Road trip: Macquarie Arms, Windsor

The Macquarie Arms Hotel, Windsor. Picture: Mick Roberts

FINDING a pub in Australia that is more than 200 years old is a difficult task.

In fact there are just two pubs that I know of that can lay claim to having an establishment date going back two centuries or more – Tasmania’s Hope and Anchor Tavern in Hobart and the Macquarie Arms Hotel in Windsor, NSW.

Although both these pubs continue to serve beer today, they both had periods when their taps ran dry, and they ceased operating as hotels.

The Hope and Anchor Tavern (formerly Hope and Anchor Hotel, the Alexander, the Whale Fishery and the Hope) was built in 1807, and claims to be the oldest Australian pub, having operated until 2008 when it closed for refurbishment. The Hope and Anchor reopened in 2014 after the building and its extensive antique collection were purchased by Chinese developer Kim Xing for $1.5 million.

The entrance of the Macquarie Arms Hotel facing Thompson Square. Picture: Mick Roberts

There’s some rivalry between two Tasmanian pubs for the title of Australia’s oldest watering hole though – The Bush Inn and Hope & Anchor. New Norfolk’s Bush Inn claims to be the oldest Australian pub, because the venue has operated continuously since it was licensed in 1825 (However, recent evidence has come to light that shows the Bush Inn closed as a hotel and was used as a private residence between the years 1873 and 1877). The Hope and Anchor Tavern in Hobart was established in 1807 and has had several periods of closure over that time.

We’ll let them fight that one out.

There’s also the Woolpack Hotel in Parramatta, said to have the oldest license in Australia. The Woolpack was one of the first 10 pub licenses issued in the colony of NSW by Governor Phillip in May 1897. However, the Woolpack cannot claim the title of oldest pub, as it relocated across the road into a “new” building in the 1890s.

Meanwhile the subject of this story – Windsor’s Macquarie Arms – claims the title of Australia’s oldest mainland pub, after opening to the public on July 31, 1815.

The bar of the Macquarie Arms Hotel. Picture: Mick Roberts

The walls of the old place were literally shaking when we stopped by the Windsor pub on Sunday in 2017. There was a band playing in the beer garden, and the place was busy serving up lunches and drinks to tourists and locals. In fact, there was a roped queue, five or six deep, waiting to be served at the bar. We grabbed our drinks and made our way upstairs, where it was a little quieter and not as busy.

The Macquarie Arms had been on my bucket list of pubs to visit for some time, so I was pleased to have finally ticked it off during our 2017 visit. The pub has a fascinating history.

The Sydney Gazette reported the opening of the Windsor pub on Saturday July 22 1815:

PUBLIC NOTICE- A large and commodious House having been some time since erected, and lately completed, at a very considerable expense, in the TOWN of WINDSOR, for an INN ; and a suitable Person having been engaged by the Proprietor for keeping the same, Notice is hereby given, that the said Inn, called “The Macquarie Arms,” and kept by Thomas Ranson, who formerly was an Innkeeper in England, will be opened for the Accommodation of the Public on Monday the 31st of this present Month of July.

Windsor, 14th July, 1815.

The pub was built by former convict and Superintendent of Government Works at Windsor, Richard Fitzgerald. He was given a grant by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to establish Windsor’s first hotel on the proviso he built a “handsome commodious inn of brick or stone” and it was “at least two stories high”.

Fitzgerald engaged Thomas Ranson, formerly an innkeeper in England, to keep the pub for him, which was officially opened by the Governor himself.

The Macquarie Arms traded as a pub until 1835 when Fitzgerald leased the building to the 50th West Kent Regiment as an officers’ mess. From 1840 the buildings was used as a private residence before it was again licensed as the Royal Hotel in 1874. It traded as the Royal Hotel until 1960 when the name reverted to the Macquarie Arms.

The Macquarie Arms Hotel is like a museum in parts, but looked a little tired down stairs during our visit. The additions and alterations over the years hasn’t done the pub any favours. She could do with some restoration work, although in saying that there was plenty of historic atmosphere to be found if you explore its many rooms.

For the simple reason it’s mainland Australia’s oldest pub, the Macquarie Arms is well worth the drive to Windsor for a visit.

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Categories: NSW hotels, review, Reviews, Road Trips

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