Bedford Hotel, Redfern

Bedford Hotel Redfern 1949 ANU

The Bedford Hotel at the south-west corner of what is today Gibbson and Lawson Streets, Redfern, August 1930. Note the Redfern Railway Station building to the extreme right. Photo: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. 


WHAT gave a pub beside Redfern Railway Station its sustenance to thrive, ironically would also lead to its ultimate demise.

The Bedford Hotel thrived most its 87 years as result of trade generated from its location beside busy Redfern Railway Station. The pub traded at the south-west corner of what is today Gibbson and Lawson Streets before it was eventually resumed by the Railway Department and forced to close in 1952.

Three pubs have served-up beer from the corner, each pushed further east as Redfern Railway Station’s platforms grew in the numbers.

First known as the Darlington Inn, the pub was licensed by Alexander McDonald on April 18 1865 on what was then the corner of Wells and Rosehill Streets, when Redfern, aided by its closeness to Sydney, thrived as a densely populated residential inner-city suburb.

The first railway in NSW ran from Redfern to Parramatta in 1855.

Redfern Station, further north of today’s platforms – nearer to Central – was the train terminus, where horse drawn vehicles travelled to Pitt Street to Circular Quay, from 1861 to 1865. 

McDonald hosted the Darlington Inn from 1865 to 1871, when Jacob Blake took the reins for most of the 1870s. Besides workers from the nearby rail yards, the Darlington Inn was frequented by the thirsty folk of the surrounding residential and industrial suburbs.

The pub’s name was changed to the Bedford Hotel in 1880, prior to the opening of a new Eveleigh (later Redfern) Railway Station.

The pub was named after Francis Charles Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford, an English politician and agriculturalist who died in 1891, aged 71 after shooting himself in London, as a result of insanity.

Fortuitously for Thomas Fagan, the Bedford Hotel’s publican, the new Eveleigh Railway Station opened in 1885, virtually in his backyard. The pub sat within steps of the new platforms.

Bedford Hotel Redfern 1890

The Bedford Hotel 1893. Photo: The Australian Town and Country Journal.

By the 1890s the Bedford Hotel was a two storey brick structure with balcony. Along with rail travellers and the surrounding industrial workers, the pub would have had an assortment of drinkers fronting its bar.

The Australian Town and Country Journal reported in March 1893 that the Bedford was the nearest hotel to Eveleigh Station, and was “well known as one of the best conducted houses in the district. Mr Palmer, the proprietor, is the secretary of the local branch of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association”. 

Despite the Journal’s assertion that the pub was well conducted, it did on occasions have had its characters frequenting the bar.

The Sydney Evening News reported in September 1893 that ironworker, James Watson, 21, was fined five shillings and sent to gaol for three days for drunkenness, and for failing to pay nine pence for his liquor, served to him by publican, Ernest John Palmer.

The pub was rebuilt in 1903, as a “modern three-storey brick building, with slate roof, 16 rooms and offices”. The pub was said to be designed by architect, Mr Halligan, and constructed by A. E. Boroughs, builder, of Surry hills. This new pub would trade for less than 10 years, and was demolished in 1911 when the Railway Department resumed about 40 lots on the east side of the railway to add platforms six, seven and eight to the Redfern Station. The demolition sale of “Roger’s Bedford Hotel” took place in February 1911.

The third Bedford Hotel was built on land even further east of the original, facing Gibbson Street in 1911, with Tooth and Company gaining the head lease.

redfern station schooner 1911

Redfern Railway Station in 1911, showing the construction of platforms six, seven and eight. The beer mug in the top right corner of this image shows the site of the Belford Hotel, which had to be demolished to make way for the extension of the railway viaduct.

The pub continued to be frequented by notorious characters during this period, with Harry Young had a remarkable escape when 27-year-old Lillian Lee fired four shots at him in the public bar of the Bedford in 1919.

One bullet from the revolver struck Young on the left hand and two others slightly grazed his back, one being diverted by a button on his trousers and the other lodging in a packet of cigarettes that he had in his hip pocket.

Lee, who had been living with Young said she shot him after he left her for another woman. She said she only meant to scare him.

Lee, who was charged with wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, was acquitted after Young, a Chinese immigrant, refused to testify.

The addition of another two platforms to Redfern Station – nine and 10 – in the 1950s finally sounded the death knell for the Bedford Hotel.

Bedford Hotel Redfern August 1930 ANU

The Bedford Hotel at the south-west corner of what is today Gibbson and Lawson Streets, Redfern, 1949, shortly before its closure in 1952. Photo: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. 

This time, unable to move any further to the east, the pub was cornered. The Bedford Hotel was resumed by the Railways and was forced to close for business on March 14 1952. The last publican of the Bedford Hotel was Norman Brooker.

The license of the Redfern pub was transferred to Sydney’s more spacious western suburbs, eventually allowing the Stockade Hotel to open in Lalor Park on August 31 1960.

Today part of the site where the Bedford Hotel traded, at the corner of Gibbson and Lawson Streets, is known as Lawson Square.

Bedford Hotel site Redfern NSW 2018 Google

The south-west corner of Gibbson and Lawson Streets, Redfern, where once the Bedford Hotel traded. Photo: Google Streetview.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018


Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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