From bloodhouse to gentrified watering hole
By MICK ROBERTS ©
REVIEW: Who would have thought that Alexandria’s Parkview Hotel was once one of Sydney’s toughest pubs, the haunt of hard drinking men, frequented by members of the notorious razor gangs that plagued the inner-city suburbs? Well not me, until I dug a little deeper into the colourful history of the subject of this week’s pub review.
The Parkview Hotel has had several transformations in recent years, and today caters mostly to the well-to-do folk of Alexandria. The day of our visit, it was difficult to find a seat and table in the front bar of this small, cosy corner pub, established in 1898. It was buzzing with well-dressed middle aged men and women, discussing politics, sport and subject matter one would expect from what seemed to be a good mix of blue and white collar drinkers, sprinkled with a few retirees, enjoying a sociable Sunday afternoon. To the rear, in the dining room, couples ate grain fed rump steaks, and al-dente pastas, oblivious to this pub’s violent past, where in the 1920s the bar room floor was described in one newspaper story as looking like a slaughter house floor after a man had his throat slashed in a razor attack.
The Parkview was not always this sedate. The pub’s first host regularly fronted Redfern Courthouse charged with adulterating his rum and whiskey. While this would repel most civilised pub drinkers, the Parkview had many more reasons for customers to look elsewhere for a beer or two. During the 1920s, gangs – known as ‘pushes’ – fought bloody battles on the streets of Sydney’s inner-suburbs, regularly meeting at the hundreds of corner pubs scattered throughout the city.
The ‘Alexandria Push’ often could be found at the Parkview, and as early as 1926, a patron had his throat slashed in a brawl in its bar. Before I get ahead of myself though let’s reveal the beginnings of this little pub.
Attempts were made to have a pub opened on the corner of Mitchell Road and Harley Street at Alexandria as early as 1890, with surrounding residents successfully preventing a license being granted, opposite the popular cricket and football ground, known as Erskineville Oval, for many years. It wasn’t until 1898 that a man with influence was able to persuade the authorities that the “requirements of the neighbourhood” required a pub. He was James Roche, an alderman elected to Redfern Council in 1895. Roche was granted a license for the Parkview Hotel on July 25 1898.
The 47-year-old publican with his wife, Rebecca – who he had wed in 1880 – previously ran the Royal Albert Hotel on Ivy Road, Darlington from 1894, before – with their five children – moving into the two storey brick pub in July 1898.
Not surprisingly the surrounding residents, who had fought a long battle to prevent a pub opening in their neighbourhood, were not too pleased with its opening, and an appeal was lodged against Roche’s license in October 1898.
The residents argued that four applications had been previously made for the pub, two of which had been withdrawn, and two refused. Since the last refusal there had been no alteration to the building, or increase in the population of the district. It seems Roche, being a Redfern Council alderman, new the right people, and the residents’ appeal failed.
Over the 12 years Roche was licensee at the Parkview he was a regular visitor to the courts for breaching liquor laws. He first fronted the courts in April 1899 when he was convicted of trading outside of hours.
Tragedy struck the publican in 1901 when his wife, Rebecca, died. The following year he was fined 20 shillings, plus £1 6s 6d costs for each charge of selling under-proof rum and whiskey to his customers. The lesson, it seems was never learnt as eight years later he was again before the magistrate on similar charges. This time though he was slammed with a much heftier fine after tests proved that his brandy was 32.2 per cent underproof, having 9½ per cent of added water; his whiskey was 30.8 per cent underproof, by the addition of 7¾ per cent of added water, and his rum was 29.7 underproof with 7¼ per cent of added water. For each offence Roche was fined in February 1910, £2 with 6s costs, and half the fines were ordered to go to the Police Reward Fund.
At the age of 59, in 1910, Roche retired as publican of the Parkview Hotel, while continuing his role as an alderman with Redfern Council. The Sydney Sunday Sun reported on August 14 1910:
Alderman James Roche has been a prominent business man in South Sydney for many years, and when he relinquished business last week the people of Alexandria determined to acknowledge his services. Accordingly, there was a party in the local Town Hall, where the Mayor presided, and Alderman Roche was presented with a gold watch and chain. A pleasant evening was spent in songs and eulogistic speeches.
Roche died at his residence in Wilson Street Newtown on August 17 1924 at the age of 73. Meanwhile the license of the Parkview had been transferred to James Egan after Roche’s retirement in 1910. Egan was just 21 years of age when he took over as publican, and he had a short stay. After leaving the Parkview, Egan was charged with attempting to murder his wife, Ruth after firing shots at her in 1912.
Egan was said to have charged into a residence in Alexandria, where Ruth had been shacked up with Charles Waite, a tram conductor, firing shots from his revolver. The shots wounded Waite, Ruth and his sister-in-law, Myra Johnson who was at the house at the time. Although the three were injured – with his wife suffering a bullet wound to her chest – they all survived to tell the tale. Egan was charged with attempted murder, and was sentenced to death, which later was commuted to 10 years behind bars.
A number of licensees had their name above the door of the Parkview over the following decade as Alexandria became more working class and the pub more violent. The Tweed Daily reported in May 1926 that there were four brawls between “pushes” or gangs at Redfern and several persons assaulted in various other parts of the city the previous night. The most serious, the newspaper reported, was outside the Parkview Hotel between the Redfern and Alexandria gangs.
Percival Birmingham (26), who happened to be passing the pub, was attacked with a razor. His throat was slashed, and he was taken to hospital in a serious condition, having lost a good deal of blood. The wound was seven inches long. Other men were injured in the same melee, but were carried off by their comrades. The Sydney Truth was a little more colourful in their reporting of the gang fight.
Stoush and blood at Alexandria
IF old Percy Bermingham, here of the scrap that occurred in an Alexandria hotel on Saturday afternoon, May 22 last, were always stoical in the way he meets punishment, he would make a heavy weight fighter who might be depended upon to send any stadium audience into raptures. Percy had a slight argument in the Park View Hotel, in Mitchell-road, that afternoon, and got, as a result, a gash in the throat that made the bar-room floor look like a slaughter-house, and took eight stitches to sew up in the Royal South Sydney Hospital. When questioned by the police he described the affair as “a bit of a scrap” about which he had no desire to make a fuss.
The violence continued at the pub under Manus Patrick Heffernan’s stewardship. Heffernan had previously run the nearby Camellia Grove Hotel at Alexandria before taking the license of the Parkview in July 1927. The Sydney Sun reported on August 22 1927:
When Samuel Barker, or Fox, aged 19, a wool-bailer, was charged today at the Redfern Court with having assaulted Edward William Davies, a builder and contractor, of Hartley-street, Alexandria, Sergeant Robson said that Barker was one of a gang in Alexandria which the police felt should be kept under strict supervision. The police, however, had been baffled by the silence of the man who had been assaulted. Constable Hanson said that Barker had admitted to him that he had assaulted Davies for having called his brother an “ugly name”. Davies gave evidence that he had met Barker in front of the Park View Hotel, Alexandria. “What took place?” asked Sergeant Robson. Davies; I do not want to give any further evidence against Fox.
Sergeant Robson suggested to the magistrate that the evidence should be given, as the case affected the public. McMahon: It seems that Davies has been battered by Barker, but, as Davies does not wish to give any evidence, I don’t see that we can go any further with the case. Barker was discharged.
Fast forward another 16 years, and violence once again comes to the Parkview, when Manus Patrick Heffernan returned as host. Heffernan was licensee from 1927 to 1928 when members of Sydney’s razor gangs frequented his bar. He returned as publican almost a decade later, hosting the pub during World War II, remaining as licensee for 10 years, from 1937 to 1943. During his last year at the pub, one of the most violent incidents took place under its roof. His 22-year-old son, Joseph Manus Heffernan, shot dead 30-year-old Francis Fitzjohn at the pub.
On March 20 1943, Fitzjohn, with a number of other men confronted the publican, Manus, demanding beer, which was refused. The publican armed with an iron bar, told the men to leave, before they attacked him, knocking him to the ground, kicking him in a manner, which was described as “uncontrollable and wild”.
Joseph Manus Heffernan came to his father’s rescue, pulling a revolver, and telling the men to stand back, but they took no notice. The young barman fired, intending the shot to go over their heads, to frighten them out of the hotel. At the time he fired, he believed his father would have been killed, he later testified in court. The shot hit Fitzjohn killing him instantly.
The publican’s son fronted court in June 1943 charged with murder, but after giving evidence, the jury acquitted him and he was released.
Before I jump forward to today, and our visit to a much tamer Parkview Hotel, there’s just one more firearms incident worth mentioning. After an argument with his wife in October 1950, 43-year-old publican, William Henry Taggart was fined £10 on each of two charges of firing a pistol with unlawful intent and being intoxicated while in possession of a pistol. After an argument with his wife, the publican shot his automatic pistol three times into the hotel yard. He pleaded guilt at the Redfern Courthouse, admitting to being “very drunk at the time” and giving the excuse that he wished “to frighten his wife and not harm her”.
On the day of our visit to the Parkview Hotel, thankfully there were no razor gangs, gun-toting publicans, or brawling men, just a well-run modern establishment, with a good selection of beers on tap, as well as a reasonably priced bistro.
The décor of this pub reflects its history, while providing comfortable surrounds, in a well-lit bar and dining area. Upstairs, there’s a function room, with small bar, and the kitchen. There’s a bit of a climb up the original 1898 stairwell when the buzzer alerts you to collect your meal, but it’s worth the climb.
We liked the feel of this little pub, which seems to fit so much into such a small space. We give it four schooner glasses out of five – an extra glass for such a fantastic history. Pay this pub a visit, but leave you pistol and razors at home.
© Copyright 2017 Mick Roberts
Parkview Hotel, Alexandria licensees 1898 – 1954
1898 – 1910 James Roche
1910 – 1911 James T. Egan
1911 – 1912 Mitchell Cadden
1912 – 1913 John Daniel Coffey
1913 – 1916 John Carrick
1916 – 1917 James Benjamin Hoban
1917 – 1918 Jacob Woolf Shaw
1918 – 1918 Joseph Cornelius O’Brien
1918 – 1922 John Fraser
1922 – 1923 George Blackmore
1923 – 1924 David Cashel
1924 – 1927 George Cooper
1927 – 1928 Morris Patrick Heffernan
1928 – 1929 John Thomas Young
1929 – 1933 A.H. Blight
1933 – 1934 Pitcher
1934 – 1935 Peter Newman
1935 – Frank Atherton Kennard
1935 – Peter Newman
1935 – Frank Atherton Kennard
1935 – Albert Samuel Phillips
1935 – George Alfred Wilkins
1937 – 1943 Manus Patrick Heffernan
1943 – 1945 Thomas Prince
1945 – 1951 William Henry Taggart
1951 – 1954 Ernest McCosker
1954 – Samuel Shaw Patterson