YOU could be forgiven for thinking you are looking at an old English inn, and not an inner-city Melbourne pub when first setting eyes on the Mitre Tavern. Melbourne City Council documents it as its oldest building.
Less than five years after Melbourne was founded, a private residence was built in a subdivision on the corner of Collins Street and Bank Place. The two-storey structure would serve as a residence for 28 years before becoming the Mitre Tavern in 1868.
William Thompson, a vintner or wine maker gained a publican’s license for the house on April 3 1868 to be called the Mitre Tavern. Two months later, on June 9, Henry Thompson, who was managing the pub, took over the license. Henry Thompson hosted the tavern until 1872, later going on to run the Railway Hotel at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Street.
Under a succession of licensees the Mitre has remained a tavern for over 150 years. The Melbourne Dog Club had its inaugural meeting and many more in later years at the Mitre Tavern. The patronage of hunting, coursing and racing men made a sportsman’s rendevous of the Mitre and we find the first Victorian Polo Club, regularly meeting there. Names perpetuated in many Victorian streets and towns were on the membership list – Sir Redmon Barry, Captain Standish, Robert Power, Reginald Bright, Finlay Campbell and Edward Fanning among them.
Then, as now, the courts and officials of law were to be found in the vicinity and from nearby Temple Court and Chancery Lane came distinguished patrons. Sir Bryan O’Loghlen, J.L. Purves, K.C. Charles Miller and Walter Coldham all knew the Mitre well.
The little tavern stayed as the city grew and, in 1923, an order was issued that six bedrooms be added, the kitchen renovated and the words ‘Accomodation for Visitors’ be painted on the front wall. The licensee contested the order maintaining that the number and quality of the meals served there compensated the lack of accommodation and that altering the building would be an act of vandalism. Fortunately the licensee’s appeal succeeded.
In 1930 a huge crowd of bidders attended an auction which saw the tavern passed in at £22,250. It was subsequently bought by the Royal Insurance Company which planned to demolish it to make room for additions to its Collins Street building.
The Mitre stubbornly hung on until 1937 when the Company had a change of heart and reprieved the little inn again. Mr W.K. Fethers, then Manager of the Royal Insurance Company, described the Tavern’s Gothic façade as a splendid example of the architectural period. He was supported by a contemporary newspaper which said the Mitre Tavern is an architectural gem and a relic of the pioneering and hunting days. The venue was once a base for hunting deer that roamed the nearby bush.
Few people who enjoy the ales here are aware of the fact that this cosy cottage style pub spawned the name of the Mitre 10 hardware chain. Two of the founding members were drinking at the tavern when inspiration struck: ‘mitre’ is a hardware term. The ’10’ – well, it had a nicer ring to it than Mitre 2.
Across the road from the Mitre stands the Savage club, which was built by Sir William Clarke, Australia’s first baronet. The Mitre’s connection to The Clarke family is a bit unfortunate with Sir Rupert Clarke’s mistress, Connie Waugh, said to have hung herself in the Mitre. Her ghost is believed to have been seen, haunting the rooms and halls of the tavern even now.
Today the pub has become patronised largely by business people looking to escape the rush of the city or to enjoy a meal upstairs in the newly refurbished Steakhouse.
– With thanks www.mitretavern.com
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