Historical Significance or Value
The Ancient Briton Hotel has historical significance representing the importance of hotels in small isolated gold mining communities, and as a building which epitomises a nineteenth century hotel in a gold mining town still used for the same purpose. In 1872 there were 220 licensed hotels on the Otago goldfields, one for every 200 citizens. Hotels were an integral part of goldfields life, and few remain which provide insight into the nineteenth century life in a small town.
Archaeological Significance or Value:
The Ancient Briton Hotel has operated on this site since the 1860s and has the potential to provide an insight into the operation of the hotel and the occupation of the site through archaeological methods.
Architectural Significance or Value:
The Ancient Briton Hotel, rebuilt at the turn of the century has architectural significance recalling typical hotel architecture of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Accommodation was an essential part of the building. It is a significant example of a relatively grand hotel building for a small goldfields town.
Social Significance or Value:
Hotels on the goldfields were important meeting places, beyond the obvious gathering place. Hotels were used for other social functions: as meeting places for groups such as lodges, sporting and cultural groups, and also for coroner’s inquests.
Reflecting the grand hopes for the town at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ancient Briton Hotel has been a community meeting place in the small, isolated Maniototo settlement of Naseby for over a century. As an institution, the Ancient Briton Hotel originated over 140 years ago to serve the newly established gold mining community. The original hotel was used by miners to celebrate their success or drown their sorrows and by others as a general gathering place for their groups and fellowships. The current Ancient Briton Hotel carries on this tradition.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Ancient Briton Hotel is representative of the history of small gold mining towns, and the services that grew up to cater for the needs of the residents as well as the travelling public. As part of the wider network of travellers’ accommodation throughout this isolated area, the Ancient Briton illustrates the importance of hotels, and the many purposes for which the buildings were used, as doctor’s rooms, temporary mortuary and providing a venue for coronial inquests. As a business that has operated for over 140 years the hotel is an important part of the history of the local community, and has significance. The Ancient Briton Hotel is associated with the gold mining period, a series of events in Otago’s history which had a profound effect on the history and the landscape of the region.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement:
The Ancient Briton Hotel has been on this site since the mid 1860s, being in continual occupation and operation as a hotel since 1863 and can be said to date from the earliest period of Naseby’s existence.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Ancient Briton Hotel sitting near the diminutive commercial centre of Naseby is a significant element in the historic townscape of Naseby, being one of the few two storey structures. Naseby is notable for its historic townscape (recognised by the Naseby Historic Area), which includes much of the historic town centre. The building sits on the main street of Naseby and makes an importance contribution to the town’s wider historic landscape.
Summary of Significance or Values:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, i and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Maori had settlements in Central Otago, associated with early occupation. Six were known on Lake Hawea (Te Taweha o Hawea, Mahaea, O tu Purupuru, Turihuka, Te Taumanu o Taki and Pakituhi) and one near Cromwell (Wairere). The moa-rich area was known for camps where moa were butchered and cooked (for example there were large sites in the Hawksburn and Happy Valley areas, as well as the Nevis Valley), and there were quarries used for stone tools in the region of Tiger Hills and Mount Benger. The swampy plains in the Maniototo provided eels and other food resources. Though Maori are known to have joined the goldrushes, little is known about their participation in the rush at Naseby. There are no recorded Maori archaeological sites in Naseby.
Hotels in Goldfield Towns:
The history of gold mining in Central Otago began with Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Clutha Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver. Gold was quickly discovered in other parts of the region, including places such as Arrowtown and Queenstown, and in 1862, in the Maniototo, leading to the birth of the town. First known as Parkers, and later as Hogburn, Naseby grew into a bustling town characteristic of other similar settlements, such as St Bathans.
There were an estimated 78 goldfields in Central Otago, boom towns sprung up to service the gold diggings, and disappeared just as quickly as the gold returns for the itinerant miners. Little remains of these places. Historian John Angus writes ‘[when the miners decamped so too did the commercial section of many of the early towns. This pattern was repeated many times, often at remote locations in Central Otago. But some settlements remained, undergoing a sort of metamorphosis to become service centres for the subsequent stages of more stable mining.’
Publicans were important in these developing communities and were among the earliest residents. Goldfields administrator and politician Vincent Pyke wrote that the storekeeper and publican were the start of the community that only became ‘a proper town’ with the government official and the surveyor. Writer Anthony Trollope, a visitor in 1872, commented that there were three successive styles of architecture: canvas, in which residences, business establishments and government ‘buildings’ alike were tents; a corrugated iron period, for it was portable, very easily shaped, capable of quick construction, and it keeps out the rain’; and finally wood and stone. The last were seldom seen in Central Otago towns at the time of his visit.’
Towns developed haphazardly. Historian John Angus writes that gold mining towns were often an ‘incongruous jumble of handsome stone hotels and public buildings, ornate shop facades often masking bare corrugated iron sides, and ramshackle tin sheds.’ These were often ‘frontier towns’: ‘hotels, illicit sly-grog shops, gambling booths and what Europeans called the ‘opium dens’ of the Chinese. Over the towns there often remained an air of impermanence.’
In 1872 there were 220 licensed hotels on the Otago goldfields, one for every 200 citizens; by 1980 there was one for every 2,500. Hotels were an integral part of goldfields life, David McGill notes that it was said that you needed ‘one drinking hole for every thirty miners.’ There were, for example, 22 hotels between Queenstown and Skippers, St Bathans had 13 hotels for its 2,000 inhabitants, Hills Creek had 13 and far less people. Macraes Flat also had 14 hotels, nearby Nenthorn 22.
Hotels on the goldfields, like those in Dunedin, were important meeting places, and were social centres. Geographer and historian Ray Hargreaves writes that hotels were used as meeting places for groups such as lodges, sporting and cultural groups, and also for coroner’s inquests.
In May 1863 prospectors working their way across the Maniototo from the Dunstan found gold in the vicinity of Naseby, near the present day junction of Coalpit Road and the Ranfurly - Naseby Road. More gold was found in the gully near the head of the Hogburn, not far past the location of the later Naseby township. A small water race was cut for sluicing and a company was formed to bring water from the East Eweburn. By the beginning of July, five gullies were being mined and by the end of that month a canvas town had sprung up. This town, with a population of around 2,000, had a main street with about eighteen stores, two bakers and a butcher’s shop.
The Establishment of Naseby:
The site of the Naseby goldfields and township was originally part of a depasturing license Run 204 called the Sowburn. After the discovery of gold the Otago Provincial Council cancelled the license and proclaimed the Mt Ida Goldfield.
While the original canvas town was set up in the Hogburn Gully, when the official town of Naseby was surveyed it was situated at the mouth of the gully, about a kilometre from the original location. The name Naseby was evidently taken from the English town that was the birthplace of John Hyde Harris, Superintendant of Otago in the 1860s. Mt Ida was a term used for the wider area.
While Naseby’s fortunes had declined with the ending of the gold mining era, this was further accentuated when the Central Otago railway line was constructed through Ranfurly in 1879, marginalising Naseby from the main transport route.
Ancient Briton Hotel:
The Hotel was established in 1863 by Mr Allen, and with ‘much rejoicing named the ‘Ancient Briton’, the first to be established in the Hogburn. The first building was single storey with a timber façade and with the remainder constructed of mudbrick.
Very soon the facility showed its usefulness with Dr Daniel McCambridge using the billiards room as an operating theatre for a badly injured miner, and later McCambridge used the rooms as his consulting rooms, with patients staying as guests before the construction of the Naseby Hospital in 1872. The premises were also used to hold coronial inquests. The many purposes for which the Hotel was used led Naseby historian John O’Neill to state that ‘[no building in Naseby has had a more varied and interesting life’ - having served time as a hotel, courthouse, maternity home, billiard parlour and as a registered dairy.
The hotel was advertised for sale in the late 1870s. The advertisement described the property as having a 50ft frontage to both Leven and Broom Streets.
Mary Crane was licensee in the mid 1890s, though the Waihemo Licensing Committee had to be convinced to grant her the license because she was a widow. Mary Crane was a widow, her husband supposedly drowned in the Clutha River some twenty years prior (but his body was never found).
The building was rebuilt around the turn of the century by then licensee Mr Lobb. The structure was a grand one for the town, two storeys, with an entrance hall and impressive stairway. The fireplaces were ornate timber.
Licensees changed rapidly in the early 1900s. In September 1906 the Hotel was offered up for sale by licensee Mr C. Mann, but was passed in at auction, not reaching the owner’s reserve. The premises sold a month later to Mr F. Cash, who purchases the leases, furniture and effects.
The Hotel sold again in 1909, as a mortgagee sale. The sale advertisement described the business (on sections 26 and 30) as a ‘commodious and spacious brick Hotel, containing about 16 rooms, billiard room, bar, and outbuildings. The advertisement notes that the Hotel ‘was recently rebuilt in brick’ by Mr Lobb, and is ‘the best Hotel in the district, being situated right in the heart of the town.’
In the 1970s then proprietors Eileen and Ernie Wyber made extensive alterations to the ground floor while still trying to maintain the character of the building.
In 2010 the Ancient Briton has accommodation, in modern purpose built buildings, as well as a bar.
The Ancient Briton Hotel sitting near the diminutive commercial centre of Naseby is a significant element in the historic townscape of Naseby, being one of the few two storey structures. Naseby is notable for its historic townscape (recognised by the Naseby Historic Area), which includes much of the historic town centre. The building sits on Leven Street and has a number of modern buildings nearby which provide modern accommodation facilities.
The Ancient Briton Hotel is a two storey brick building, an unusual building type in Naseby, with only the former Naseby Post Office (built in 1901) comparable in scale to it. The Hotel is rectangular in plan. The building is made up of two sections: the front section (in which the public bar and original upstairs accommodation is located) has a hipped roof. The rear section joins the front with a hipped roof. There are further timber lean-to additions to the side and rear.
Historic photographs indicate that the building is constructed of brick which has since been roughcast. The main elevation to Leven Street has two entrances (with panelled doors) and four rectangular windows. The ground floor windows are not original, with early photographs showing double hung sash window joinery. The first floor to Leven Street has four windows and a door opening. Historic photographs indicate that the first floor door previously had a small balcony around it, but this has since been removed. Photographs also indicate that a fire escape used to run across the front of the building, but this too has been removed.
The side elevations are similarly detailed, with double hung sash timber windows, though some have been replaced by more modern joinery.
The rear elevation has two timber additions which house the services for the hotel (the service areas were not visited during the site visit).
Lack of original plans or descriptions of the interior of the hotel make description of changes difficult, beyond a basic outline. The Ancient Briton Hotel has a typical hotel layout. The two main doors open into the public bar which runs the length of the building. The public bar has been reconfigured a number of ways in the past, with the original layout difficult to see. The left hand entrance door used to open into a hallway that provided access to the dining room and the main stair. The partition walls have been removed, as has the main stair. The location of the stair is indicated by the cavity in the ceiling. The bar currently runs along the south wall of the bar-room.
The dining area is located through door to the rear of the public bar. There are two dining areas, separated by a corridor. These rooms are more ornately detailed with a tiled fireplace and some painted timber panelling giving more of an idea of the original fitout of the bar area.
Access to the first floor of the hotel is up a narrow stair. The upstairs is largely unused. It is divided into rooms of varying sizes (which would have been the original hotel rooms). There has been some adaptation for use as occasional accommodation. The ceilings are lined with painted tongue and groove timber.
Rebuilt in brick
Fire escape removed; front reconfigured into original entranceways
Mud brick, brick, corrugated iron
13th June 2011
Report Written By
J Hamel, Gold miners and their landscape at Naseby. NZ Forest Service, 1985.
Ray Hargreaves, Barmaids, Billiards, Nobblers and Rat-pits: Pub life in goldrush Dunedin 1861-1865, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1992.
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
Hazel Harrison, Research Notes from Mt Ida Chronicle, Naseby, 1993, NZHPT file 12011-166
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
Helen Thompson, East of the Rock and Pillar: A History of the Strath Taieri and Macraes District, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949
Jill Hamel, The Archaeology of Otago, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2001
John H. Angus, ‘Goldmining Towns’ in Historic Buildings of New Zealand’ South Island, Reed Methuen, Auckland, 1983
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.