How a thatched tavern in Adelaide’s south-west doubled as a church: The Brighton Metro Hotel

Brighton Metro Hotel, Brighton. Picture: Google Streetview

By MICK ROBERTS ©

A RESOURCEFUL woman, who outlived two publican husbands, Margaret Leahy made a few ‘firsts’ during her life as a South Australian hotelier.

At the helm of one of the state’s oldest trading pubs, she was one of the first women in South Australia to hold a driver’s license, and was a hotelier for a record half a century before her retirement in 1950.

Situated five minutes from Brighton Beach, the pub Margaret Leahy built at the corner of Sturt and Brighton Roads in 1935 continues to trade as a monument to her business skills.

The history of the Brighton Metro Hotel goes back a lot further though.

Plan of allotments at Brighton: to be sold by auction by Townsend, Botting & Co. in their auction mart, Adelaide, on Tuesday January 15 1878 at twelve o’clock noon / drawn in the office of H.M. Addison, licensed surveyor and broker under Real Property Act. Picture: National Library of Australia.

A three-room wattle-and-daub hut was first licensed on the site in 1846 by Henry Highet as the ‘Thatched Cottage’, after a historic pub of the same name in London, England.

The Thatched Cottage was more than a home and business to Highet, his wife, and nine children. Besides selling ales and spirits during the week, on Sundays, the Thatched Cottage hosted church services.

Highet’s home alternately echoed to the singing of hymns and orders for tankards.

Born in Lancashire, England on February 14, 1803, Highet arrived in South Australia by the ship Lady Lilford in 1839, accompanied by his wife and nine children. He joined the police force before turning his attention to farming at Hindmarsh Island.

Highet later went to Kangaroo Island, where he took up a farm on the Cygnet River, before settling at Brighton. He acquired considerable property at Brighton, the income of which enabled him to live comfortably in his old days.

Highet remained as host of the Thatched Cottage until he sold the business to William Voules Brown in 1851.

When he was laid to rest at the age of 90 in 1893, Highet left a wife, 15 children, 10 of whom had died, 76 grandchildren, 119 great-grand-children, and three great-great-grandchildren.

When William Voules Brown bought the “Thatched Cottage” in 1851.

Born in London on September 26,1809, William Voule Brown arrived at Kangaroo Island on the same day that the colony was proclaimed a British settlement in 1836, accompanied by his wife, Harriet and a child, who died soon after landing.

Brown first resided in Adelaide in a “dug out” on the bank of the Torrens, and afterwards removed to a wattle hut, thatched with reeds on one of the town acres. From Adelaide he removed to the Old Port, and kept a store for about four years, after which he kept a dairy at Alberton for two years. Finally he came to Brighton, and purchased the old “Thatched Cottage” from Highet, had it demolished and replaced it with a two-story hotel. He renamed the business the Thatched House Tavern. By 1857 though, Brown’s new two-storey hotel had been destroyed by a fierce blaze. The Adelaide Times reported on Monday March 16 1857:

TOTAL LOSS OF THE THATCHED HOUSE TAVERN BRIGHTON

On Friday night this well-known hotel was burnt to the ground. The particulars gleaned are as follows: The landlord, Mr William V. Brown, retired to rest at about half-past 9 o’clock on Friday evening, he being very fatigued with field-work, and Mrs Brown, who had various matters of a domestic or business character to attend to, did not retire till about 11. At that time nobody was about and the house was quiet. Some two or three hours later Mr Brown was awoke by a noise which he describes as appearing to lift the house itself.

As the horrible noise appeared to proceed from below, and smoke already had penetrated to his bedroom, he at once jumped out of bed, opened the door, ran through the bar-parlour, and found, on looking from the door of the bar, that the counter was in addition to parts of the floor completely lifted up; the beer-engine being on fire, and also various parts of the room, the flames evidently proceeding from below.

From this part of the house Mr Brown had only time to save a few trifling articles. Very soon he and Mrs Brown were compelled, to escape in a partially dressed state by the corner door of their bedroom, which opened into the yard. The fire rapidly extended from the bar to the rooms above. Mr Brown observing the flames, which now began to shoot up with a pale blue light of great intensity, immediately fetched a ladder from the stable and mounted on to the roof from the yard. The building was so formed that the upper story was almost entirely covered in by the shingle shelving roof, which rose from the leads on the first floor.

On reaching the leads Mr Brown discovered that flames were issuing from various parts of the shingles, and the moment he obtained a front view of the house he saw sheets of flame proceeding from four of the windows of the five upper bedrooms. Those rooms were unoccupied, but the fifth contained three young girls, his daughters, and his servant. With almost frantic energy he clambered up the slanting roof, caught the window sill, and threw up the window. He immediately discovered that the room was full of smoke, and the door was on fire.

The door communicated with the passage which led to the four other rooms. The first alarm Mr Brown gave to the occupants was unheeded, and his immediate impression was that they were suffocated. Recovering from the faintness thus caused, he repeated his outcries, which had the desired effect. The children awoke, screamed, and rushed to the window or sky light. He instantly caught them up one by one in his arms, and lifted them out. During this time the roof was all more or less on fire, and his feet, which were bare, were much burnt. As he removed the children, he let them fall on to the leads below. In trying to lift the servant, Ann O’Brien, out of the window, her weight caused him to press one of his legs through the burning roof, and to fall backwards, while she fell also, but eventually escaping without much injury. The children also managed to get off the roof uninjured, with the exception of a few scratches. They saved a few small articles of dress.

The moment they were got out of the room, the father saw the door fall in a mass of flames and ignite their bed. At this time no people were about, it being about two hours past midnight, and the neighbours but few, and those at wide intervals. The girls and the servant having been saved, Mr Brown roused up three of his sons who were sleeping away from the main body of the premises. The eldest boy immediately ran with only his shirt on to the chapel which is situate about 100 yards off, and at once commenced ringing the bell, while another boy ran down the road and alarmed the neighbours. A number of people were soon on the spot, still but little could then be done in the way of assistance.

Nearly the whole building was enveloped in flames, chiefly of a bluish tint, indicating the presence of spirits. No engine arrived, and even if one had, it would have been of but little use. Some furniture was saved from the long room, but fifteen rooms and their contents were totally destroyed. None of the stock-in-trade was saved. A box had been placed under the staircase, it contained £95, including £10 10s in gold and silver. The notes were, of course, burnt. The heat involved during the fire must have been unusually intense, as in some places shapeless lumps of molten glass are seen, which were formerly tumblers or bottles. The lead from the roof poured down in streams; one man was slightly burnt by a small deposit of this character. The landlord is insured for £900, which he calculates will cover half his loss. An inquest as to the origin of the fire will be held on Tuesday next.

The inquest found that the fire had started accidentally. Brown rebuilt the hotel as a brick single storey structure. He retired from business in 1870.

Interestingly he died aged 84 at Brighton, a few months before his predecessor, Highet in 1893. He left six surviving children, and a widow, Harriet, who died aged 85, in 1897.

Brighton Road, Brighton in about 1910, showing on the right side the Thatched House Tavern. A large cross stands in the south facing window of the tavern. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

While a number of licensees hosted the Thatched House Tavern over the following years, one publican, who had an uneventful stay at the pub during the late 1890s, would come to a gruesome end in 1907.

William Henry Eustace Rowe, after leaving the Thatched House Tavern, was a storekeeper when he lost his balance and fell under a train at Glenelg. Rowe fell under the wheels of the train, and was cut in half. He died almost instantly. The Express and Telegraph reported the outcome of an inquest into the former publican’s death on December 31 1906:

THE FATALITY AT GLENELG – THE INQUEST.

An inquest was held at the Jetty Hotel, Glenelg, on Saturday afternoon by the City Coroner (Dr. Ramsay Smith) concerning the death of William Henry Eustace Rowe, late of Magill-road, Norwood, who was killed on Friday evening at Glenelg.

Amy Rowe, wife of deceased, gave evidence of identification. She was standing with her husband close to the Glenalg railway line at 10.40, and as the train came in deceased caught hold of one of the carriage railings. The train did not stop immediately, and he was carried along for a short distance, and was then pushed, by the crowd, causing him to release his hold, and falling between the carriages a wheel passed over his body…

The jury, after a short retirement, found that the deceased met his death accidentally by being run over by a tram at Glenelg on Friday evening. A rider was added as follows :-“That in future the by laws should be more rigidly enforced, and better provision made for the safety of the travelling public.”

The pub’s most notable publican was undoubtedly Margaret Leahy, a career hotelier who purchased the Thatched House Tavern in 1927 for £17,000.

Margaret Leahy immediately improved the old inn, “making numerous alterations, rebuilding and refurnishing” placing the business “in line with other leading hotels”.

Margaret Meaney was the daughter of Irish settlers, who in 1899 married Michael Daly, who had worked for over a decade at the Port Pirie smelting works. After spending a couple of years on the Western Australian goldfields, the couple bought an Adelaide pub in 1904.

Together as husband and wife they would have a short stay as hosts of the Overway Hotel, at the corner of Hindley and Morphett Streets.

Michael died at the young age of 38 in 1909 as a result of “an ailment he contracted while working at the smelters”. Margaret was left to bring-up two boys and a girl, and continued as licensee of the Overway Hotel.

Margaret Daly took the license of the Duke of York Hotel on Currie Street Adelaide in 1912, which she ran with her sister, Bridget Murphy.

Margaret remarried Adelaide publican Tom Leahy in 1915.

Thomas Michael Francis Leahy was a well-known Adelaide publican, who had a number of pubs from 1903, his first being the Talbot Inn. He later hosted the Hilton Hotel at Hilton until 1913, before his marriage to Margaret Daly in 1915. After his marriage to Margaret, Tom seems to have taken a back seat to his new high profile wife. He never took a hotel license again.

From the Duke of York, Margaret took the license of the Kalgoorlie Hotel, in Hindley Street. While she was host, she sometimes assisted her publican son, John Daly at his Norwood pub.

Hotel Kalgoorlie, 1926. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

Margaret landed in hot water with the law in May 1923 after helping her son at the Norwood Hotel. A large number of customers had come from a football match into her son’s pub, and she jumped behind the bar to help.

Barmaids had to be registered with the state government in South Australia during these times, and despite Margaret holding a publican’s license, she wasn’t a registered barmaid. As a result she copped a £1 fine.

Margaret was quite an identity in and around Brighton. She was one of the first women to receive a driver’s license in Brighton during the 1920s and turned a few heads when cruising the streets in her Hudson vehicle.

A REPEAT ORDER: Mrs. M. Leahy, of the Thatched Tavern Hotel, Brighton, at the wheel of her new Hudson super six landau sedan. This is the second Hudson closed model Mrs Leahy has bought. Picture: Adelaide Advertiser, February 29, 1929.
The Halfway House, Plympton, 1955. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

By 1925, Margaret was hosting the Halfway Hotel on Anzac Highway, Plympton, before taking the license of the Thatched House Tavern in December 1927.

Margaret and Tom Leahy had the 85-year-old Thatched House Tavern demolished and rebuilt in 1935. Margaret formed a company comprising of herself, her son, Sylvester Daly, and her daughter, M. W. Player to finance the pub’s rebuilding.

The Thatched House Tavern under demolition. Picture: Adelaide Chronicle, November 7, 1935.

During the rebuilding, 21-year-old Leo Letheby, of East Glenelg was admitted to the Adelaide Hospital suffering from concussion and abrasions and a fracture of the skull. The young plumber fell from scaffolding while working on the second storey of the new hotel.

The new building was officially opened on Saturday April 25 1936 by 85-year-old, John A.V. Brown, who was born in the original pub. Brown’s father had the pub during the 1850s.

John Brown was born in the Thatched House Tavern. At the age of 86, he was given the honour of opening the new Brighton Hotel in 1936. Picture: Adelaide Advertiser, December 23, 1937.
Hotel Brighton, Brighton. Picture: The News, May 6, 1950.

The New Brighton was rebuilt at a cost of £10,000. The architects were Barrett and Glover, and the contractor Mr. A. G. Davies. Brighton residents were entertained with a dinner dance during the evening.

Sadly less than four months after the officially opening of the New Brighton, Margaret lost her second husband, with the death of 70-year-old Tom Leahy, in August 1936.

Margaret Leahy. Picture: Adelaide Mail, July 1, 1950.

Margaret sold the Brighton Hotel to Pierce’s Investments Ltd. for what was believed to be a record sum of more than £70,000 in 1950. When she retired in July 1950, she had held a hotel license for almost half a century – also thought to be a record for South Australia at the time. The Adelaide Mail reported on July 1 1950:

Beer was 4 pence a 20 ounce pint and Scotch 4 shillings and 6 pence a bottle when Mrs. M. J. Leahy started in the hotel business 50 years ago. Mrs. Leahy, owner of the Brighton Hotel, Brighton, pulled her last beer for customers yesterday before retiring from the trade. She said today when she started in 1900 labourers were paid at the most 5 shillings a day, and the best six-roomed house in Adelaide could be rented for 10 shillings a week. Bread cost 2½ pence a loaf, meat was 2½ pence a pound for best cuts, and spirits were 4 pence a nobbler. About eight breweries were making “stronger and better beer than procurable today”, said Mrs Leahy. They included West End, Walkerville, Cooper’s, Malin’s, Haussen’s, Lion Brewery, Macclesfield, and Melrose… At her new home on Anzac Highway, Plympton, she said, she would “do nothing except sit in the sun, potter round the garden, and do the housework”. Yesterday before leaving the hotel, the beer was “on the house” for old regulars.

Now trading as the Brighton Metro Hotel, the pub that Margaret Leahy built continues offering hospitality to the people of the seaside suburb.

(Can anyone tell us the date and age at death of Margaret Leahy?)

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020


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