TUCKED away in a quiet back-street off busy Parramatta Road in the tiny inner-west suburb of Forest Lodge, 4km from the Sydney CBD, can be found an interesting pub, named after the suburb in which it trades.
The Forest Lodge Hotel sits at the corner of Arundel and Forest Streets, and was built and first licensed by James Biss in May 1866.
James Biss was a carpenter and builder, arriving in Sydney with his wife, Mary Ann in 1855. James was 39, and Mary Ann 35, when they entered the hotel trade.
Arundel Street is the original alignment of Parramatta Road, for many years the principal thoroughfare of the colony of NSW. When Biss opened his pub in 1866, drays, coaching traffic and pedestrians were constantly passing his front door.
The Forest Lodge was the first pub met before the climb over the last big hill, where teamsters could rest and refresh before the ascent into Sydney Town.
Biss sold the business to George Reynolds in 1871 when the pub was described as having a bar, seven rooms, cellar, kitchen, and shed. Biss went on to host the Captain Cook Hotel at Ashfield in 1871 before swapping his publican’s apron for a carpenter’s hammer. He died at his residence in Redfern in August 1877 at the age of 50.
Entertainer, singer and actor, Tom Rainford, who first came to Australia in 1863 as part of Christy’s Minstrels, a blackface musical troupe, who performed numbers like My Home in Kentucky and Poor Old Jeff, was another high profile publican of the Forest Lodge.
Born in Leicester, England, Tom reportedly swam ashore after being shipwrecked as a young man off the African coast, and was said to have sung five times before Queen Victoria.
With his fine bass voice, he was known for his portrayal of the character of Dick Dead-Eye in ‘Pinafore,’ and other similar characters in comic opera.
His success resulted in him deciding to stay in Australia. He performed with a number of ‘Minstrels’ and in 1868 sang in a concert for the visiting Duke of Edinburgh.
Rainford was also a composer and arranger. Among his known works are a song Christmas Bells (1894) and the piano music for Beneath the Southern Cross (1888).
By January 1879 when he sang at the NSW Highland Society’s celebration of Robert Burns’ birthday, Tom Rainford was living permanently in Sydney.
Rainford was the licensee of the Forest Lodge Hotel from 1879 to 1884, where he hosted meetings of the Derwent Cricket Club and the Glebe Cricket Association.
In June 1880 his brother-in-law Henry Charles Farley, a wealthy Queensland gold prospector, was staying at the Forest Lodge Hotel.
One night while out on the town, he failed to return.
Farley was found dead on a Newtown street, minus his watch, valued at £60, stolen from his body and pawned by an opportunistic thief. An inquest found he had died after taking “a fit”.
Rainford continued teaching music after retiring as host of the Forest Lodge Hotel in 1884. His wife Marian Jane ‘Jennie’ died on Boxing Day 1887 at the age of 39.
The entertaining publican died at his Glebe residence, at the age of 73, after suffering a stroke in 1906.
Business became a lot slower at the Forest Lodge Hotel when in the 1880s it was decided to make a cutting next to Arundel Street, and re-route Parramatta Road to its current path.
The hotel survived though, servicing the surrounding residential and industrial areas, as well as the nearby university.
Another colourful publican at the Forest Lodge was Ernie Coyle, who had the pub from August 16, 1937 to February 14, 1940.
While Coyle was applying for the license of the Westminster Hotel on Broadway in 1941, it was revealed that during the time he hosted the Forest Lodge, 24 persons had been convicted for buying liquor during prohibited hours.
Despite the strenuous police opposition, Coyle was eventually granted the licence of the Westminster Hotel.
Brewery giant, Tooth and Company, purchased the Forest Lodge Hotel in March 1905.
One hundred years from its establishment, the brewery demolished the historic pub and replaced it with the current building in 1965 at a cost of £75,745. The new pub, designed by architect, J.W. Hellyer, was completed in December 1966.