Story of Epsom Hotel, Potter’s Paddock & Alexandra Park

Epsom Hotel, Potter’s Paddock, Alexandra Park and the Showgrounds

The old Epsom Hotel was central to the earliest development of the district, including Potter’s Paddock which became Alexandra Park and Auckland Showgrounds, venues for many “firsts” and important events… like the first serious flight by an aeroplane in New Zealand.

In Our Time

In the 1950s and 60s I knew the Epsom Hotel as a large two-storied building on Manukau Road at the corner of Alba Road which had seen better days: no more a hotel, a pub or even a tavern, long-since stripped of its licence and now living the quieter life as a block of shops. It was a big building, constructed of timber, its wide, hewn, Kauri weatherboards painted cream but showing their age. The building had several very large chimneys, one served a large open fireplace, probably in the front parlour, or saloon bar, in earlier times, and the other perhaps originated in the kitchen connected to the stove and ovens. The hotel was built right on the footpath (or over the years the footpath was widened to touch its skirting boards!) and secured to the wall facing Alba Road were two vertical steel ladders – fire escapes – which, with two casement windows, were the only features breaking up the expanse of timbered weatherboards. Along the Manukau Road frontage – in my school days  – there were four shops: the fruiterer’s on the corner of Alba Road, a dressmaker’s, then a milk bar/dairy and finally a grocery store, one in the chain of Self Help shops throughout New Zealand which boasted the slogan “High Class Groceries”. The hotel’s neighbour on the southern (Onehunga) side was the stone cottage which had been owned, but not occupied, by William Potter and his family.

The house on Potter’s land, made of local volcanic rock. The hotel is the near-neighbour to the right. 1919. James D Richardson: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-150

William Potter had been a hotel-keeper in the Bay of Islands about the time Maori chief Hone Heke was active.  Potter’s hotel and all property was destroyed by fire and he moved to Auckland to start again and began by purchasing from Maori a large tract of land in Epsom extending from the present Potters Park at the Dominion Road/Balmoral Road intersection to the showgrounds on Green Lane West. In 1845 he built the stone house on Manukau Road (at various times known as Manukao, Epsom or Onehunga Road). It was sometimes referred to as a “blockhouse” because its solid stone walls would have offered protection in any conflict with the natives (and William Potter had experienced personal loss at the hands of the Maori in the North so probably deliberately built of stone). In our time (1950s and 60s) it was in much better state of repair than in the photo above – and was being lived in.

I knew some of the tenants who rented accommodation in old hotel building next door, including rooms on the first floor accessed by a grand sweeping staircase, though I recall this being removed, probably in the early 1960s.  There were more lodgings at the rear, rented accommodation. Out back there were also a couple of sheds with, beyond them, a market garden stretching along the Alba Road frontage, the width of a couple of sections. It was originally tended by Chinese gardeners, their harvest providing fresh produce for sale in their shop within the old hotel right on the corner of Alba Road. Cultivation gradually ceased but this large area was never built on: a run-down house was moved on to it at one stage, but it remained unkempt, incomplete, and subject to Council warnings to renovate or move on.

Adjacent was a small paddock, with stables, home to horses who trained on the track at nearby Alexandra Park. Mid-morning the horses, up to 6, could be seen mingling with traffic as they made their return from the track to their “house paddock”. The horseman would be in a sulky (cart) pulled by one horse, the others tethered, following. For many motorists this would be an unusual encounter, sharing the road with horses.

The paddock was behind a block of shops, one of which housed J. Mackey, Saddler. I guess he was strategically located, being close to Alexandra Park, headquarters for trotting racing. The small shop was crowded with work-benches and harnesses of all kinds hanging around the walls. If one lingered while passing the shop’s front door the smell of leather, dressings and stains were evident. I always thought of Mackey’s as an Epsom business, but not so. J. Mackey first advertised his wares in 1903 at a Durham Street address in the city. He then moved to the corner of Wyndham and Albert Streets, expanding the business to sell horses, cows and traps.

New Zealand Herald Advertisement 23 October 1920
Papers Past National Library of New Zealand
The business moved to Manukau Road, Epsom, in post-war years.

The empty section behind the old hotel building, the stables and paddocks remained during my childhood. But in the late 1960’s it all changed. Every house (about 20) along the southern side of Alba Road, the old hotel and the stone house, were demolished or removed to make way for a new road linking Manukau Road and Balmoral Road, engineered and constructed for the Auckland Regional Authority. In 1967 the stone house was moved, piece by piece, to the Pioneer Village at the Museum of Transport and Technology, Western Springs, Auckland where it was rebuilt, furnished and fitted-out with an appropriate early 20th century “look”.

Its original owner, pioneer William Potter died in March 1872. His life and his legacies – Potter’s Park, Alexandra Park and Auckland ASB Showgrounds (and the historic events played out there) – are inextricably woven into the story of the hotel at Epsom.

In Days Gone By

The hotel’s demolition in 1967 finished off a building that had been front and centre of the district’s history since earliest colonisation, time when the hotel was a flourishing business, the local public house serving alcoholic and spirituous drinks, providing a break for the travelling public and used as a vital meeting place in the developing suburb. But all that ended in 1909 when residents voted “no licence” and the Epsom Hotel became “the pub with no beer”. But for some 65 years before that the hotel had played its unique part in the history of Epsom.

The Epsom Hotel in 1908, before it “went dry”
Auckland Weekly News Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19081126-10-7

The first mention that we can find about the hotel along the “Epsom Road” (now Manukau Road) goes back before 1841 when it was known as the Prince Albert Inn, situated near where the Lido Cinema now is. It was an investment by John Gotty and Thomas Manton. They capitalised on travellers, advising newspaper readers that “the mail cart passes the door”.

First mentions of the Prince Albert are also associated with horse-racing.

A two-day meeting had been planned at Epsom Downs in November, 1841, “the course situated about 3 miles along the Great Manukao Road” as newspaper advertisements read, promoting 3 races, with heats staged each day. This proposed race meeting, the first in the new Colony, was postponed until January 1842, once the stewards were appointed, the course re-drawn (adjusted to a half-mile circuit – similar to some of the famous tracks in England, the “New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette” noted) and the track was referred to as “the Auckland Racecourse”. The programme included flat races, (one or two circuits of the course), and hurdle races (twice around with six jumps about 3 feet (1m) high each circuit.

Gotty and Manton, owners of the Prince Albert Inn established a bar and restaurant on the course, promising that they would satisfy all the race-goers’ needs.

Advertisement in New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette, 18th December 1841
https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Gotty and Manson also cashed in on land sales in Epsom in January 1842 when they offered lunches for prospective buyers. Allotments had been surveyed on land that had recently become well known, used earlier that month as the Auckland Racecourse. Gotty and Manson offered refreshments at both venues… on site and back at their Inn.

1843 “Moody’s Royal Almanack” notes that the mail cart, operated by Samuel Wood of the Royal Hotel in Auckland, “…starts out each Monday from his hotel for the Manukau passing Gotty and Manton’s Inn”. It was a feature in advertisements for the establishment, the owners benefitting from the trade of passengers in transit.

But like many of the punters at the Epsom Races, Gotty and Manton also lost money. They went bankrupt.

In February 1843 Alfred de Philipsthal must have had the Prince Albert Hotel because at that time he advertised in The Auckland Times that he had just returned from Sydney having imported new stocks.

The Auckland Times
https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

But it appears his tenure was short-lived. In April 1843 ownership of Prince Albert Inn passed to Thomas Conry, an Auckland lawyer, with the licence in the name of Benjamin Davis.

In less than a year local land-owner and farmer, William Potter, purchased it with Benjamin Davis (aka Davies) retained as licensee*. In May 1843 Davis advises readers that he has leased “the well- known House”.

Daily Southern Cross, 20 May 1843
https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

A meeting of some of the district’s earliest settlers had been held in the Prince Albert Hotel, April 1843, to discuss the erection of a church in Epsom. And although the sentiment at that gathering was keen, backed by cash contributions and promises of gifted land on which to build the new church, it was to be another 3 years before St Andrews opened in September 1846**.

* Earliest owners and licensees are mentioned in “History of Epsom”- Graham Bush (Ed)

** From “Spire on the Hill History of St Andrew’s Church in the Epsom District, 1846 -1996”, Rory Sweetman

Prince Albert Inn

Having secured the licence for the Prince Albert Inn, Davis stepped up advertising. In 1843 he advised that he was offering “a choice and well selected assortment of Spirits, Wines, Malt Liquors, &c” and that he would “always furnish Liquors of the very first quality, and pay every possible attention to the comfort of his guests”. What’s more, he had “at considerable expense, created an oven, which is now in full operation, and having lately made an extensive purchase of real Derwent Flour*, he could confidently assure those who may honour him with their support, of being supplied with bread of such a quality as cannot be surpassed in the Colony. Further, he told newspaper readers “I have been induced, on account of the distance of this place from Auckland, to lay in an assortment of teas, sugars, and other groceries, which will always be sold on the most moderate terms, for cash, and trust that the quality of the goods, and reasonable charges, will ensure a constant demand”. A later advertisement added the offer of “Breakfasts, Luncheons, Dinners, &c, on the shortest notice”, a message no doubt targetted at travellers along Epsom Road who, hungry, might drop in for a meal and refreshments.

The hotel, reputedly half-way between the two ports, Auckland on the East Coast and Onehunga on the West, provided a natural rest break for passengers making the trip between the two places, perhaps travelling on one of Hardington’s horse-drawn carriages. In the mid-1840s the journey took a whole day. The Prince Albert Inn did not have as much accommodation as perhaps might be expected: it was geared to serve passing travellers rather than overnight guests.

Prince Albert Inn should not be confused with the Halfway House – another public house in Epsom on the corner of Epsom Avenue and Manukau Road, first opened by Henry Hayr. In 1850 the Licensing Committee refused George Smith a licence to sell alcoholic liquors. The place was briefly a guest-house until it regained a licence under the name of Walter Scott a year or two later. The premises, now 219 Manukau Road, had the landmark of an ever-growing, towering, Norfolk Pine tree that was planted, some say by a ship’s captain who fetched the sapling from Norfolk Island. The N.Z. Tree Register says the tree was planted around the 1860s when the site was nursery. Maybe both versions are correct: the captain gave the sapling to the nursery to nurture. The tree, at one stage was supposed to be the tallest of its kind anywhere, still exists – it’s on the protected tree list.

By 1848 Benjamin Davis’s widow held the licence in the name of Ann Rose Davis (later her name was published as both Rose Ann and Rosannah). William Tye’s name, as licensee, was over the front door of the Prince Albert Inn for a few years from 1849. He had been Auckland’s early Court Clerk and Bailiff. Conry advertised in the New Zealander in July 1850 that there were now “superior accommodations offered, he having made extensive renovations to the premises”.

*Flour was milled at Derwent Valley, Tasmania from the 1820s and exported to New Zealand

New Site

In 1851 a new hotel was built for Rose-Anne Davis 50 meters (50 yards) or so towards Onehunga, on a vacant site on Manukau Road at the intersection of Greenlane West and Derby Street, later renamed Albert Street and then Alba Road. This was the site on which the hotel was to endure.

William Gordon must have had occupancy of the hotel sometime around 1855 when, in June of that year, he got out of the business and commissioned auctioneers to sell the entire contents of the premises including stocks of alcoholic liquors, 7 tons of potatoes and 4 horses.

The licence reverted to Rose Ann Davis until she died in April 1858 aged 47.

One report says the first hotel on the Manukau Road corner burned down in 1856 and was quickly replaced.

Isaac Gwynne

Several licensees followed until Isaac Gwynne took over in 1870 and for 14 years he, or his wife Sarah, managed the Prince Albert Inn.  Isaac’s brother, Richard, was also a publican… he had the Junction Hotel at the intersection of Manukau Road and Otahuhu Road (now Great South Road), just out from the present Newmarket.

Junction Hotel 1908: Great South Road is to the left, Manukau Road to the right
Weekly News: Sir George Grey Collection, Auckland Libraries

Isaac originally had stables adjacent to the Junction and he bred both gallopers and trotters which he raced at Potter’s Paddock, land given over opposite the Hotel by its owner for public use, including the training of racehorses. The Junction Hotel was popular not only with the equestrian set, but also sports people across the board.

Junction Hotel, favourite with those of the turf and the track N Z Graphic – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19050429-29-1

Isaac Gwynne, now of the Prince Albert Hotel in Epsom, was a big man, an athlete, who often challenged locals at running races and endurance tests, or he would take bets that he could run great distances against the clock, always setting himself a real test. It was not uncommon for him to race from Onehunga to Auckland, and back. Most bets appeared on the surface to be absurd, but Gwynne invariably beat the clock and claimed the money. He seemed super-human. He was also a crack shot and took limit bags without effort during the shooting season – the lowlands around Wairoa (Papakura and Clevedon) seem to have been his favourite hunting grounds.

Isaac Gwynne, for all his athleticism, died in July 1880 aged 35 years of a heart complaint. His wife, Sarah, took over the Prince Albert. She must have been an enterprising woman for very soon she was running a Hamilton Hotel as well.

Enter a Jockey

She also had a new man in her life, the well known top jockey who had successfully raced throughout the country, James Wattie. He took out all the big races and in 1874 rode Templeton, the winner of the first Auckland Cup ever run. He also had the record of winning four of the five races on the card at the Takapuna Jockey Club’s meeting in 1884, and, just for good measure, was placed second in the fifth race.

A newspaper columnist of the day compared Sarah Gwynne’s late husband Isaac, the somewhat eccentric West Coast gum digger and athletic street-runner, to the diminutive famous jockey, Wattie, wondering which she preferred! In June 1884 the Licensing Committee was told of the recent marriage and the licence as transferred to Jim Wattie’s name.

Sarah died in December, 1893 aged 45, and was buried alongside Isaac, her first husband, in the old St Marks Church graveyard in Remuera.

Wattie later bred and raced both thoroughbreds and trotters. He was obviously dedicated to sporting and kindred local events for in this time he encouraged many organisations to meet in the hotel: some gatherings witnessed the founding of Auckland’s early clubs and organisations. The access-way alongside the hotel became known, locally, as Watties Lane for it led to extensive stabling that the publican had established behind the hotel buildings.

It’s recorded that Jim Wattie was involved in an accident with a horse in Yaldhurst, Canterbury in August 1895 and received serious head injuries. He is next reported, November 1895, a patient at Sunnyside Asylum. Then in 1899 newspapers reported he fell from the evening train at Remuera, Auckland, and lay, injured and unfound, until morning. He was listed as a horse trainer at that time. He died in Auckland, in January 1913, aged 55 years, leaving his name on the list of well-known men of the turf and having contributed to the history of Epsom.  His nephew was Sir James Wattie, industrialist and successful owner-breeder of thoroughbreds.   

Meanwhile, in 1896 the hotel property was sold to Seccombe and Son for £3,250, “a hotel containing 20 rooms with a large 7-stall stable having a 72 foot (22m) frontage to Manukau Road by a depth of 260 feet (80m)”.

Change of Name

Seccombes and Son, new proprietors of the Prince Albert, owned land near the present Khyber Pass Road/Mountain Road on which there was a spring giving exceptionally pure water, ideal for making beer: breweries were established in the immediate area and for more than a century continued under the names Seccombes, Great Northern Brewery, Lion Brewery, Captain Cook Brewery and latterly New Zealand Breweries. Seccombes Road, between Mountain Road and Gillies Avenue and near the site of the original spring, is named after the pioneer family.

The new owners, Seccombes, changed the name: “Prince Albert” signs were removed. Amelia Brown was granted the licence in May 1896 “for a hotel situate at Epsom, and known by the sign of Epsom Hotel, containing ten rooms except those required for the use of the family”. The accommodation side of the business had been halved.

There was string of licensees in subsequent years, almost a new one annually, and in 1903 ownership changed to the Great Northern Brewery Ltd and L D Nathan Company and again the following year to the Great Northern Brewery Ltd. In 1904 H. Lloyd of the Kamo Hotel bought the Epsom Hotel for £4,600. He knew the place, having been the licensee in 1901. Lloyd’s name above the front door was replaced by George Bishop’s in 1906.

Voters Have their Say

Bishop must have been apprehensive about the business because under the Alcoholic Liquors Sales Control Act the question of licensed premises was going to the ballot box. Temperance was becoming a popular movement; sales of alcohol were frowned on, public houses opposed. The future of the Epsom Hotel lay in voters’ hands. In 1906 the Licensing Committee was obliged to take note of election results when residents in the Eden electorate voted for a reduction in the number of liquor outlets. The “Eden” licensing district included many suburbs including hotels at the Junction (Great South and Manukau Roads), Avondale, Epsom, and New Lynn.

Four licensed premises had to be reduced to three. Epsom Hotel submitted to the Licensing Committee on the 29th June 1906 that many public meetings and events were held on the premises, that, accommodation-wise, it had a good occupancy rate and regularly provided travellers with meals. The New Lynn Hotel pleaded that its licence should continue: stable-hands found it was too much to travel from Auckland to the West Coast in one day and welcomed the opportunity to break their journey. However, the publican of the Avondale Hotel thought his house was much better located to provide these services. There appears to have been no question that the Junction Hotel should give up its licence.

After careful consideration it was decided to close the New Lynn Hotel despite pleas by the owner that “a considerable investment would be lost, all lost”.

The remains of the former New Lynn Hotel on Great North Road, just 4 walls and a roof, was demolished only in 2011, more than a hundred years since it lost its licence. It had been occupied by residents for decades but, vacated some 5 years ago, there had been several fires in the crumbling ruins, further weakening the concrete shell. The site, between Wattle and Nikau Streets but on the opposite (southern) kerb, was a kilometre or two west of where New Lynn grew up as a shopping centre, the old hotel ending up surrounded by houses.  A day care centre for pre-schoolers has been built on the land.

Eden Goes Dry

In the 1908 ballot electors voted Eden Licensing District dry, a vast proportion of Auckland, most of the isthmus extending from Newmarket to the West Coast would have to survive without premises selling alcohol.  The licences of the 3 remaining hotels, including Epsom, were doomed: no longer could alcoholic liquor be sold on the premises. So at closing time on 30th June 1909, Epsom was one of the 107 hotels throughout New Zealand caught up in the “no licence” move. In Auckland many public houses which closed their bars and bottle stores that night, like the Epsom Hotel, had many old, if not historic, associations with early Auckland. Like the Junction Hotel, and those at Avondale and Henderson, all of which dated back to the colony’s infancy. In other Licensing Districts in Auckland voters decided to reduce the numbers of premises, so that public houses in Parnell, St Heliers, Royal Oak and Harp of Erin also closed.

“Once dry, always dry” was the cry of those days, so without possibility that licences would be restored in Eden, the owners of the Epsom Hotel auctioned “household furniture and effects, all in first class order and without reserve”. The place was repainted. And then in July 1910 the Auckland Star advised readers that the Epsom Hotel was being converted into shops by Mr W. E. Trevathen at a cost of a thousand pounds.

Hotel – Community Centre

From its earliest days the hotel at Epsom played a unique part in local history.

It’s recorded that in 1843 the pub hosted tourists, day trippers, who arrived on horse-back, en route to explore the caves created in the honey-combed lava flows from the Maungakiekie volcano (One Tree Hill).

The entrance to the caves under Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill
Weekly News, Sire George Grey Collection, Auckland Libraries

The sightseers reported in the NZ Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser, 24 March 1843, (from the Auckland Times): “Generally speaking, there is little moisture in the caves, but here and there water is dripping from above, and where that is the case stalactites are rapidly forming. With exception of the regular avenues, there is nothing striking to the eye of the general observer, the place seems to consist of rude heaps of very sharp rough scoria, upon which it is necessary to be very careful of one’s footsteps.

In the entrance of the cave there are several piles of human bones but we did not observe any indication of the Aborigines having had the courage or the curiosity to penetrate beyond except indeed that at the very extremity of one of the deepest passages we found one solitary skull no doubt carried there by some explorer like ourselves, and dropped because of the trouble of taking it further”.

As early as 1849 the hotel was where intending buyers gathered to inspect horses for sale, a year or two later candidates for election to the Epsom West Ward were announced there and an inquest was held in the front parlour of the Prince Albert Inn into the death of Alex Geddes who fell from his horse nearby. In 1850 licensee William Tye “begs to inform his friends and the Public attending the Races on the 23rd inst., that they will find superior accommodations at the Prince Albert Inn, Epsom”, he having made extensive improvement in the premises, thus cashing in on the crowds expected at the horse races in nearby Potter’s Paddock. Soldiers rode their military charges for prizes quoted in gold sovereigns and the races were a big hit with the public. The race-track was to be born again in the late 1880s when the Onehunga Racing Club refurbished it.

Episodes of Life and Death

The hotel became a temporary maternity ward in June 1870 when Isaac Gwynne’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to their daughter.

In 1876 the Coroner’s Court was convened in the hotel’s front room, a consequence of the violent death of a young farm hand, Edwin Packer, in his quarters on the Cleghorn property in Epsom. A Maori youth, Harry Winiata, who also worked on the farm, was the only suspect since he had been accused of stealing money from Packer a few days before. Packer’s death, it was said, was to cover up evidence he might give against Winiata. The inquest heard of the recovery of Packer’s body from a shallow grave on the Cleghorn farm and the serious head wounds inflicted, probably the cause of death. The coroner’s jury decided it was murder. Newspapers of the day detailed the murder and the manhunt for Winiata in the King Country. He was eventually captured some six years after the crime, tried and hanged.

The hotel became an emergency medical surgery in June 1900 when 32 year old John James Johnston was fetched in, having been thrown out of the cart he was driving when his horse “swerved badly”. The licensee, Richard Carr, saw the accident occur and assisted the injured man to the hotel. Doctor William Scott was quickly on the scene, followed by 2 more doctors, but no treatment could save the patient.

Dr William G. Scott (right). Medical man and later Mayor of Onehunga
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZG-19050311-38-3

And again in 1908 the hotel became a haven for the injured. An accident occurred at Alexandra Park when Mr. K. Menzies was “going amongst some of the horses”. One suddenly lashed out, and kicked him severely on the thigh. There being no ambulance stretcher available, Mr. Menzies was carried to the hotel where he was attended by Dr. F. M. King.

The hotel became Coroner’s Court again in August 1902 when an inquest was convened into the death of William Robinson, who was found at the bottom of a well at the rear of the pub. He drowned in about two feet of water.

The hotel was the last meeting place before burial for Mrs Rose Ann Davies, licensee, who died in April 1858.

In 1888 it was widely advertised that the stables at the rear of “Watties Hotel” housed well-known thoroughbred King Cole, sire of so many winners, and available for services.

Meeting Place

Meetings of many local organisatons were held in the hotels’ parlour… in 1851 “Tye’s Inn” (as it was described at the time) witnessed the founding meeting of the Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association. (The Agricultural and Pastoral show was already well underway… inaugurated in 1843, the first of its kind in New Zealand).  The Association, looking for a “home”, later purchased the eastern part of Potter’s Paddock, known as the Showgrounds, where it events have been staged ever since.

Big crowds at Epsom Showgrounds: A and P Show, 1906
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A1654

The annual A and P show used to be held in November but since the 1950s it was combined with the Easter Show: both have been big draw cards over the decades. Stock cars were popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a tightly-curved race track surrounded the main arena which was formerly used at A and P shows for equestrian events, sheep dog competitions and Grand Parades of animals. There have been fireworks displays on the site, boat shows and since new exhibition halls have been expanded, trade shows are held practically every weekend.

Long-wanted improvements to the road to Onehunga were discussed with tenderers in the hotel in 1865 and those disputing the latest electoral rolls in 1868 gathered in the hotel to meet officials and make their pleas to be added.

Alfred de Philipsthal, a sea-captain, had management of city hotels in the 1840s, the “Victoria” and the “Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Inn”, and subsequently Prince Albert Inn at Epsom, began organising events centred on the Inn when he attempted  to get up a Rifle Match in September 1842 (postponed) and at the same time advertised he was clearing an area of land adjacent to the Inn “… for gentlemen who enjoy the exhilarating game of cricket”.

The founding meetings of several other organisations were also held in Epsom’s hotel…the Rifleman’s Club. the Mount Roskill Highway District, the Epsom Trotting and Racing Club (which had its Secretary’s office within the hotel and in May 1890 a meeting was held in “Watties Hotel” (as was publicised) for the purpose of forming a separate trotting club, to be called the Auckland Trotting Association (now the Auckland Trotting Club). The Pakuranga Hunt, New Zealand’s oldest hunt club, was associated with the hotel from early on – in 1890 the “hunt drag” ended at the premises.

Quoits tournaments were regularly held in the hotel around this time. In 1891 plans were made in the hotel’s parlour for the United Fire Brigades’ competitions, when fire brigades from throughout the land competed against each other for the championship title, events to be held in nearby Potter’s Paddock.

By 1906 the Epsom Road Board was holding its ordinary meetings in the hotel and the need for a policeman to be stationed in Epsom was discussed. Inspector Cullen wrote that he had forwarded the application to the Commissioner of Police, who had strongly supported it, and now Cullen was looking for a suitable house near the tram depot and the Hotel. (And a suitable house was found at 4 King Edward Avenue, the police station for many years to come).

There are several reports of soldiers crowding the bar during overnight stops, military personnel en route to serve at various outposts, some engaged in the New Zealand wars. In June 1849 there must have been quite a windfall for the hotel’s takings when 88 soldiers (Fencibles) and their families were billeted nearby in Mr Potter’s barn, specially converted for the purpose. The military men had just landed from England and stayed in Epsom until accommodation was completed at their new posting, Onehunga.

The hotel well-served its community.

The Transport Evolution  

Travellers along what’s now Manukau Road (earlier known variously as Onehunga, Epsom and Manukao Road) contributed much to the revenue of the hotel in Epsom. At first they arrived on foot along the tracks first forged across the narrow isthmus by Maori, then on horseback and by horse-and-cart as more townspeople made the journey to or from Onehunga.  What started out as a network of walking tracks soon became passable by wheeled vehicles, thanks mainly to New Zealand’s first Surveyor-General, Felton Mathew, who, having designed Auckland’s streets, charted a more direct route: his road had many long, straight sections while at the same time avoided swampy ground and rocky outcrops.

The first horse-drawn coach along Epsom Road to and from Onehunga apparently began in 1841, described as a weekly “mail cart” but which also carried paying passengers and freight. By 1851 Hardington’s horse-drawn buses, based at his Horse Bazaar alongside the Junction Hotel in Newmarket, were plying the route to and from Onehunga with the Prince Albert Inn at Epsom one of several refreshment stops along the way. By 1872 several companies were offering horse-drawn bus services along Epsom Road. In that year some 3,000 travellers* made the journey in one month: it must have been a lucrative trade for both the bus companies and the hotel. Many travellers were making the journey to and from Onehunga’s port, utilising services of sailing ships travelling locally to wharves within the Manukau Harbour or beyond the Heads to other ports of call along the New Zealand coast, while some passengers, colonists, were arriving from overseas: others making for voyages to destinations abroad.

Horse-drawn buses in Queen Street c1900
Auckland Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19400124-41-2

*   Information about early horse-drawn coaches and buses:  “Newmarket Lost and Found” – Dinah Holman

The Trams

Horse-drawn tramcars introduced in Auckland in 1884* were at once a hit with travellers, affording a much smoother ride along steel tracks, replacing the movement and motion of the horse coaches.

Horse-drawn trams became popular on all routes…
the extra horse added, leading on steeper inclines
Auckland Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19190619-37-1

Auckland Tramways anticipated the trend and in 1888 purchased part of Potter’s Paddock on the corner of the present Greenlane West and Manukau Roads for tram barns and stables. The City of Auckland Tramways and Suburban Land Company Limited (the Tramways full name) must have already rented some of the land at the same location because in 1887 the company called tenders for the cutting, stacking and storing of 30 acres (12 hectares) of hay at Potter’s Paddock.

About this time the Tramways Company was placed under bank supervision, losses mainly to do with its land purchases. Notwithstanding, it continued trading and the new tram barns meant Epsom, and particularly the streets within walking distance of the tram barn, became home of many tram-drivers and conductors. They needed to live handy so they could walk to the barn to begin early-morning services and so there was just a short walk home after they worked the last tram at night.

Fortunately for the future of the Epsom Hotel an alternative custom to passing travellers was soon to flourish.  The Tramways Company, keen to market the trams, purchased additional land from William Potter Jnr and paid to create racecourse facilities on part of Potter’s Paddock behind the tram barn. This followed up on William Potter Snr’s original plans to promote horse-racing on his property.

As mentioned, there had been racing on Epsom Downs in 1842. Horse racing moved to Potter’s Paddock in the 1860s when the militia, the Volunteer Cavalry, organised meetings for their mounts and local horses.

New Zealander, 4th March 1864

Return to Potter’s Paddock

Potter’s Paddock was back in the frame by 1888 when organised racing returned to Epsom. The race-track was re-developed, part of the enterprising scheme with two aims… to “sell’ trams, increasing the tram company’s revenue, and to accommodate Onehunga Racing Club. It had raced on a course at Te Papa since 1883 until in April 1888 the Club transferred to Potter’s Park.  “At the old Epsom course,” as the Club put it “the scene of many a hard-fought battle in the early days of Auckland, when the Imperial troops were with us. With the expenditure of a little money the Epsom course could be made quite the equal of Ellerslie, and its easy accessibility must bring it into high favour with turfites”. A grandstand, essential at any race course, was built by the Tramways Company and it was completed just in time for the first day’s racing.

Both gallops and trots were staged and by 1898 football fields were developed on the inside of the improved race-track so that rugby football would make Potters Paddock its “headquarters” with all main games transferred from the previous venue, Dilworth’s farm near Great South Road. This was quite a victory, an achievement, for the Tramways Company in its quest to attract more people to Epsom.

The tram trip from Auckland city to Epsom was not exactly fast. Giving evidence before the court when  the Epsom Hotel was charged with trading after-hours (April 1899), both the conductor and the driver of the last horse-drawn tram from Auckland testified that they left Queen Street, City, for Epsom at 10.30 p.m. and reached Epsom terminus, the tram barn, at 11.15p.m, a trip taking three quarters of an hour. They swore that they did not see the man accused of late-night drinking: case dismissed.

Rugby crowds throng the entrance to Potters Paddock 1898
Weekly News: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-18980806-2-1

Ranfurly Shield matches were held on Potters Paddock in 1902. The Tramways Company encouraged the fixture, again realising that sports fans would soon be using its new electric trams to travel to and from these important sporting events.

The packed temporary stand at Potters Park, Thames/Auckland rugby clash, 1900
Auckland Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19000817-2-2

With football, horse races, shows like the visit of “Buffalo Bill” to Auckland and other activities, the Tramways Company could count on at least two events each week at Potter’s Park – and it sought other attractions. The Epsom Hotel, of course, also benefited from the regular crowds.

There’s ample evidence that many of the events held on Potter’s Paddock were planned at meetings held in the Epsom Hotel. When thoroughbred racing moved to Graham’s Gardens at Ellerslie (the Auckland Racing Club continues meetings on that location today) Potter’s Paddock was given over to the trotters (saddle races rather than the now-familiar sulkies) and in 1901 it was renamed Alexandra Park (as it is today).

Potter’s Paddock provided an ideal venue for the Annual Tramways Employees’ picnics and the Auckland Star reports that prize money for the races was contributed by the publican of the Epsom Hotel. As well as a social club, the large number of staff-members working at the tram barn by the turn of the century supported the Tramways Cricket Club, with grounds at Potter’s Park and its headquarters (its clubhouse?) conveniently situated in the hotel across the road!

Electric Tramways, inauguration ceremony, 17 November 1902
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 755-Album-39-9

Auckland Electric Tramways took over all tramway operations and by Christmas 1902 electrification of the tramway had reached Newmarket with connecting horse-buses to and from Onehunga. Again, they stopped for refreshments (both for horses and passengers) at the Epsom Hotel. By March 1903 the electrified line extended to Epsom but there was still a brief stop at the tram barn to swap from electric motors to real horse-power, strong horses – so the opportunity for passengers to pause for refreshments at the hotel continued. But six months later travellers could go all the way from Auckland to Onehunga Wharf, and return, by electric tram, a distance of 11 kilometres each way, said to be the only coast-to-coast electric tramway in the world.  Without horses and a much quicker journey, there was no longer need to have a refreshment stop at Epsom: the hotel lost the valuable slice of business from travellers that it had enjoyed over many decades.

Staff at Auckland Electric Tramways Epsom Depot, 1902. No doubt some patronised Epsom Hotel.
Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19041229-14-1

Electric trams, however, attracted more local settlers to Epsom, who now had reliable, speedy and comfortable transport to and from the city, Newmarket and Onehunga. Allotments and sub-divisions sprang up all along the route: the tramway was the catalyst for the march on suburban settlements, Auckland’s first urban spread. And until 1909 when the area “went dry” local residents had their own pub where they could get a drink or two.  Again, the hotel benefited.

But not everyone welcomed the electric trams. A letter-writer to the editor of the Auckland Star, October 1903, with the non de plume “Sunday School Boy” of Epsom was one-such. Perhaps with tongue-in-cheek he complained that “last Sunday a church service I attended was disturbed by three trams passing”. He asked why “the Epsom Road Board did not secure the right of a poll on this subject” saying that “the trams run on the Lord’s Day without the people having a say, and, furthermore, I learn that you can get a return ticket from Greenwood’s Corner to Auckland by electric car for 7 pence, or 7pence halfpenny. From the Epsom Hotel, the 1d section nearer Auckland, instead of it being 6 pence or 6 pence halfpenny, it is eight pence. Epsom people, I suppose, take up more room, or are heavier: nevertheless they are treated shabbily”.

By 1908 Alexandra Park had become the accepted home of rugby with huge crowds turning out for local games while inter-provincial matches were patronised to capacity.

Auckland played Wellington at Alexandra Park 20th August 1908: a “full house”
Auckland Libraries – Sir George Grey collection

15,000 packed the Park to watch a Ranfurly Shield game between Auckland and Wellington in August 1908, arriving by tram, car, truck, taxi and on foot. Auckland won, 24-3, and the gate-takings, estimated at £1000, set a record for an interprovincial match. Epsom Hotel must have done well that day!

In 1919 Aucklanders decided by poll to authorise the Auckland City Council to raise a loan to purchase the assets of the Auckland Electric Tramways Company. By this time operations providing public transport by tram was big business.

Epsom tram in the line-up, Queen Street Auckland, 1919
Weekly News Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19190619-36-2

There was always added tramways traffic along Manukau Road, Epsom, as tramcars headed to and from the tram barn. In addition there was a branch line from Manukau Road along Green Lane West to Green Lane Hospital to cater for patrons attending events at Potter’s Paddock, Alexandra Park and the Showgrounds.

Electric trams continued the coast-to-coast service for more than 50 years until December 1956.

Crowds in lower Queen Street mob the last tram before its departure to Onehunga, 1956
Auckland Museum Collections

The tracks were torn up soon after Auckland’s last tram made the journey to Onehunga. The route was designated Number 10 by the Auckland Transport Board and trolley buses took over, followed by a combination of electric trolley buses and diesel buses, the trolleys giving way to diesel in March 1973. In the city the bus stop was in Victoria Street East opposite the Grand Hotel: the Onehunga terminus was moved near Nielson Street with only a few peak-hour diesel buses scheduled to and from the slightly extended route terminating at the wharf.

Trams leave the Epsom Tram Barns for the last time, 1957
Auckland Museum Collection

The Epsom tram barn, also known as the Epsom Depot, was closed in early 1957 and the huge sheds were taken over by Woolworths as a warehouse and distribution centre to serve the company’s many retail stores across Greater Auckland. These buildings were diagonally opposite the old hotel and their plain, bland, “industrial” look continued to dominate the intersection of Green Lane West and Manukau Road.

The old tram barns, from another era, became Woolworth’s warehouse
Te Ara Flickr Ministry of Culture and Heritage

In later years the buildings were demolished, the exception was a small, separate, two-storeyed block at the northern end of the property which had been the depot’s offices for, first, the Auckland Electric Tramways Company and then, latterly, the Auckland Transport Board. These premises were renovated and survive today as restaurants.

A multiple-occupancy office block was erected on the large ‘footprint’ occupying the land along Manukau Road where the tram barn once stood… it’s the equivalent of two blocks, from opposite King Edward Avenue to the Alba Road/Greenlane Road West intersection. The Auckland Transport Board also owned tram workshops further along Manukau Road, almost opposite the entrance to One Tree Hill parkland. With the passing of trams, these were converted to facilities to service buses, and then later the land was sold as a housing sub-division.

* Information about early horse-drawn and electric trams:  “End of the Penny Section” – Graham Stewart

Potter’s Barn

From the 1850’s William Potter’s holdings in Epsom were something of a landmark. Other properties were advertised for sale as being “next to Mr Potter’s land near Bird Grove*”, “valuable paddock adjoining Mr Potter’s” and “on the west of Mr Potter’s”. William Potter’s barn must have been well known, too. In 1852 electors of the Northern Division were invited to attend the barn “to state their political views and sentiments”. In an 1854 advertisement for a property at Onehunga, the agent says “complete with a store as big as Mr Potter’s barn”.

The barn itself came in for a different purpose when, in the mid-1860s, horse races organised by the Auckland Cavalry Volunteers were regularly held on the site. On these occasions the barn was converted to a saloon bar run by mine host, Mr Lawrence Robertson of the Union Hotel, Queen Street who, it seems, had all the bases covered for a great day at the races!

New Zealander, 3rd January 1865

On top of which, Mr Robertson staged a ball each evening after the racing in an aptly-decorated Potter’s Barn.

Members of the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Militia, and their families made the Barn, their home when they were billeted there in 1864 while waiting for their cottages to be constructed around the Blockhouse in Onehunga. The barn had been specially converted for the purpose.

Sadly the barn was in the headlines for the last time in April 1874. They told of an early evening fire that consumed the building. The glare of the flames could be seen from the city, prompting a mounted constable being sent out to investigate. A ton of hay and a number of saddles were lost. There were three race horses in the barn at the time, saved by the brave actions of Messrs Gwynne (of the Epsom Hotel) May and Leonard. Two jockeys were living in the building taking care of the racers. The pair went across to the hotel and a few minutes later someone saw that the barn was on fire. Its origin was a mystery.

1960s aerial picture of Showgrounds (and car parks)
Hospital buildings, upper left, and Alexandra Park, top
Whites Aviation – Alexandra Turnbull Library Tapuhi Collection

*Bird Grove was at first an estate, originally of about 20 acres (50 hectares), fronting on to the present Manukau Road, later allotments centred near Kimberley Road.

The Military

Various parts of Potter’s Paddock have, over the decades, been used by, or taken over by the military. The nearby hotel was often their “watering hole”.

It’ already been mentioned that the cavalry held horse races on the Paddock and that members of the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Militia, and their families were billeted in Potter’s Barn in 1864.

The property became an encampment for combined companies in the late 1890s, there was a military gymkhana in 1900, and Royalty (HRH the Duke of Cornwall, Duke of York) reviewed a military parade there in 1901.

HRH the Duke of Cornwall, Duke of York, ascending the saluting dais
N Z Graphic – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19010622-1155-1

The Fourth Contingent, Mounted, the so called Roughriders, trained there before departing for South Africa to fight in the Anglo-Boer War.

First day of training at Potters Paddock for the Roughriders
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19000216-5-1

It would not be long before Potter’s Paddock was again pressed to military service when troops began assembling preparatory to proceeding overseas to fight in the First World War.

Church Parade at the Volunteers’ Camp prior to leaving for the front, August 1914
Weekly News: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140820-47-1

 

The showgrounds, part of the original Potter’s Paddock, were again turned into a military base during World War 2 with row upon row of bell tents.

Auckland Contingent at Potters Paddock shortly before departure overseas
Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19391213-36-1

At the same time the western-most section of Potter’s Paddock at corner of Dominion and Balmoral Roads, in Mt Eden, now known as Potter’s Park, had a war-time make-over. The lawns in the reserve were torn up and cultivated by locals in a “Dig for Victory” campaign, the gardens providing welcome vegetables in the time of shortage. The Park has recently had another makeover, creating water features and other playground equipment for children with, in 2019, the addition of “Boy Walking”, a sculpture by Ronnie van Hout.

These days (2019) some of the biggest crowds gather at the old Potters Paddock for “Potters Cottage Christian Fellowship”, a weekly Pentecostal church service held in the Auckland Trotting Club’s premises. Although an appropriate name for its location, I am told the coincidence is just that, nothing to do with Potter’s Paddock – but reference to chapter 18 of the Book of Jeremiah, in the Bible, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words”.

Aviation History

The old Potter’s Paddock, now Alexandra Park, played its part in the birth of flight in New Zealand. The first “long flights” in New Zealand were made from the Park in May 1913. American barnstormer Arthur Burr “Wizard” Stone made the flights to and from the park as proving “ascents” before repeating them in public. The park was not his first choice. An estimated 13,000 people had paid admission to the Auckland Doman the week before to see his Bleriot-Metz monoplane up close and then to watch him take off, “ascend” (as the advertisements said), take a long flight, and land. It was estimated another 12,000 people took vantage points around the Domain to get their first glimpse of the aeroplane. But all did not turn out so well. There was trouble getting the small plane through the throng to the grassed runway. Police and a racing car were used to form a taxi-way, then there were delays in the start-up and, once the plane was aloft, it got caught in a down draft, turned suddenly, the “Wizard” lost control and the plane landed heavily against an embankment on the outer Domain. The flight had lasted just econds covering some 400 meters. “Wizard” Stone was uninjured. The plane was damaged and the crowd swarmed it, manhandling it, precluding a further flight. There were cries of “fraud”, the entrepreneur was not offering any money back and the disappointed spectators left the Domain. Some wrote to newspapers criticising the enterprise, blaming “Wizard” Stone and his colleagues for the dupe.

Not to be outdone, the airman announced he would take a few flights and have another public showing, this time at Alexandra Park. He repaired and tuned the plane’s engine at Epsom and made two or three proving flights from the racecourse flying over Epsom and adjoining south-eastern suburbs.

“Wizard” Stone flying above Alexandra Park
Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19130501-16-4

These were said at the time to be the first aircraft flights over distance in New Zealand.

Within a week Stone was ready to stage his public exhibition at Alexandra Park, combined with another of his pursuits, motorcycle racing, together with a race – aeroplane against a sports car. For this Mr Percy Cornwall had imported a 100 horse power racer (the one that cut up cricket pitches in the Domain) with the intention to pit the car against the Bleriot plane doing laps of the racecourse. This race had to cancelled after Cornwall was practising at Alexandra Park and the car got out of control at “tremendous speed”, headed for the enclosed stables taking out 30 meters of wooden fencing before it came to rest, badly damaged.

Percy Cornwall’s racing car after the crash. It tore a gap in the fence.
Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19130501-16-2

Cornwall was moderately injured but Arthur Stone’s assistant Bert Hinkler, was hospitalised with broken ribs and other injuries (Herbert, (Bert) Hinkler, an Australian, recovered and went on to be true aviation pioneer).

A mere 200 paying patrons turned up eager to see the plane put through its paces at Epsom. But a week’s bad weather had cut up the track so there could be no motorcycle races and on the day turbulent, gusty winds precluded any flying. For the second time Aucklanders were thwarted – their attempts to see what had been dubbed “flight – the triumph of the age” were not to be realised. The “Wizard” moved to Hamilton where he presented a perfect showing, then to Napier where he crashed, smashing the plane to pieces, lucky to be alive.  He returned to Australia, surviving many mishaps. He died in 1943.

In December 1913 a further flying exhibition was planned at Alexandra Park by two local young men, Sandford and Miller, who had made their own aeroplane, naturally enough called the Sandford-Miller biplane. The craft had been shown off at various trials and the time had come to give a public exhibition. The pair pointed out, in light of the Domain fiasco involving “Wizard” Stone, that if the plane did not fly for some reason all money taken would be refunded at the gates. But this exhibition came to nothing when, on a flight from the pair’s headquarters at Avondale race course to Alexandra Park, Sandford had to make an emergency landing. This went smoothly enough. But the later take-off was flawed, the machine not rising as expected, hitting a fence. Sandford was thrown 30 feet (10m) on impact, sustaining serious injuries and the plane was wrecked.

But just a month or so later flight was to return to the old Potters Park – the Showgrounds – but without all the hype of a barnstormer, although it ended in drama. This time it was the Government-owned Britannia plane, captained by pioneer aviator and air-ace, Lieutenant Joseph Joel Hammond of the Royal Flying Corps. The plane had been gifted by the British Government, had taken some 5 months to arrive in Wellington, packed in its crates and, curiously, without its propeller or any spare parts. The propeller was sent from England and the packages were railed to Auckland.

J.J. Hammond with the Britannia monoplane
B. Beattie, Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19140122-39-2

Campbell Showgrounds (as was called), part of Potter’s Paddock, was chosen as the depot where eventually Hammond oversaw the plane’s assembly and then prepared it for flight.

The Britannia at the makeshift airfield in the Showgrounds
Free Lance, Volume XIV, Issue 707, 17 January 1914

During a 15 minute proving flight Hammond tested it exhaustively and then on Auckland’s Anniversary Weekend he took the monoplane out again. He flew for an hour above the city and the harbour, the first time that an aeroplane had flown over Auckland City.

The Britannia taking off from the Epsom Show Grounds
Beattie, Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19140122-39-1

Lieutenant Hammond almost crashed on one of these flights.

“Britannia” over the Auckland Exhibition before going on to Epsom to land. Beattie – Auckland Libraries Heritage CollectionsThe next planned take-off was to be an another fly-past over the Auckland Exhibition on January 29th. This time an official fly-past. But on the dat before he went aloft with a passenger, Miss Esme McLennan, an Australian actress performing in the city at the time. It was a 20 minute flight and Miss McLennan’s subsequent written account conveys the thrill of flying in those times. This flight was, however, unauthorised and his superior officers, out of jealousy that they had not been invited, or just stiff-upper-lip discipline, banned him from flying. The plane was ordered to be crated up and returned to England. Hammond was fired. He returned to air services connected with the war and in September 1918 he crashed near Indianapolis, USA. The first man to pilot a plane in Australia, a pioneer of developing aircraft for war, survivor of may crashes and near-misses, and the first to fly a plane over Auckland’s downtown, was dead. Born in Gonville, Wanganui, Joseph Joel Hammond was aged 31.

Alexandra Park rang out with the noise of much more advanced aircraft when air shows were held there in the early 1930s. The Auckland Aero Cub organised the shows with formation flying followed by stunts by a “mystery pilot”. Spectators were invited to guess the altitude of a plane flying above the Park at the moment the pilot signalled with a coloured flare. 2,135 feet (650m) was the winning estimate.

Brushes With The Law

From time to time over the years various Auckland’s licensees were in trouble with the law for selling liquor after-hours, for selling to other than bona fide travellers and for failing to keep the peace within the hotel. From several court cases of the day (late 1890s and early 1900s) it seems travellers were “bona fide” on Sundays only if they had journeyed more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the hotel. Those staying at the hotel, and a limited number of their guests, could buy a drink but locals were not allowed to be on the premises, let alone served liquor.

Every year the Licensing Committee reviewed publicans’ licences and it was at these hearings that police often commented on how each pub had been managed over the previous 12 months. Some of these were damning of other hotels but seldom was the hotel in Epsom mentioned, its licence always readily renewed or transferred without question or comment.

But the pub starred in other cases.

In August 1887 one of Auckland’s best known boxers, Barney Donovan apparently did not like the result of the football match played at Potter’s Paddock and got into a fight outside the hotel. He allegedly assaulted one Percy Meredith using a clenched fist.

In March 1888 Daniel Gallagher complained that his swag had been stolen while he was in the hotel. James Watson appeared in the Police Court at Otahuhu charged with its theft and while he denied all knowledge, he was found guilty and sentenced to three months in Mount Eden Prison.

In 1898 three men arrived after midnight by hansom cab and later would not pay for their drinks, nor would they leave the premises. The police were telephoned (the hotel must have been a very early adopter of this technology!) and the men were locked in a room by the landlady awaiting the arrival of a constable. Later in court the case was dismissed – the magistrate accepted they had been asked to leave, but then observed that they could hardly do so once they had been locked in a room!

One Sunday afternoon in November 1900, 2 patrons were charged with assaulting several people in the hotel. They arrived intoxicated and were refused liquor, triggering abuse towards the landlady and assault on several patrons. There was further trouble after the landlady was struck… and patrons went to her defence. Both men were convicted; one fined £6, the other £4, in default 14 days in jail with hard labour.

And in 1906 clues leading to the whereabouts of two wanted men took police to the Epsom Hotel. There had been a robbery in Mount Roskill and, according to the Auckland Star, “the chase went on in such a sensational manner through the district on Thursday. O’Keefe, one of the men who gave the police an afternoon’s hard work, was secured in the Epsom Hotel the same evening. It was suspected that his companion could not be far off: there are indications by police that their quarry is concealed somewhere in the rough country around Avondale”.

A member of one of the district’s best known families appeared in Court in January 1907 after a street fight outside the Epsom Hotel. Alfred Greenwood (Greenwood’s Corner, Epsom) and Archibald Neville (of the pioneer family farming in the New Lynn district) were charged with threatening behaviour in Manukau Road.  Greenwood pleaded guilty but evidence was given that Neville was the aggressor and Greenwood acted solely in his own defence. Neville was convicted and fined £2 and costs, or one month’s imprisonment. The charge against Greenwood was dismissed.

The Regional Road

Central to the hotel’s existence had been the travelling public along Manukau Road, (Epsom Road and Onehunga Road as-was), first on foot, then horseback, by horse-bus followed by trams and motor vehicles. The intersection that the hotel was situated on was created when Green Lane was formed, a road that was originally a walking-track linking the other main road out of Auckland, the Great South Road (Otahuhu Road as it was known). While Manukau Road was later formed as a wide concrete road with tram lines down the centreline, and Green Lane was widened with the advent of motor traffic, Alba Road remained a bottle-neck, a very narrow road linking Manukau Road westwards with The Drive, which it met at a “T” intersection. Traffic heading to western suburbs such as Mount Eden, Mt Albert and Avondale, or en route to Henderson etc, had to take a very circuitous route. After turning left at the “T” into The Drive, vehicles had to travel one block before turning right into Merivale Avenue and then negotiate its narrow bends through a dog-leg up to St Andrews Road where it connected with Balmoral Road for the run out west. In the late 1960s Auckland Regional Authority engineers sought to streamline the route and proposed a widened intersection at Manukau Road and a realigned 4 or 6-lane road connecting with The Drive, then taking a direct line to St Andrews Road where an enlarged intersection would deliver traffic on to Balmoral Road. Many buildings would have to be swept away to make way. As well as all 17 houses along one side of Alba Road, businesses at the Manukau Road/Alba Road/Green Lane Road would have to be sacrificed.

Hotel Demolished

This included the old Epsom Hotel. It was demolished in August 1969 with much of its Kauri timber re-cycled.

Potter cottage 1960… later dismantled, moved and preserved
B. Beattie, NZ Herald -Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1370-702-19

Land that the adjacent Potter cottage stood on was also wanted: the old “blockhouse”-type dwelling, covered in Ivy at the time, was dismantled stone by stone and, as mentioned, rebuilt at MOTAT. The major road works transformed the look of this part of Epsom and saw the demolition of several shops on the northern side of Alba Road (land agent’s, hairdresser’s and drapery) and then on the other side of Alba Road, the hotel and stone house.

Today trees crowd the site of the old Epsom Hotel alongside the busy intersection
Looking west along the Regional Road – Manukau Road runs left to right

On the opposite (eastern) side of Manukau Road, the home cookery, fish shop, RSA hall, Four Square grocery store and coffee-roasting business disappeared. Then there was the removal or demolition of all the houses on the southern side (even numbers) in Alba Road, and other properties in The Drive (notably Taylor’s grocery store and an Old People’s Home), Bloomfield Road, Wilding Avenue and St Andrews Road, all of which were in the line of construction. Those houses left on the northern side of Alba Road had their own separate access-lane formed alongside the new “highway” which, when opened in late 1970 with its landscaped verges and wide traffic lanes, became Auckland’s first Regional Road.

Another removal to provide alignment for the new road was a mature Oak tree growing in a traffic island at the intersection of St Andrews Road and Balmoral Road.  Conservationists and horticulture people wanted the tree left. They told the Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional that the road should take a slight diversion to save the tree, something they considered was easily manageable. Controversy grew. Time was short as development works approached the Oak. It was discussed at a meeting of the City Council one night, mid-evening. After lengthy discussion it was agreed the tree should go. Late that night the tree-fellers moved in and by morning there was no evidence left that a spreading Oak tree had grown there. The pro-tree lobby complained, alleging sabotage by the Councillors. To soften the situation the Mayor guaranteed nothing like it would ever happen again: in the future there would be full and frank discussion before action was taken.

(History was to repeat itself. In 1987 at an evening meeting the members of the Auckland City Council made a decision they knew would be controversial. They gave the go-ahead for the demolition of the heritage-rich His Majesty’s Theatre in Queen Street. Demolition crews with their equipment were prepared, ready to knock the building down and, once given the green light by those at the meeting, moved in around midnight. Most of the place was demolished overnight before those who cared realised that the 80 year old showplace was on the ground. Déjà vu!)

The Showgrounds

Over the decades the 11 ha (20 acres) Showgrounds, latterly ASB Showgrounds, continued as the venue for Auckland’s best-known agriculture, pastoral, trade and  business exhibitions. Some of the world’s top entertainers appeared on stage to sell-out audiences and, for the Boat Show, an engineering masterpiece was unveiled one year when the arena was turned into a meter-deep lake enabling boats, launches and other craft to be demonstrated on the water.

Annual and periodic shows came to an abrupt end in mid-July 2021 when the company leasing the property from owners, Cornwall Park Trust Board, went into receivership owing millions of dollars. Increases in rent and the enforced closure of the Showgrounds during the Covid-19 pandemic were blamed for the sudden closure… activities on the site ended after more than 170 years.

But within weeks individual members of management of the liquidated company entered negotiations with interested parties and, as New Zealand Exhibitions and Events Limited, they entered into a new lease and took over the running of the Showgrounds.

The End of a Hotel

In the late 1800s and early 1900s growth of Auckland’s South-Eastern suburbs and attractions at Potters Paddock  increased traffic along the old Epsom Road to Onehunga with beneficial business opportunities for the Epsom Hotel.

Ironically it was further progress, a project designed to solve Epsom’s overwhelming traffic volumes in the 1960s, which spelled “Time!” and an end to the 120 year old building.

(c)  RCC 25 November 2012.

Additions 29 November 2012-12-03

Amendments after FT plus additions 3 December 2012

Further pics and wartime notes. November/December 2018 and April/May 2019.