“We travelled over the open and barren heaths…observed nothing new in these dreary and sterile wilds,” was the sharp observation of William Colenso in 1842. I bet he wished there had been a hotel there when he went past!
New Lynn was hard clay country back when Alfred Ramsden turned up around 1880 from Australia and decided that the middle of nowhere was exactly the sort of place that travellers would want to pause and have a comfort stop - especially if they could be served a handle of beer from an open barrel. It was certainly in the middle of a rural area and New Lynn wasn’t yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
“Did New Lynn exist [in 1882]? There wasn't much of a train station, the shops weren't there (the main service centre for the West was Avondale, up until just after WWI). Folks lived there and had small farms, or house cows. They certainly had instances of folks ripping roofs off rental properties, and taking to each other with large sticks. But there wasn't much in the way of employment up until Gardners, Parker, Jagger and Crum [brickworks] turned up. It was a locality. That's about what you could say for it. The first school wasn't even until 1888. Up until then, kids went to Avondale.” comments Lisa Truttman.
In JT Diamond’s book Once the Wilderness, it says “Alf Ramsden chose what was then a centrally situated site. Radiating out across the countryside from this hotel were well worn tracks formed by locals making a bee-line for this centre of attraction.”
Being an enterprising sort of bloke and not someone who would buy a brick when he could make it, Alf set to and made his own bricks near the site of what is now the Fruitvale Railway Station. And that’s where the problems started because he wasn’t as good at making bricks as he imagined, and they were not fired properly. A short hundred or so years later Alf’s lack of brickmaking talent would literally come crumbling down.
What Alf lacked in brickmaking he made up for in spades in design, at least on the two sides seen as one approached it from the city. “The Hotel has excellent proportions with the division of the top and bottom storeys and two to three bays each side of the front door. Decoration is limited to the Italianate windows, the mock stone block edges, entry emphasis and fine pediments.”
Sadly for Alf it was all over in 1883 when he went bankrupt and moved on. The hotel seems to have continued on ok in following years as a staging post with large stables on the right, two hitching rails and a water trough out front. A hint of the trouble to come was when the licence renewal in 1904 was opposed by the local policeman. He possibly suspected that in the remote location those official opening hours were not being observed. That the hotel was being run by three women, a Mrs Hertz, Mrs Patterson, and a Mrs Featon was possibly just too much for the police.
Pub life ended permanently for the place the locals affectionately referred to as ‘The Old Grey Mare’, with prohibition in 1909. After this it became residential accommodation, although one part was rented out as doctors rooms from the 1940’s to 1966. Yugoslav migrants the Bartulovich family purchased the building in 1940 and sold it to the Waitakere City in 2005. In 1995 an engineer’s report deemed it unsafe to live in, and years of wrangling over the sale price to the council ensued.
At some stage an owner added some buttress walls on either side of the building. These probably extended the life of it but the poor foundations and weak bricks meant that no conservation technique could save the building. When it was eventually demolished one of those present, John Radford, said “Many vertical cracks had gone from the roof right down to the ground. The structure of the outer walls was essentially a series of free standing pillars (separated by vertical cracks) that were just waiting to fall over. I remember picking up one of the bricks that was on the ground following the demolition and was amazed that I could crumble it into dust in my hands. I was commissioned to come up with some proposals for a sculpture to commemorate the building which did not come to any fruition.”
Radford’s memory is supported by Randolph Covich “The bricks were delivered to Western Aggregates for recycling with the request to save as many as possible from the crusher, so a sculpture could be made. Unfortunately, they were too unstable and were crushed back into fill for building sites.”
And so in 2009 the end came for a fine old landmark from another era. It was literally dust to dust (and ashes to ashes) and the building returned to the earth from where it had come.
Owners of the New Lynn Hotel from 1893:
1893 Moss Davis
1904 Captain Cook Brewery
1907 Hancock & Co
1913 William John Pugh
1923 Jessie Louisa Pugh
1923 Samuel Havie
1923 Reginald Frederick Collard
1940 Rosko Kasich Bartulovich & Nicola Grgo Bartulovich