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A sad end for the last publican of Masterton’s famous hotel

The fourth and final part of an occasional series in which GARETH WINTER traces the history of Masterton’s original hotel, from construction in the 1870s to its demise in the 1950s.

When John Tucker retired from the hotel business in 1903, he handed over control of the ‘Prince of Wales’ to Rebecca Tabor. Born Rebecca Alexander, she had married English-born George William Tabor in 1876. Things did not go well initially – in 1878 she sued her cook and waiter husband for desertion, but some months later they were reconciled, and she withdrew the charge.

The couple took up running hotels in Wellington. They ran the ‘City Hotel’ from 1885, then the ‘Albion Hotel’, before taking over the ‘Masonic Hotel’ in Cuba Street. George died in 1891, but his widow continued to run hotels in Wellington, Manawatu, and New Plymouth before taking over the ‘Prince of Wales’ in Masterton.

Her stay here was not a long one – she left after a year – but continued to operate hotels, including a spell in Sydney, before settling in New Plymouth. Following the death of her only child, her son George, she donated a large amount of money to establish a children’s ward at New Plymouth Hospital. She died in 1934.

Her place at the ‘Prince of Wales’ was taken by the Scottish-born Robert Barclay. He came to New Zealand in 1865. He was well-known as a drover, bringing many mobs of sheep over the Remutaka Hill Road. He married Australian-born Evelyn Duncan in 1882.

In the mid-1890s he was running the ‘Grosvenor Hotel’ in Hankey Street in Newtown. His experience was not to be a happy one. The hotel was damaged by fire in September 1902 but was able to be saved by the good work of the local fire brigade. But further trouble was to lay ahead for Barclay.

The June 1903 sitting of the Newtown Licensing Committee was positive about his facility, saying it was frequented by the general public and was well conducted. But there was a problem – in a very tight count, the electorate had voted for prohibition in the general election in December 1902, so there were no renewals available. The ‘Grosvenor Hotel’ was out of business and Barclay had to find a new position.

In March 1904 it was announced that Barclay would be taking over the ‘Prince of Wales’ and the Daily reported that his daughter Evelyn would sing at the farewell dinner for Rebecca Tabor and her son George, both popular community members.

The renewals of the license for the ‘Prince of Wales’ were made without any comment, but his problems with licensing committees were not over. The Masterton committee decided that it was inappropriate for local hotels to be constructed of wood, and the ‘Prince of Wales’, along with the other Masterton hostelries, was required to be rebuilt in brick and reinforced concrete. This work was well underway in July 1907, with Barclay announcing that he had made arrangements to continue business while the new hotel was being built.

A glowing review of the new hotel was printed in April 1908. Its construction in reinforced concrete was said to make it fireproof, and a special building had been constructed at the rear of the hotel to act as quarters for the staff. The Daily said the Barclays were in possession of a house that was second to none in the Wellington provincial district.

Things certainly looked rosy – at the June meeting of the Masterton Licensing Committee it was noted as being well-kept during the previous year.

The sense of wellbeing was not to last, however, as the Barclays were again caught up in a prohibition tangle. In the 1908 election, the Masterton electorate voted to go dry, and all bars were required to close the following year.

Closing time on 30 June 1909 was a momentous occasion for the patrons of the ‘Prince of Wales’. There was a haka in the bar, bagpipes in the streets and, as the fateful hour of 10 o’clock approached, patrons moved from the hotel into the street, singing ‘Auld Land Syne’. They marched up the street to the ‘Occidental’ on the corner of Park Street, then back again before slowly dispersing. The ‘Prince of Wales’ days as a hotel were over.

It continued with varying success as a private hotel, and the ground floor frontage of the hotel was converted to house retail premises. It remained intact until the late 1950s until it was demolished to make way for shops, its former site now home to Bullick Blackmore.

The last publican of the ‘Prince of Wales’, Robert Barclay, died a sad death in a private hotel in Christchurch in 1918. He had reportedly had a major operation and had also suffered from influenza but had a heart attack and died in his sleep. His wife Evelyn was living in Dunedin, where their son Robert was training to be a doctor. Their daughter Evelyn, a promising singer, had married Walter Jago, son of Masterton undertaker Thomas Jago, another noted vocalist. They both died in Masterton in 1930, five weeks apart.

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