in 1960, so the hotel was leased to NZ Breweries until 1968 when Western Hotels Company with the Ward family in the company operated the licence.
It was about then that the Public Bar became the Sportsmen Lounge and the Private Bar became the Public Bar. Ten o’clock closing had been permitted since 1967 and large lounges with tables and chairs became popular. A house bar, the Turf Bar, was installed in the front building.
Son, Mr Henry Ward, was the manager and he was the last “ mine host” to mingle with customers occasionally shouting a drink. Henry’s playing on his grand piano was popular before the introduction of very loud bands. Mrs Ward came out of retirement to help run the hotel at first but stayed in until 1972 when NZ Breweries bought the hotel.
Lemonade and raspberry for Major Ward
Some years ago when Major Ward of the Salvation Army sold the War Cry in the bars she was usually thirsty so a certain husband and wife always bought her a lemonade and raspberry. When the wife was confined to her bed at Horowhenua Hospital and Major Ward was also in the hospital, she would take her own dinner to the wife’s bed and they would eat and talk together.
In 1975 the remaining part of the old hotel was demolished leaving a gap which Howards Hardware shrub arcade soon filled up.
In 1972 Mr Jon and Mr Jan Jervis leased the hotel and latterly Mr Edward and Mrs Esta Mackie have leased it.
This year 1983 Talmer, McLeod and Associates are leasing the hotel with Mr Robert Anderson as manager, who is also a shareholder. Plans have been made to alter the Oxford St front so the old site will have another change.
(Thanks to Mr Morris and Mrs Pat Shaw and Mr Tony Dreaver for help in research).
Appreciation of the articles written by Mr F.C. Swanwick about the work of Major Elsie Ward had been expressed in the following letter received from Major Ward by Mr Swanwick.
What a generous and mighty tribute you have given me.
Indeed, it is far beyond the little services I was able to give.
It certainly would not have been accomplished without the wonderful help I had from “the boys” at the Grand, the Levin and the Oxford Hotels. Also the shopkeepers were wonderful helpers financially.
I am treasuring the reports that you posted to me to give me encouragement for spending all the time, talents and treasures I enjoy, to help my fellow beings, find their happiness, likewise in service to the Saviour of Mankind.
Elsie E. Ward (Major)’
Adkin diary extracts:
In 1893 W.G. Adkin visited Levin and stayed with his wife and two children, Leslie and Clare, at the hotel for two weeks.
Extracts from his diary for Thursday, February 2, and Friday, February 3, make interesting reading:
‘February 2: Squared up garden. Left at midday for Levin, arrived safely and found our quarters at the hotel very good, particularly in the matter of a balcony which commands a view of the four roads and from which we see people gathering to the centre of the township: we shall spend some pleasant hours on the balcony, no doubt …
February 3: The view from our balcony is one to get enthusiastic over. Surely this is a promising spot. Levin is going ahead. Dwellings of various grades peep from the various clearings, from the smallest shanty of the bachelor bushman to the commodious residences of Levin’s leading settlers. All are backed up and interspersed with remnants of standing bush. Most of the unsold portions of the township sections are standing, through and beyond which glimpses of the large rural sections are visible. The distant ranges look magnificent. The nearer hills of the Arapaepae are still to a great extent in bush, and will never look so well again when it is gone. Indeed it is quite safe to say the view of the town and surroundings will never be more picturesque than today, there being just sufficient bush cleared to reveal the extent of the surrounding Country…’
Adkin owned land in Levin. He had come to work on it.
Matt Suhan manufactured aerated cordial in 1911.