Rising from the ashes of an earlier building the Queen’s Hotel (Former) sitting on its prominent corner site on Thames Street in Oamaru is one of Forrester and Lemon’s exuberant designs which reflect the prosperity of Oamaru in the early 1880s.
The first Queen’s Hotel was built in the mid-1870s but was severely damaged by fire with the loss of one life in 1880. Owner James Markham was determined to build a new edifice which would reflect the standing of the business in Oamaru. Forrester and Lemon, who also designed the earlier Northern Hotel and the Criterion Hotel, were outstandingly significant in their contribution to Oamaru’s White Stone buildings. Markham owned the hotel until the mid-1880s when it was taken over by Robert T. Waters. Waters undertook ‘extensive renovations’ in 1888 before the licence was transferred to Alexander Johnston in 1889.
The new century saw a profound change in the circumstances of the hotel when Oamaru voted ‘No-License’ effective in 1906. The Queen’s Hotel lost its licence along with other licensed premises. The building became known as the Queen’s Private Hotel throughout the first half of the century. In 1962, on the return of licensing in Oamaru, the Oamaru Licensing Trust bought the property and renamed it the Brydone Hotel, a name it retains in 2012.
The Queen’s Hotel is a two-storey building on the corner of Wear and Thames Streets in the main shopping street of Oamaru, notable for its surviving Victorian streetscape. In common with hotel designs of the time it was located on a corner site, with access to the bar, lounge and dining room on the ground floor, and the first floor was taken up with bedrooms. Forrester and Lemon’s Criterion Hotel formed the basis for all later designs and many of their commercial buildings – the façade was divided into bays which ran through two floors, there were arched windows, with doorways marked by distinct window decoration. The Queen’s Hotel was, according to McCarthy ‘the best of their hotels’ and ranked as ‘one of their finest commercial buildings’.
The Queen’s Hotel (Former) has significance as an important element in the Victorian townscape of Oamaru and as one of Forrester and Lemon’s designs. Architecturally the building represents the heyday of Oamaru illustrated in the exuberant architecture of the period. As a hotel the building has provided a social gathering place and accommodation for over 120 years and so has historical and social significance.
In 2012 the former Queen’s Hotel is known as the Kingsgate Hotel Brydone Oamaru and continues to provide accommodation, dining and a meeting place in its central Oamaru location.
Historical Significance or Value
The former Queen’s Hotel has historical significance representing the importance of hotels in small communities, and as a building which epitomises the Victorian hotel still used for the same purpose. The scale of the hotel indicates the importance of Oamaru as a transit point. The Queen’s Hotel represents the period of prosperity for Oamaru in the nineteenth century which saw the construction of many ebullient buildings for which Oamaru is noted in 2012.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Sitting in a prominent site in Oamaru’s main street, the former Queen’s Hotel makes a considerable aesthetic contribution to the recognised historic streetscape in Oamaru. It sits opposite the Oamaru Opera House and the Oamaru Court House and contributes to the notable White Stone architecture of the town.
Architectural Significance or Value
The former Queen’s Hotel has architectural significance as a good example of Victorian hotel architecture, with its relatively grand and imposing façade, reflecting the status of the hotel in the Oamaru community. Its construction reflects the necessity of providing accommodation as an essential function of the building. It is a significant example of a relatively grand hotel building for a small Otago town. In addition it is a significant example of the work of prominent Oamaru architectural partnership Forrester and Lemon.
Social Significance or Value
Hotels were important meeting places, beyond the obvious gathering place for social occasions. 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. The former Queen’s Hotel, in its incarnation as the Kingsgate Hotel Brydone Oamaru remains significant as a meeting place.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The former Queen’s Hotel is representative of the history of towns such as Oamaru which were once busy hubs for the travelling public. The Hotel shows the services and facilities 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, the Queen’s Hotel illustrates the importance of such facilities. Hotels have operated on this site since the 1870s and as such are an important part of the history of the local community.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Queen’s Hotel is associated with the prominent Oamaru architectural partnership Forrester and Lemon, which is recognised for its contribution in shaping the distinctive architectural character of Oamaru.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The architecture and heritage of Oamaru in general is valued highly by its community, with the town notable for its surviving Victorian Oamaru stone buildings, and the presentation and continual use of many of the historic places in the main street. The Oamaru community values such heritage features which clearly contribute to the community identity of the town.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Queen’s Hotel’s is significant as one of Forrester and Lemon’s notable designs for hotels in Oamaru. Architectural historian Conal McCarthy identifies it as a development on earlier designs, such as the Northern Hotel in its compositional format and treatment of decoration. The decoration is notable for its illusion of depth to create ostentatious effects.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Oamaru has a strong sense of community and identity, with the White Stone buildings forming a core identity for the town. The Queen’s Hotel is a significant element in the townscape, sitting alongside and opposite notable buildings
The Waitaki area is traditionally associated the Kahui-tipua, Te Rapuwai, Waitaha and Kati Mamoe peoples. The land around the Waitaki River Mouth shows evidence of extensive settlement, while Moeraki was one of the early cradles of knowledge for Waitaha and Kati Mamoe histories. Key coastal settlements were at Moeraki, Shag Point, Waikouaiti, and Huriawa (the Karitane Peninsula). Ngai Tahu’s prehistoric presence is shown through a range of archaeological sites from middens, urupa, to rock art. The land around Oamaru was alienated as part of the Kemp Purchase in 1848. The town of Oamaru was surveyed in 1859.
Oamaru was a prosperous town by the mid-1860s and this was reflected in the town’s ebullient Victorian architecture. The first structures had tended to be timber but by the 1870s permanent stone buildings replaced the early structures. Hotels were among the early structures built in the growing town. By 1867 there were nine licensed hotels in a town of around 1500 people. The railway came to Oamaru in 1878 and provided further impetus for the construction of accommodation.
Hotel buildings became part of the display of architectural optimism – with prominent architects and architectural practices attempting to outdo each other. Forrester and Lemon, known for their commercial work in Oamaru, was one such practice. Architectural historian Conal McCarthy writes that Forrester and Lemon’s hotels ‘form an interesting group’ within the practice’s commercial work. The hotel designs were ‘closely modelled’ on hotels in both Britain and the colonies and their numbers grew with the growth of the railway network. Hotels were often situated on corner sites or street junctions. Hotels had common design features – the corner entrance gave access to bar, lounge and dining room on the ground floor, and the first floor was taken up with bedrooms. In colonial towns the first hotel buildings were usually timber, but the prosperity of the 1870s saw many hotels constructed of stone or other forms of masonry. In Oamaru the first hotel built of stone, The Star and Garter (1867-68) (Record No. 3219, Category 1) designed by architect R.A. Lawson, set the standard for those to follow.
Forrester and Lemon’s first hotel was the Commercial on Thames Street, completed in 1874. It had a relatively plain façade. Their Criterion Hotel (Record No. 4689, Category 1) had a more elaborate façade with floral ornaments, elaborate keystones and urns and pinnacles. The form of the Criterion formed the basis for all later designs and many of their commercial buildings – the façade was divided into bays which ran through two floors, there were arched windows, with doorways marked by distinct window decoration. The Queen’s Hotel was, according to McCarthy ‘the best of their hotels’ and ranked as ‘one of their finest commercial buildings.’
The first Queen’s Hotel was a single storeyed wooden structure built in 1874. It had a dining room, public and private sitting rooms, sample room for commercial travellers, as well as bedrooms. James Markham purchased the hotel in 1877 and extended the facilities. The Hotel was destroyed by fire on 28 January 1880. Many hotel patrons were lucky to escape with their lives as the fire spread rapidly in the timber building, but carpenter William King perished in the blaze. The building materials which survived the fire were auctioned on site.
Markham chose to rebuild on a grand scale with the premises to include a hall or theatre, though the idea of a hall was abandoned as the construction of a public hall had been announced. The Oamaru Mail reported on the proposed new design – three storeys, an elaborate ‘Romanesque’ building. The Queen’s Hotel as built was a more abbreviated design though still grand and imposing. With street frontages of 39 metres on Wear Street and 29 metres on Thames Street, it contained two bars, a large dining room and lounge on the ground floor and 47 bedrooms on the first floor. The plans were submitted to Waitaki District Council in July 1880. James Markham proclaimed it ‘the finest appointed house in New Zealand.’ The builder was Thomas Barclay. Lambert and Gaffney were the carpenters, and Hood and Given, the stone carvers.
The Oamaru Mail reported on the new facilities described as an ‘eclipse [of] all previous efforts at improvement’: 17 foot (5.2 metre) stud, cedar doors, tessellated pavement floors in the halls, a corner bar and bar parlour, billiard room with separate bar, kitchen, scullery room and store. On the upper storey the servants’ rooms were over the kitchen. There was a large sitting room and five suites of family apartments, four sitting rooms and forty two single bedrooms. There were two bathrooms. The building was lit with gas.
McCarthy describes the Queen’s Hotel as marking a ‘development’ from Forrester and Lemon’s earlier hotel designs. ‘It avoided the somewhat fussy extravagance of the Northern Hotel by its exclusive use of the round-headed window, which conferred a sense of order and restraint. The logical organisation of windows within the bays helped to offset the picturesque variety of the many curved ornaments and other “bric-a-brac” on the balustrade.’ He also notes the ‘illusion of depth’ created by the ‘manipulation of decorative forms on the façade’ which were a feature of this design which aimed at ostentatious effects. It is comparable with other contemporary buildings (such as Dunedin’s Grand Hotel) but on a provincial scale, with less grandeur and complexity. It is essentially a ‘grandiose version of the standard small hotel built throughout New Zealand in this period.’
Robert Thomas Waters ran the hotel from 1886, when the license was transferred. The Queen’s Hotel seemed a lively venue. Police Inspector Thomson submitted a report on the hotel in March 1887 in response to complaints of drunkenness, and said the police had had the occasion to remove drunken patrons and that the house was ‘badly conducted.’ Sergeant Dwyer said he ‘had seen drunken men in the tap room. He had seen 40 or 50 men in the tap room, some of them with their coats off, apparently having been fighting,’ and that in his nine years of police service ‘he had never seen such a sight.’ A petition from residents and tradespeople in the neighbourhood argued that the house was, however, properly conducted. Waters was let off with a warning.
Queen’s Hotel was further extended in 1888 with an addition to the eastern elevation on Wear Street. Proprietor Robert Thomas Waters advertised the new dining room which could accommodate 400 and was suitable for concerts, large dinners and public meetings. Alexander Johnston took over the business in 1889, running the hotel until he sold the building to Messrs Kelly and Coughlan in 1897.
Towards the end of the century licensing issues were high profile. By the 1890s there were periodic polls in each electorate on three prohibition issues – continuance of existing licences, reduction in their number or no licence. In 1894 reduction was carried in both the Oamaru and Waitaki electorates. In 1905 the poll carried ‘No-License’. The decision took effect on 30 June 1906 when ten hotels in town closed their bars, with No-License remaining for over fifty years.
Despite No-License the Queen’s Hotel was investigated for sly-grogging, with patrons leasing lockers which were stocked with liquor, the so-called ‘locker system’ common in many No-License areas. A police raid found that the proprietor held the keys of twenty-two of the thirty lockers and stocked the lockers when alcohol was delivered from Dunedin. Charges were laid against the proprietor for illegal liquor trafficking.
Queen’s Private Hotel, as the building was known for the next forty five years, operated as a private hotel. The hotel became an accommodation house with caterers operating out of the restaurant. The building was known as Queen’s Private Hotel from 1906 through to the early 1950s, when it reverted to the Queen’s Hotel. Raymond and Catherine Wise owned the property (and probably leased to a number of operators) until it was sold to Annie Boyle in 1926. Annie Boyle ran it till her death in 1936, after which it was run by Louisa Boyle. She sold to Ernest and Enrica Woodham in 1951.
When No-License was overturned in the early 1960s the Queen’s Hotel was purchased by the Oamaru Licensing Trust and renamed the Brydone Hotel, after Thomas Brydone, who played a key role in the frozen meat trade and other commercial developments in North Otago.
In 1975 a substantial addition was made to the rear of the hotel, and the ground floor was extended. The interior though altered still has two attractive staircases and ‘fine decorative plasterwork.’ The hotel rooms within the historic wing have been modernised.
In 2012 the hotel, owned by the Oamaru Licensing Trust, is part of the Kingsgate group and is known as the Kingsgate Hotel Brydone Oamaru. It has 49-bedrooms. What is known as the ‘Heritage Wing’ is the original Queen’s Hotel with reception area, bar and restaurant on the ground floor, and fifteen rooms on the first floor.
The former Queen’s Hotel sits on the corner of Thames Street and Wear Street in the business centre of the North Otago town of Oamaru. Thames Street is notable for its significant Victorian architecture, of which the hotel is an important element. The hotel is opposite the landmark Oamaru Opera House and the Oamaru Courthouse, and sits among other two storey commercial buildings, many from a similar period of construction and built of Oamaru stone. As such the former Queen’s Hotel is a significant landmark in itself.
The main entrance to the hotel is in the centre of the main elevation to Thames Street. The Thames Street elevation is divided into four main bays below veranda level and is plainly detailed. To the right are shops which are leased to tenants. The original ornate door and window treatment on the Thames Street elevation has been removed. A steel fire escape runs the length of the Thames Street and Wear Street elevations. A large veranda runs along the Thames Street elevation. Above the veranda the repeated motif of round-headed windows creates a strong rhythm. In between the pilasters are notable for their panels and drop ornaments in high relief. There are balustrades at each window opening. The Wear Street elevation is not obscured by the veranda so provides a stronger sense of the building’s composition. The rhythm of the windows is strong on this façade. There are two entrances at ground level. The back corner of the building is angled. Historic photographs indicate this was originally an entrance door.
The main entrance to the hotel is on Thames Street. The hotel occupies the corner site on the ground and first floor. The ground floor is largely reception, dining and function facilities. The first floor contains accommodation, with rooms modernised to include en-suite bathrooms. The main staircase for the first floor is close to the reception desk. There is a secondary stair and entrance behind the conference room on the ground floor. The stairs are notable original features. A notable feature in the dining room is the ornamental plaster work in the form of Corinthian capitals on pilasters and face emerging from ferny foliage. Some rooms and hallways retain their ornate ceiling roses.
Demolished - prior building
28 January 1880, first Queen’s Hotel burnt down
1965 - 1966
Parapet removed from both street elevations and replaced by a reinforced concrete beam. Steel beam inserted in the lounge bar (J R G Hanlon, structural engineer; Builders – Maynard and Armstrong)
1974 - 1975
Major extension to the rear of the hotel (Warren and Mahoney, architects)
Queen’s Hotel opened
Extension built – a new dining room is noted in contemporary reports – probably eastern end of Wear Street wing now in the courtyard
Oamaru stone, wooden window and door joinery, wooden floors, corrugated iron roof
18th October 2012
Report Written By
Conal McCarthy, Forrester and Lemon of Oamaru, architects, Oamaru, 2002
K C McDonald, 'White Stone Country', Oamaru, 1962
Syd Muirhead, Historic North Otago, Oamaru Mail, 1990
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.