ON Time Gents’ road trips, we sometimes stumble upon pubs that can only be described as pure treasures.
On one of our recent Sunday drives we visited a number of small villages and towns in the central west region of NSW, where we came across four fantastic pubs that we have reviewed and researched, and are easily placed in that ‘treasured’ category.
We quenched our thirsts at two picturesque pubs in Millthorpe, before proceeding onto Neville, where we had lunch in a welcoming little watering hole, making our way to the charmingly named village of Wombat to enjoy their hospitality, and finally making our way back to Sydney. Here’s our report.
Millthorpe is a historic village set amidst gently rolling hills, with two historic pubs, surviving from four that had traded at the height of the town’s prosperity in the early 1900s.
The village is classified by the National Trust and, because it’s not on a main thoroughfare, has managed to avoid overdevelopment. Millthorpe has retained a 19th century charm, and, with its craft stores, cafes, and quirky shops, is well worth a weekend drive.
Located 240km north-west of Sydney via Katoomba and Lithgow, Millthorpe was about a two and half hour drive from our home in Sydney. Our first port-a-call was the Railway Hotel, which, not surprisingly is a stone throw from the train station in Elliott Street.
The Railway Hotel was not always known by that name though, and started life as the Family Hotel in 1898. Its sign changed to the Railway Hotel in 1913.
Of the two pubs in town, the Railway seemed to be the preference of the locals, the day we dropped by for a beer. The main bar was busy, filled with mostly men watching sport on television, punting on the horses, between their beers.
Joseph Blackmore is the man credited with opening the pub. He was granted a license for the Family Hotel on September 6 1898, and the following day the taps were turned on for customers.
There were two pubs already trading when Blackmore opened the Family Hotel. The ‘Family’ joined Montgomery’s (later the Commercial) and the Royal. Another pub, the Grand Western was built and opened by John Frape in 1904.
The Royal closed in 1922, and the Grand Western followed on January 1 1967. Both the former pub buildings remain in Millthorpe. The Royal is now a private residence, while the Grand Western became an aged care facility.
Blackmore remained as licensee at the Family Hotel until 1910. He died at Fairfield at the age of 87 in 1920. The Freeman’s Journal described Millthorpe’s four pubs on April 29 1899:
The oldest hotel is Montgomery’s, managed by Mr George Montgomery. The others are the Family Hotel, a handsome building near the railway station, kept and owned by Mr John Blackmore, and the Royal, kept by Mrs Rose. Mr. Blackmore’s Hotel commands a view of the Canoblas, and overlooks a wide area of agricultural country. Being within a few yards of the railway station, and possessing first-class convenience for travellers, it is necessarily the rendezvous of commercial gentlemen and visitors. From Montgomery’s Hotel, built on a rising ground in the principal business street of the town, a fine panoramic view is obtained of the mountains, the soothing, balmy breezes from which seem to give one new life and strength. It is a well-kept hotel is Montgomery’s, the sitting and bed rooms being furnished with all the luxuriant elegance of the best houses, all scrupulously clean, with that snugginess (sic) about them which suggests home comfort.
The Railway Hotel still has many of its original fittings, particularly to the rear of the building, where beautifully worn tiles lead you to the toilets and upstairs’ accommodation quarters. The stairwell is intact, and features turned woodwork railings and posts. Finishing our drinks, we wandered up the road, along the footpath and under the post supported veranda roofs that grace the business houses, until, after a short walk, we came across the Commercial Hotel.
The Commercial is Millthorpe’s oldest pub. It’s a beauty; a corner brick pub, with a veranda slung around either side.
The interior of the historic watering hole has been modernised, and shows little resemblance to the original bar and dining rooms. In saying that though, the pub retains plenty of atmosphere.
Leaning on the bar, you can almost hear the ghosts of countless farmers and fettlers enjoying their ‘long beers’ within the walls of this great old pub that has traded for almost 140 years.
The Commercial Hotel – albeit under a different name – has been serving beer way before there was a Millthorpe.
Originally known as Spring Grove, Alexander and Charlotte Montgomery opened a pub at would later become Millthorpe in 1879. It was the settlement’s first commercial building.
The Spring Grove Hotel traded under that name until 1885 when the town gained a new moniker – Millthorpe. With the town’s name change, the hotel became known as Montgomery’s Hotel.
Montgomery hosted the pub until his death at the age of 53, with his widow, Charlotte taking the reins in 1889. Charlotte died at the age of 60 in 1896.
After Charlotte’s death, her son George ran the pub until it was sold to John Frape in 1906. Frape changed the name of the pub to the Commercial, which was run by Martha Munro for many years.
From the Commercial, we left Millthorpe for a 30 minute drive to the small rural settlement of Neville. I didn’t know what to expect at Neville, and was a little apprehensive, as it’s a fair way off the main road.
After our arrival, and downing my first schooner at the Neville Hotel, I knew the detour had been worth the effort.
A little later research, I found that the Neville Hotel was a descendent of an colonial coaching inn, known by the name of the Number One Hotel.
The Number One Hotel was established in 1874 to service the travelling public along what was originally the Lachlan Road between Rocklea and Cowra. Like Millthorpe, a village would later develop around Neville’s pub.
The village was known by different names before Neville was finally settled upon in 1888. Neville’s previous names included, “No-one swamp” or “Number one Swamp” (after a nearby creek) and Macquarie, in reference to former NSW Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, and then the nearby Mount Macquarie.
Robert McKell licensed the Number One Hotel in 1874. The pub was described by the Adelaide News on January 19 1928 as being situated at Neville, “on the road to Bathurst” and had “a corrugated iron window”. A notice on the front of the structure read, “Skins Bought Here”. It traded as a single storey wayside inn, until it was totally destroyed by fire on July 1 1926. All that remained of the pub after the fire was a few charred posts and the stable.
We ordered a couple of rump steaks for lunch, which were reasonably priced, as two men made themselves comfortable around an open fire on the veranda. It was chilly outside, but I reckon they preferred to brave the chill outside, stoking the flames, where they could happily enjoy a ‘smoke’ with their beer. It looked like it may have been a weekend ritual for the older bloke, who sat looking into the flames.
Lunch done, we were offered a few tips by the barmaid as to the best way back onto the Mid Western Highway to continue our road trip onto our last port of call – The Wombat Hotel.
We stopped briefly to photograph a few pubs along the 148km of the Mid Western Highway, and onto the Olympic Highway, before reaching Wombat and its most popular structure – the pub.
A survivor from at least half a dozen pubs that once serviced the rural settlement established on gold, the Wombat pub was built by George Anderson in 1903.
Royal Hotel, Wombat September 1939. Photo: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian national University.
The single storey brick pub replaced a timber structure, with timber shingled roof, established as the Royal Hotel. I believe it had previously traded as a general store from 1863.
The first publican, Myer Solomon gained a license for the general store, which had also sold wine and spirits, in December 1876.
Contrary to some reports stating that the Wombat Hotel has the longest continual license in NSW, my research has found that the pub was unlicensed for 10 years between 1885 and 1895. During this time though, the Royal traded as an unlicensed inn, servicing Cobb & Co coaches.
Myer Solomon was born at Dapto, on the NSW South Coast on January 3 1837, later marrying Julia Rebecca Barnett in 1856, before they travelled to London later in the year to visit his new wife’s parents.
Julia gave birth to a son in England in 1857 before the three travelled back to Sydney, where Myer established a trading business.
Word that gold had been discovered in the Young district of NSW enticed the Solomons from Sydney. They established a general store at Wombat later that year, with Myer also gaining a number of gold leases.
The Solomons’ store was held-up by Ben Hall’s bushrangers in 1863. Hall’s gang included John O’Meally and Johnny Gilbert who were dressed in police uniforms. They bailed-up and stole £250 worth of goods from the Solomons. The Burrangong Star reported in February 1863:
On Saturday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, four men accoutred as troopers, rode up to this store with three pack-horses. Upon entering they bailed up the inmates. Mr. Solomon fired at one of them and grazed his neck – he suspects, and states, that they were Gardiner, Gilbert, John O’Mealley, and his cousin. A young lad in Mr Solomons’ employ, presented a revolver at one of the bushrangers, and was about to fire, when the bushranger, supposed to be Gardiner, placed a revolver at the head of Mrs Solomon, and threatened to blow her brains out if he did. Whilst this was going on the bushrangers coolly commenced to sort and pack up such goods in the store as they fancied-selecting some prints and female clothing, which they remarked would suit the women. Taking up some tins of lollies, they began to eat them, remarking that they would do for the children. Some gin was in a bottle, which they took, but before drinking they compelled Mrs Solomon to swallow a portion of it, fearing, perhaps, it was poisoned. The time they were in the store was about two hours and a half, and whilst they were there, they made use of the most flash, disgusting language-cracked their ribald jests, and whilst plundering their unfortunate victim, coolly drank his gin and consumed his lollies. The ruffian, supposed to be Gardiner, ordered and directed everything that was to be done, pushing and swearing, at the others if they did not obey his orders quick enough. Some remarks having been made by Mr Solomon about the police at Wombat Camp, one of them said – “What do we care about the bloody police? We will muster a force, go into Lambing Flat, and stick-up the bloody camp there”. They also told Solomon not to be too flash or they would serve him like they did the man at Stoney Creek, who was “too flash, and blow his bloody brains out, as they did his”. The goods stolen and carried away were clothing of all descriptions, both for men and women; amongst the rest 50 pairs of Bedford cord trousers, rations and firearms of all kinds, with ammunition, they did not leave even one for Mr. S, to protect himself with. Saddles, bridles, and jewellery, fortunately they took only the plated, not of much value; the valuable jewellery was in a case which they could not easily open, and therefore left it behind. Two horses, one of which they fancied for a saddle horse, being a very fine animal; the other they used as a pack-horse. Solomon estimates his loss at about £200.
The bushrangers were eventually caught and either shot dead by police or spent lengthy terms behind bars.
The Solomons sold the pub and returned to Sydney in 1880, where they continued a successful trading company.
Myer Solomon died aged 68 at his residence in Bourke Street Surry Hills in September 1906. His wife, who taste tested the bushrangers’ gin, would have had an entertaining dinner story to tell London’s elite when she returned to England to live out her remaining years after her husband’s death. She died there aged 71 in 1911.
After the Solomons departure from Wombat, the Royal Hotel was hosted by Abraham Dowell from 1880 before its closure as licensed premises in 1885.
The unlicensed weatherboard pub, sitting on an acre of land surrounded by a three acre vineyard, also consisted of a blacksmith shop, stables, and cottage when it was purchased by George Anderson in 1888. At the time it was the half-way house for the coach journey on the Young to Murrumburrah, Wallendbeen and Cootamundra roads.
Anderson with business partner and childhood friend, James Barnes had been successful on the goldfields around Harden.
Anderson with his wife Hannah re-licensed the pub in 1896 and ran the pub until 1905, before taking the license of the Commercial Hotel at Harden. Anderson went on to become president of the local turf club, and a council alderman before his death in 1925.
After Anderson’s death, owners of the hotel have included John Crawford, Sylvester Minehan, and William and Mary Lawler.
On the day we visited, the pub was fairly quiet. There was a farmer enjoying a beer on his own, with half a dozen locals gathered on the veranda, laughing, joking and drinking, as we arrived.
We were made to feel welcome, with the bar staff friendly and chatty.
The Wombat Hotel is a classic country pub and a must for those who enjoy what they have to offer. We finished our drinks and hit the road towards Binalong, where we photographed the historic town’s only remaining operating pub – The Binalong Hotel, and the former Royal Hotel, before making our way back along the Hume Highway to Sydney.
Royal Hotel, Wombat
Licensees 1876 – 1980
1876 – 1880: Myer Solomon
1880 – 1885: Abraham Dowell
Hotel closed in 1886.
Hotel re-licensed in March 1896
1896 – 1905: George Anderson
1905 – 1907: John Dacey
1907 – 1910: John T. Patterson
1910 – 1910: William H. Haddon
1910 – 1913: John J. Sinderberry
1913 – 1914: James Joseph Dwyer
1914 – 1915: Michael Coffey
1915 – 1919: Cecil J. Ravenswood
1919 – 1920: Thomas J. Conlon
1920 – 1921: William Bucklee
1921 – 1921: John E. Dalley
1921 – 1923: V. Murphy
1923 – 1925: A. J. Hassal
1925 – 1926: L. C. Lillie
1926 – 1927: Olive J. Lillie
1927 – 1928: J. L. Duell
1928 – 1937: James M. Pratt
1937 – 1939: Sylvester D. Minehan (freehold owner)
1939 – 1940: John C. Burdoe
1940 – 1941: Alfred W. McPhilamy
1941 – 1941: Lloyd H. Hort
1941 – 1942: Norma O. M. Graham
1942 – 1942: Sylvester D. Minehan
1942 – 1943: Mark Mayoh
1943 – 1943: Sylvester D. Minehan
1943 – 1944: Mary Degiden
1944 – 1944: Jack Wyatt Worlands
1944 – 1945: Ernest H. Moss
1945 – 1945: Edna Irene Hill
1945 – 1946: Frank H. Gully
1946 – 1946: Sylvester D. Minehan
1946 – 1948: James R. Charlton
1948 – 1954: Henry Percy Lewis (son-in-law of owner)
1954 – 1956: Edgar George Cook
1956 – 1958: Ronald Arthur Roberts
1958 – 1959: Frederick James Proud
1959 – 1960: Frederick James Allen
1960 – 1961: George Patrick Williamson
1961 – 1963: May Carmen Penyu
1963 – 1964: May Warren Bird
1964 – 1966: Colledge Harris
1966 – 1968: Leslie Allt
1968 – 1972: William Lawler
1972 – 1973: Mary Terese Lawler
1973 – 1974: Phillip & Helen Weller
1974 – 1976: Cecil Edward Mahony
1976 – 1979: Robert Stanley Shepherd
1979 – 1980: John and Margaret Ann Booth