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The Waggs created quite a stir

In the third of an occasional series, GARETH WINTER traces the history of Masterton’s original hotel, from construction in the 1870s to its demise in the 1950s.

Masterton’s first hotel, the ‘Prince of Wales’ had many publicans throughout its lifetime. Among them were Thomas Wagg and his wife Phoebe.

Thomas Wagg was born in Longford by Newport, Shropshire, England in 1824. Longford is a small village, the site of a battle in the English Civil War. His wife Phoebe Pearson was born St Martins, Tipton, Staffordshire, England in 1826.

The family arrived in Wellington in the month of May 1855 in the ship ‘Alma’ and settled at Silverstream. The Provincial Council employed Thomas to do roadmaking at Mangaroa, but he quickly discovered that he could earn better money by working in private enterprise.

He became a partner in the Upper Hutt sawmill of Messrs Robinson and Co. Then, in conjunction with John Chew, he started a sawmilling business in the Porirua district. In 1869 the partnership with Chew was dissolved and he took over the ‘Golden Fleece’ hotel at Pakuratahi, on the southern side of the Remutaka hill road.

The Waggs remained there until 1875, but their occupation was not always without controversy. In June 1875 the Hutt Licensing Committee heard from the police that the house had been kept in a disorderly manner by Thomas Wagg, the accommodation was wanting, and coach passengers had to wade through drunken men to get to the dining room. They were encouraged to sell their interests.

Remarkably, the following year the Waggs took over the ‘Mungaroa Hotel’, following the Committee’s refusal to grant a renewal to Annie Collins. The hotel was situated at Te Marua, almost exactly at the modern entrance to the stock car racetrack. The Wagg family stayed at the ‘Mungaroa’ for two years before announcing in 1878 that they were leaving the hotel business.

Their retirement from hotels did not last long, as they took over the ‘Prince of Wales’ in Masterton from JE Thompson in January 1881. However, their start was not auspicious – in May, Thomas was accused of supplying liquor on a Sunday.

Phoebe Wagg.

An interesting glimpse of life in the hotel was provided in June 1883, when the licensing committee said their license would be renewed so long as it the hotel was better conducted than it had been for the past three months. Phoebe Wagg’s manner of dealing with staff was also called to account when Henrietta Rundlett sued for wrongful dismissal – she was demoted from being cook to serving as a maid after stuffing a turkey before cleaning it out. She told the court that Mrs Wagg “did not growl much at me. She growled more at the other servants.”

Thomas Wagg died in early January 1885. The Daily said this of him: “He was essentially a staunch, warm-hearted, straight-forward man who went through this world holding his own but at the same time helping his neighbours whenever he had the opportunity.”

Phoebe continued to operate the ‘Prince of Wales’, with assistance from their son, Thomas junior. She expanded the business and added another bar. She retired from the business in 1892, when it was taken over by Agnes Thompson who had previously run it in conjunction with her husband.

Phoebe Wagg retired to a large villa in Worksop Road, where she died in 1898. The New Zealand Times described her as “a capital business woman, hospitable but thrifty, and probably the most popular hostess in the Wellington country district.”

Thomas Wagg junior became a very successful businessman, his coach building business morphing into an automotive sales and servicing one.

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