Junction Hotel

62 Wansbeck Street And 20 Towey Street, Oamaru

  • Junction Hotel. Courtesy of Francis Vallance from www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Francis Vallance. Taken By: Francis Vallance. Date: 31/12/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7638 Date Entered 9th December 2005 Date of Effect 9th December 2005


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 7022 (RT OT358/50), Otago Land District and the building known as Junction Hotel and outbuildings, their fixtures and fittings, thereon.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 7022 (RT OT358/50), Otago Land District

Location description

The appropriately-named Junction Hotel is situated at the intersection of Wansbeck, Severn, Towey Streets and Awamoa Road. The Hotel has two street frontages; the main entrance is at 62 Wansbeck Street, while the other frontage is numbered 20 Towey Street on Quick Map 2004.


The Junction Hotel is a significant landmark on the southern State Highway entrance to Oamaru. In design and decoration it is similar in style to the Oamaru stone buildings which the town is renowned for. Its positioning on a prominent hill top site is an indication of its past use for accommodation largely by visiting farmers, due to its proximity to grazing and the saleyards for stock, and en route to nearby Kakanui. The story it tells of financial difficulty and bankruptcy of owners is one not always as evident in stories of our colonial past. Its subsequent history and particularly the de-licensing as a result of the vote for No License in 1906 gives an interesting indication of the effects of prohibition with the building rendered useless for its original function as a licensed premises for the next fifty years.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The construction of the Hotel at considerable expense in 1879 was a supreme gesture of confidence in the local economy. The bankruptcy of the owner, and the closure of the Hotel following the fire represent significant moments in the history of the township, illustrating one of the realities of colonial life in New Zealand. In addition its subsequent changes of use after its life as a Hotel illustrate the effect of prohibition, which essentially rendered the building obsolete for its original purpose.

The Junction Hotel (former) makes an important architectural contribution to the townscape of Oamaru. Its substantial size, character and positioning hint at the grandness of Oamaru's Victorian architecture, further into the township itself. Its positioning on State Highway 1 makes it an architectural landmark.

The Junction Hotel reflects a representative aspect of New Zealand history - the boom and bust nature of the colonial economy, in the turbulent history of its construction and operation. It also illustrates the way the moral and political climate associated with prohibition impacted at a local level, and the way that this changed the use of such buildings, often leading to their decline and often neglect.

The nomination by the North Otago Branch Committee, and concern expressed by the local community regarding its condition indicate that this building is held in some esteem, as evidenced by letters sent to the Waitaki District Council concerning its condition, and personally to members of the branch committee.

The design of the hotel is typical of the Victorian Oamaru stone architecture constructed in the 1870s and 1880s. Its detailing and styling are comparable with buildings designed by prominent local architectural partnership Forrestor and Lemon. Its positioning, as a notable landmark at the southern entrance to Oamaru adds to its significance, and provides a hint at the architectural glories just around the corner.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

By the mid-1860s the development of Oamaru was in full swing. The population of the town almost doubled between 1864 and 1867, when the number reached 1,376. The development of the town was marked by its substantial buildings, the quality and scale of which were usually associated with a much larger place. By the end of the 1860s the southern entry to the town was completed about the foot of Thames Street, the heart of the town. Hotels were in high demand during this period of the region's development, with the associated slow travel and short journeys. Around 1867 there were nine licensed hotels in a town of one and a half thousand people. The advancement of the town slowed in the late 1860s as wool prices fell, with incomes decreasing as a result.

Recovery from the downturn was swift. In the 1870s the growth of the town again gathered momentum. In the early 1870s three more hotels were constructed in the main part of the town. The railway started servicing the town in 1878. This put an end to a significant amount of coach travel, and the changed pattern of travel isolated many hotels and accommodation houses from their previous flow of travellers, and cutting the travel time from Oamaru to Dunedin to a bit over four hours, instead of the previous twelve hours it took to complete the journey by coach.

By the 1870s Oamaru had a reputation as one of the best-built towns in New Zealand. The easily worked limestone in the hands of skilled architects and builders gave rise to buildings with a strong sense of solidity, permanence and beauty. By 1878 there were nearly 5,000 inhabitants in the town, making it ninth among New Zealand towns. There were 15 licensed premises in 1878, as well as a number of accommodation houses. The exuberant building associated with the buoyant economy in North Otago ended in the 1880s, the downturn halting the building, and the continued stagnation into the twentieth century leading to the preservation of the Victorian townscape of Oamaru.

Hotel building continued in the town as it developed as the local market centre. In the mid 1870s another five were built. The licensed hotels were supervised by a local Licensing Court, consisting of the Resident Magistrate and a number of commissioners appointed by the Crown. A general licence cost £20 annually which enabled the publican to sell liquor between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. For an additional £5 the licensee might be granted an extension to midnight, and in practice this was universal. Gaming, dancing and singing on the premises were prohibited by law. The hotels were, on the whole, reasonably conducted, but there were problems with unlicensed grog-shops and brothels.

The first mention found of a Junction Hotel is a property owned by W. Rayner in 1871. Kathleen Stringer of the North Otago Museum considers that the original wooden hotel was erected in 1870. Rayner does not appear on the title of the hotel proposed for registration in this report, so it seems that this was on a different site, described as the corner of Severn and Wansbeck Streets.

The Hotel is built on the top of a hill on the main road as it climbs out of town. The site is at the junction of the main road south and the secondary road between Awamoa and Kakanui. The location was relatively close to town, while still being surrounded by vacant land, allowing farmers to hold their sheep nearby, as well as acting as an area in which stock was sold, with sale yards constructed. Local historian K.C. McDonald notes that the hotel for John McKay was built in 1876, while other local sources put the date three years later. According to historian W.H.S. Roberts, the Junction Hotel was built in 1879 for John McKay to replace a previous hotel which burned down. McKay was said to have borrowed £3,500 from the Scottish and New Zealand Investment Company to complete the building. Roberts described the Hotel as "a handsome stone hotel containing 34 rooms and every convenience." He goes on to elaborate about how McKay failed to service the mortgage and the hotel became the property of the mortgagees.

According to land records, the section on which the Junction Hotel was later built was taken up in February 1869 by Oamaru commission agents Sydney Slidolph and John Page. Page sold the land to carter John McKay in October of that same year. In March 1870 McKay sold the land to blacksmith and wheelwright Joseph Ogilvie for £125. Ogilvie got into financial difficulties, and these sections, along with his other holdings in Oamaru, were transferred to Neil Fleming and Allan Hedley. McKay had made previous arrangements to sell the land to labourer William McPherson, and this was completed formally in May 1874. The land returned to McKay's ownership in January 1875, with his payment of £90.

McKay seems to have early plans for erecting premises on the site, borrowing £350 from one lender in July 1875, and a further £1,000 from other lenders a year later. He seemed equally quickly to get into financial difficulties, appealing to the National Bank to make progress payments to the builders in September 1878, amounting to no more than £2,200. Having lent a total of £2,500 from station manager John McLean, his problems became insurmountable. In April 1885 the property was sold by the Scottish and New Zealand Investment Company to Oamaru Hotelkeeper Patrick Corcoran for £1,750. One contemporary commentator noted that Oamaru was the most mortgaged town in Australasia, so perhaps McKay's unfortunate experience was in a way representative of that period of community growth.

From 1885 to 1904 it was operated by a succession of licensees. On 16 June 1904 there was a fire at the hotel. Damage to the building was considerable, particularly as the water pressure for the fire appliances was so poor, that the fire brigade was unable to confine the fire. The fire gained hold in the old 10-roomed wooden building to the rear of the stone hotel. The Oamaru Mail described the scene:

It was hoped that the closing of two fire-doors between this and the 11-roomed stone structure in front would effectually check the fire, but the hopes were in vain; the flames licking up the wall caught the frame of a window, then spread to the roof, descending in due course to the ground floor and cellar, demolishing all before them. So quickly did the conflagration spread that before the brigade arrived the back portion had been almost enveloped, and from the handsome stone building in front flames burst out at many points, and through the windows and under the eaves volumes of smoke belched forth. It was then acknowledged in view of the ludicrous dribble of water that the hose squirted out, that the whole building was doomed, an that any efforts directed towards the extinction of the conflagration would be in vain.

The whole town turned out to help save the furniture, a feat made possible by the stone construction of the building. The stables and outbuildings were sufficiently removed from the fire to be used as safe storage for the furniture. By the evening the paper reported, "little more of the handsome building remained standing save the stone walls."

By the late 1890s an Act of Parliament allowed for 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 the Waitaki electorate, as a result three hotels lost their licenses in the town, although the Junction was spared this fate. Any thoughts of re-opening the Junction Hotel following the fire would have been dissipated by the imminent and heated debates about prohibition in the town. In the poll of 1905 no-licence was carried. The decision took effect on 30 June 1906 when the ten hotels in town closed their bars, with the no-licence remaining for over fifty years.

On Patrick Corcoran's death in 1919 the property passed to his son Thomas. The building seems to still have had some furnishing associated with it, as some of these were left to his daughter Johanna, and the balance, left for Thomas with the land, buildings and associated root crops growing on the surrounding land.

During the 1930s it was used by W. Hastings as a General Store. Thomas Corcoran died in 1943. The property was sold to Weston storekeeper Gilbert Brightwell in 1949. Brightwell had the original holding surveyed and subdivided, and the adjoining Lots were sold off.

In the 1960s part of the building was used as a dairy and it the 1970s the same part was used as a vegetable store. The Oamaru Licensing Trust opened a bottle store on the western part in the 1970s. In the 1980s it was used as a second hand bookshop and most recently was used as by a furniture removal firm for storage.

In 2005 the building was vacant.

Physical Description

The Junction Hotel is a two-storey masonry building sited on a corner site on State Highway 1 (Wansbeck Street). It is a classically styled building. It originally contained 34 rooms. The interior was originally lathe and plaster.

Ornate Italian Renaissance styles were favoured for hotels during this period. In Oamaru the high standard for hotel architecture was set by the construction of the town's first hotel built of stone, the Star and Garter (1867-1868) on Itchen Street, designed by Robert Lawson. Architectural historian Conal McCarthy suggests that Oamaru hotels may have been given pretentious exteriors to allay growing public concern about the social evils of alcohol which later culminated in the Prohibition movement.

There was a standard Forrestor and Lemon design to hotels in Oamaru, based on the Criterion Hotel. The façade was divided into a succession of bays by pilasters which ran through two floors, flanking arched windows in each bay. This composition is very similar to that of the Junction Hotel.

The ground floor frontage to Wansbeck Street is symmetrical with rusticated stonework, double-hung sash windows with keystones and segmented arches.

The second storey, separated from the first by a string course, has a decorative balustrade, double-hung sash windows with the window-heads topped with triangular pediments supported by consoles. The floor is topped by a cornice with dentils, and a central balustrade forming a parapet with an arched pediment capped with decorative stonework, and ornamental urns.

The building has a strong vertical composition emphasised by the two-storey attached pilasters. On the first storey the pilasters are rusticated; on the second storey the pilasters are topped with Corinthian capitals.

The building suffered a fire in 1904, after which it no longer operated as a hotel. A local history mentions that the Junction Hotel suffered three fires, the first resulting in the gutting of the hotel. In the 1904 fire an old 10-roomed wooden building was destroyed, and an "11-roomed handsome stone structure was totally destroyed." Given that the building still stands presumably the damage to which the report refers was only the interior and timber additions.

At one point in its existence it was divided into four flats (three upstairs, and one downstairs). This was the state when inspected by the NZHPT North Otago Branch Committee in 2001.

The building makes an important contribution to the townscape. It is the first substantial Oamaru stone building visible on entering the township from the south.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1874 - 1879

1904 -
Gutted by fire

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

20th June 2006

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

McDonald, 1977

K C McDonald, White Stone Country: the story of North Otago, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1977, [1962]

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

McCarthy, Conal, Forrestor and Lemon of Oamaru, Architects, North Otago Branch, NZHPT, Oamaru 2002

Oamaru Mail

Oamaru Mail

History of North Otago From 1853, Oamaru, 1937

Roberts, 1890

W H S Roberts, 'History of Oamaru and North Otago', Oamaru, 1890

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region 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.