Byron Buchanan – Stortford Lodge Hotel

Byron: Well, I’ve got a little story to tell you before we start.

Moderator: Just a minute. Not everybody knows who you are, you know. [Laughter]

Byron: I reckon I can see about … ninety percent were my customers. [Laughter]

Moderator: Nice to see everybody here this evening. And I gather that there’s quite a few of ex-Stortford Lodge people here?

Byron: Hands up! Oh brother! Thank you, thank you, thank you! [Chuckle]

Moderator: So, it’s my pleasure to introduce Byron Buchanan for those who don’t know he is, and I think most do. But anyhow, we hope to have a very interesting … ‘bout half an hour or so … and some anecdotes. Thank you, Byron.

Byron: [Applause] I was going to tell a little story, and I’ll repeat it – I haven’t told them, sorry:

A man was telling his neighbour, “I’ve just bought a new hearing aid. It costs me $4000. But it’s the state-of-the-art. Absolutely perfect.” “Really?” answered the neighbour. “What kind is it?” “12:30”. [Laughter]

Anyway, you wouldn’t read about it but I left my introductory page at my home. I had some little additions to put on it, so I just scribbled out the introduction again. So away we go.

Thanks to Shirley McKay for inviting me here. It has revived a lot of very happy memories of The Lodge, which I’m going to share with you now. Thanks also to Grant – there’s Grant over there – who’s done all the photographs of the hotel, and assembled them all, and done a marvellous job on them.

I also have bought – you’ll see them scattered round here – some of the old staff. I shouldn’t say some of the ‘old’ staff! Some of the staff that actually slaved for me over a period of years, and they’re here to help me to answer some of the curly questions that no doubt some of you guys are going to shoot. So I’m prepared. So there we are. Now I’m now onto page two – that was the introductory one. And this is my story about The Lodge from 1953 to 1988, as I recall it.

The Stortford Lodge Hotel was named after the town of the Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire in the UK. Any of you people know that area? Anyway, it was built by William Stock. It was first established in 1884 on the corner of Maraekakaho Road and Gordon Road, and alongside a trotting track. There’s a photograph of the old hotel, and there it is, there.  [Shows slide]  That’s when it was by the trotting track. That was moved down to the corner, and that’s  [shows slide]  when I started altering it – a few further alterations there. It was cut in half and moved by traction engine during 1898. It actually got stuck in a dip in the road on the way from that corner to our corner, and had to have a second engine to pull it out.

The grandstand for the racing club was also shifted, and that was Sawyer’s. You remember Sawyer’s, the furnishing people? Yeah.

The next picture of the horses – it’s coming up – they’re very slow, the horses … there they are. They’re outside the hotel. In those days, we had … there were stables and paddocks for horses to graze in. And one very famous house, one they called Moifaa, won the 1904 Grand National in the UK. King Edward VII, who watched the race, purchased the horse, and when the King died in 1910, Moifaa followed the gun carriage that carried the coffin through the streets of London, with the boots … the King’s boots were reversed in the stirrups.

After we bought the hotel, we found that twenty-five percent of the business was conducted after hours.  [Laughter]   We were an out-of-town pub, that when we took it over from Bob Croft in 1953 – a lot of you folk here will remember Bob Croft? Bob was a wrestler of some note and a character. One of the stories about Bob was the day that he raffled a saddle. Jack Murphy … some of you folk’ll remember Jack Murphy, the drover … well Jack won it, and when he   [it]   was presented to him, he said, “You bastard – that’s my saddle!”

We used to run a free bus from Westerman’s corner in Hastings to pick up customers and return them when the pub closed. That’s how far out of town we were in 1953 – we ran a bus to go and get a few more customers. A service started at nine am and continued every half-hour until nine o’clock. Those the days of six o’clock closing.

The next photo shows… Arthur Hughes, that’s right. Phil McCulloch, who was the licensee of the Central Hotel in Napier, and I purchased the Stortford Lodge Hotel in 1953. And up here you’ll see we paid £21,000 for it … £21,000. That is the sale document. We raised the money to buy the hotel with a first mortgage of £8,000 with the Bank of New South Wales, a second mortgage of £10,000 with the Public Trust. We didn’t actually put any money in ourselves. It took six weeks to agree on the valuation of the stock and the chattels, and the remaining £3,000 was paid out of the takings, so we went in without paying a penny. The total furnishings of the hotel were sold at auction – that’s how rough it was – for £41.   [Chuckles]

Now the next shot shows the toilets … here are the toilets – that’s the ladies’ toilet. [Chuckles] And the men’s toilet was alongside, and they weren’t attached to the hotel; they were aside from the hotel so when it was wet you needed an umbrella, or quick run, to the toilet.

Anyway, Phil McCulloch who purchased the hotel with me, pulled out of the partnership and my parents took over the running of the hotel, and they really put The Lodge on the map. Father and I had been in the wholesale wine and spirit business in Napier for six years and in Paeroa for a number of years before taking over the hotel, so we were used to trading with hotels.

The Stortford Lodge was amongst two hundred hotels that I called on, from Featherston to Wanganui to New Plymouth and King Country, and back home. That used to take me a week. For the next two week or three weeks I’d be at home. We’d be bottling gin and bottling brandy, and … really was, it was flat out. Anyway, so I was used to the hotels. The Stortford Lodge had the most appeal for potential for the future, because Hastings was building out the way.

Pictures of the bar … have a look at those guys. He worked for a number of years … that’s the barman there. Real characters, anyway. Our staff consisted of a manager, a barman, a cook, a housemaid and two casual barmen, and the total wage bill … the total wage bill for one week was £65/10/1d [chuckles] … £65/10. In today’s language, those staff were paid $140 dollars. Unreal, isn’t it? And the turnover was approximately $1,500 a week. And looking forward to the future, we purchased four houses in Stortford Street, and the last was demolished in 1973.

One section we built with the Totalisator Board to try to restrict the bookmakers in the hotel. [Discussing slide] That TAB closed, and in the village now there’s still a small pub where the TAB was.

And in the paddocks where the horses grazed, we planted potatoes. Mr Lawrence Patrick Mahora Sweeney … anybody recall Sweeney? You do? Patrick Mahora Sweeney – known as the ‘mayor of Mahora’, another one of our regular customers. After we planted the potatoes he came in with his tractor and cut them up. We had the biggest crop of potatoes I’d ever seen. The land had never been turned over for years. The area that’s been planted up here as you can see here, in gardens bowling green and croquet lawn. And before we sowed the grass seed for the bowling green, the ground was dug out two feet deep, and sixteen tons of glass and clinker were laid to create a base so that no worms would survive. So there was [were] no worm casts. There’s a photograph of the lawn. The reason for the croquet lawn was because our family were addicts – absolute addicts – they were champions. Father and Mother won the Irish Croquet Doubles when they were on tour over at [??] . My sister Gloria was a New Zealand champion; brother Bruce was also a champion player. He won several titles in the North Island Championships and in one, beat his father in singles and final. Bruce was also a runner-up in the Australian Doubles side, so I’ve got a very sporting family. I was into golf … I was Junior champion at the Napier Golf Club in 1948 – sixty-four years ago! And I’m still hitting the ball!

How did we manage to survive? You’re not going to believe these prices. This is 1954. 1954 – accommodation for dinner, bed and breakfast was twenty-one shillings a day. Twenty-one shillings a day … ten shillings for the room, three shillings for breakfast, three and six[pence] for lunch and four and sixpence for dinner. Could you imagine? Did you hear that right? Yeah. Two dollars and ten cents … two dollars and ten cents for dinner, bed and breakfast! Unreal.

Anyway, after spending some thousands of pounds on upgrading accommodation to the dining room, we felt justified in increasing the tariff to thirty-five shillings a day! That’s $3.50 – big rise. A businessman from Auckland complained to the Price Control Division that we’d over-charged him. The Price Control wrote to us saying that we were wrong in increasing our charges without their permission. Oh, a tough guy. Oh, the tough guy! We in turn sent a report back to [on] the sort of people he and his friends were. We considered they were drunken bores. [Chuckles] We didn’t let it [???].

Another instance of bureaucratic work happened when we were in the midst of building improvements … Stortford Lodge history. Inspector Conway of the Hastings Police reported to the Licensing Committee that work on the house side of the hotel – they thought we spent all the money on the bar – the work on the house side of the hotel had ceased. Well, my father was a journalist, and he wrote this tidy little letter to … my father wrote to our solicitor stating ‘that such inaccurate reports from the Police should be brought to the attention of the Committee. Finally, I would commit in writing my indignation that a Magistrate should, in open court, cast insinuations of dishonesty! The magistrate’ … Mr Harlow? [Chuckles] I can see some of you have broken the traffic laws! [Chuckles] ‘The Magistrate, Mr Harlow, remarked to the [?Licensing?] Committee that the expenditure analysis should be investigated by the Police; can have no other construction; that he doubted its accuracy – not only a reflection of myself,’ … this is my father, right? ‘Not only a reflection myself, but also the professional integrity of our accountants. If there is a repetition of such arrogant insinuations against my character, I’ll ask you, my solicitor, to institute remedial measures which must be availed to the public under these circumstances.’ Didn’t leave him in doubt.

Anyway, while I’m on the subject of bureaucrats: The Price Control division recommended that we charge ninepence for nine ounces of beer … ninepence for nine ounces of beer – the Price Control division. Another department came in – the Price Tribunal – ordered us to serve eight and a half ounces for eightpence. Could you imagine? Anyway, in 1958 my father sent a telegram to the Prime Minister, Walter Nash, saying that beer served in nine-ounce glasses – it would be impossible to measure out eight and a half ounce glasses … eight and half ounces in a nine-ounce glass. This was the Prime Minister’s reply … anyway, just a small aside … Arnold Nordmeyer, who was the first New Zealand-born Prime Minister – he was born in New Zealand in 1901 – he introduced what was called the Black Budget. You older guys’ll know all about that. Some of you will remember, the duty on beer, wine, and tobacco increased dramatically. The opposition MP said the rise would hurt the poor smokers the hardest. I can recall the price of a packet cigarettes going from thrupence to fourpence about 1950 a rise of thirty-three and a third percent. I stopped smoking on that day. [Laughter] That’s the Scotch in me! Not in me – in my ancestry, sorry.

On another occasion the Police ordered us to take out of the public bar, seats which we provided for a couple of our old customers. Seats were not allowed in the public bar. However, it doesn’t stop there – how about this one? In 1962, a member of Parliament, Mr P Blunsfield opposed minors under twenty-one being allowed in liquor restaurants … in licensed restaurants, and he stated – this was his statement: “Atmosphere created by soft light, sweet music, and strong drink, combine to make a drug worse than opium! [Laughter] Girls will go out with the highest bidder! And men will beg, borrow and steal to take the girls out in their best frocks!” [Laughter] Anyway, getting back to the hotel.

My parents were great hosts and treated their patrons and guests with respect. After putting accommodation in order, we had the pleasure of hosting at various times many VIPs, including two Prime Ministers, Sid Holland and Keith Holyoake, some of the Queen’s own entourage when they arrived.

Many fundraising efforts were made in the hotel, and a couple of fundraisers I recall were the IHC [Intellectually Handicapped Children] – the penny pile. [Shows slide] That’s the penny pile. A pile of pennies was built, collected from hotels in the area, and some of you may remember these hotels: the Albert, the Carlton, Fernhill, Eardsley (Havelock North), the Grand, Mayfair, Pacific and The Lodge. We all combined and all put our pennies in. And this is the result here – the penny pile was built on the floor of the private bar of the hotel, which had to be strengthened to take the weight. They weighed about a ton. A hydraulic jack was necessary to push them over. Those pennies raise about £750 … in pennies. Amazing! Plus the £21 that Mr Brown, a storekeeper here, paid to push it over.

Another function we had for the IHC there was the Jessie Owens dinner. Jessie Owens was a famous USA runner who broke three world records in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Hitler didn’t stay for the presentations. We put on a dinner at the hotel with Jessie Owens as our guest speaker. He gave a wonderful speech and got a standing ovation. We also had a champagne breakfast. Those functions raised hundreds of dollars for IHC.

There’s the golf team there. The hotel entertained the Hawke’s Bay Freyberg golf team. That was the 1961 Rose Bowl.

The best times I enjoyed the hotel … when six o’clock closing applied. Those were the days when Tomoana and Whakatu Freezing Works were operating. There was a pool of some three thousand customers there, and there were only half a dozen hotels to cater for them. We exercised, and we were able to then – we exercised great control, and if any customers played up – “Out!” We’d empty them out of the hotel. “And don’t come back!”

You will see a notice here on the bar … what’s it say up here? You can’t read it? You will see a notice placed on the door of the private bar: ‘No Māori Women Admitted.’ Boy Tomoana, a senior Māori, and some of you know Boy Tomoana? Some of you may have worked with him. Boy Tomoana had heard about the sign and ordered us to remove it. In those days we had guards on the doors to ban the gangs with patches, or any other [un]desirables. We then went until ten o’clock closing until that was extended until all hours of the night. And it’s just a shame, really … however, that’s the way it is.

The kitchen and the dining room were upgraded and we applied for a dance permit for the dining room. We applied for dance. We were granted a dancing permit, providing it shut at ten o’clock. Could you imagine – having dancing shutting at ten o’clock? However, that’s the way it is.

The next one is a table d’hote menu. There it is, there. The table d’hote menu, 1974. You’ll see by the next photo that a great deal of effort [went] to make The Lodge the place to go for hospitality. The dining room, which would do justice to any five star hotel. We developed a House bar, a Ladies bar, an Escorts bar, a Private bar and a Public bar, in addition to the dining you see here, and all those had toilets attached. They weren’t outside, they were built inside. The Hastings Lions Club held their meetings there. Weddings were also featured. One wedding I recall was Mick Duncan. He had three hundred guests at his.

This is what we did to attract customers in the early days – house guests found miniature bottles of spirits – I brought one with me. The cost now for that is $4. Now if you recall, that’s more than dinner, bed, and breakfast cost in 1954. 1954, you could get dinner, bed and breakfast for that. Unreal, isn’t it? We also put electric blankets on the beds – which were new at that time. Counter lunch [snacks] was provided in the bars at five fifteen each night – sausages, saveloys cut into finger-sized portions, and chips. In 1953 when we took over the hotel, we shouted every third drink – we were trying to get business up to our place. If you had two drinks, we’d buy the third one for you.

The markup on the price of beer in those days was a hundred percent, so we finished up only making thirty-three and a third. How’ve I survived? The new public bar had nearly two thousand square feet – there it is – two thousand square feet. The public bar counter here was a hundred feet in circumference, and that needed six barmen. You see all the tills here? Till, till, till … keep ringin’. [Chuckles] And we had a big bar there, between five and six [o’clock]. We soon found out that the space taken by customers needed enlarging. We took that bar out and replaced it with a serving area no longer than ten feet, with only two barmen serving, one selling jugs, bottles and glasses, and the other taking the money. [Chuckles]

Here are some photographs of the hotel staff, which I trust will bring some of you happy memories. Anybody recognise any of those there? Noel Cosford? He was a barman for many, many years. Baldy Christensen – some great stories about him. Shorty? Something I was going to tell you about Baldy Christensen – this is Baldy here. Baldy used to deliver milk in cans … in big, big cans, and he was tough – he really was. And he would come … ten o’clock after he finished delivering all the milk, and arrive, and he’d always just look around –and he always had a challenge. People understand what the lazy stick is? Some of you older guys would know what a lazy stick ..? It was a challenge, and it was a stick that long, and he would sit on the floor, feet against each other, and he reckoned he could pull anybody backwards. He was one tough hombre. Baldy Christensen. Okay.

And now I’ll get on with the – another little incident – the Hotel Workers’ Union. We employed twenty permanent and twenty casuals. In 1982 we wished to change the rosters of the staff. One member, Mrs. Smith, and that is her name – I think she’s still here – told us we couldn’t change the rosters without giving a week’s notice. The changes meant three hours’ work less for her. Well she lost no time in contacting the union organiser, Simon Wallace, who put a motion to the staff. And the motion read … this motion was stuck in my throat … ‘That we don’t accept a cut in hours; that all employed staff be retained; that extra labour involved be carried by the company until they leave; that we take strike action from midday Saturday until midday on Monday.’ Anyway, I called in to the Union office in Napier and spoke to the manager, and told her of the arrogant manner of the organiser. She called Wallace into the office where she made him apologise for his attitude. That strike that he called never eventuated. That same year the Hotel Workers’ Union were demanding a rise … listen … of 14.9% … a rise in wages of 14.9%. They said, “Now to cover that, put ten cents on the price of a jug of beer, and that would solve the problem.” Unreal. Thank goodness those days are behind us.

This was our first bottle store, established in the front of the lounge of the hotel – you can see what year it was by the cars – and the new bottle store.

Many of our staff were with us for over eighteen years … John Norris, just sitting over the back here, whom some of you all know, worked there over forty years? We shifted into the new store in 1974, and there’s a photograph of the Drive-in somewhere. Can some of you people remember those staff there? The cooks and maids and … there’s Vera. Vera looked after House bar, I think … how long, Vera? Fifteen years … ‘bout fifteen years.

[Discussing slide] Oh, there’s John, there! John’s sitting behind you over here. He slaved for the old company there as I say, for about forty years, did a marvellous job. And I can always remember John, when there was ladies around, he was head man – he said “Ma’am”, he said “can I take your parcel out for you?” [Laughter] He was a wonderful member of the staff there, John. Absolute wizard, yeah.

We shifted into the new store in 1974. We thought it was big, but after six weeks of trading we increased the size by fifty percent. Some people in the trade said it’d be a white elephant, but it was just the opposite.

One of the big sellers at that time were flagons of beer. Anyway, on a Saturday we used to sell two thousand flagons. Some of the staff – there’s Roy Beard filling up the flagons – he was an expert. There were four lanes in the Drive-in store.

Anyway, that’s a photograph in the cellars, and the cellars have now have been closed. That’s Gloria, my other sister, there. The cellar there – we used to have lots and lots of wonderful functions down there. The Wine & Food Society had functions there … Paul Muller … all the nice wines were down there, and many tastings we had there. Forty years later … forty years later, it was deemed illegal because the exit didn’t conform to the new laws. It was a wonderful cellar; a thousand square feet; beautifully laid out; carpeted; functions; everything.

[Looking at staff photos] And there’s John Ridgeway, our manager … was there in the wholesale for years. Reggie Eric was the licensee there. My son John, and Byron’s there in his kilt. I used to get in my kilt at Christmas time there, directing the traffic – it was very, very heavy anyway. Anyway, that was a wonderful cellar and was actually closed.

We had Sir Richard Hadlee came into the store signing autographs. As you can see some of the displays there were just absolutely marvellous. Paul Muller – where’s Paul? He’s at the back … Paul Muller, he was responsible for all the displays in the bottle store, and did a marvellous job. Absolutely brilliant. One of the displays that he did was a display featuring Johnnie Walker whisky, and that was a brilliant display. And that earned our manager there a trip to Scotland. That’s what they thought of that one. And there’s an ad there for Johnnie Walker and beer … there’s the Johnnie Walker whisky, and Buck’s beer. We sold enough beer there for the breweries to say, “okay, we’ll make a special label for you.”

And you’ll laugh when you see some of the prices coming up now. Oh, that’s the staff down in the cellars. Yeah. My staff will remember some of those?

Staff member: Yeah [??] … [Chuckles]

Now, these are some of the prices. You’ve got to really understand this, now. These prices here were in the very early days – 1956, which is very early. Scotch whisky was £2/50. [£2/5/0, or two pounds five shillings]. What does that add up to … about $5, is it? Two pounds fifty? What’s it … $32 for a bottle of Scotch today? Yeah. French brandy there – £2 pounds … $4. Unreal. The dearest one there was Drambuie, which is £4/50. [£4/5/0, or four pounds five shillings]. That’s now $55. Anyway, some of you might have happy memories of going into the bottle store and getting some of that cheap grog. [Chuckles]

As you’re all aware, the crash of 1987 made life difficult for all types of businesses, so I was very happy to sell to Magnum Corporation, the DB Group, in 1987, who’d been wanting to buy it for some time. So ended some of the best years of my life in business.

[Shows various photographs] That was celebrating my thirtieth year at the Stortford Hotel. The next one is ‘Time Called’. Here’s Vera and myself here looking at the plans of the old hotel, while the bulldozer’s there pushing it over. It was a sad day, but that’s the way it was … yeah.

And the next one’s a picture of the bottle store being built. You saw how big the bottle store was – well there it is today. So things changed slightly over the years. Anyway, I just trust my talk will revive happy memories of the days when things were not so turbulent as they are today. I’ve invited some of the staff of my era to come along to assist me in answering any curly questions you might have – no doubt that some of you have … John Norris, and Paul, and Shane and co, Vera Brown, and I’m very happy to answer any questions if I can, and if I can’t, my staff here, as they all have done, have been very much able behind me to give me all the assistance I need. Thank you. [Applause]

Question: Yeah. Byron, could you tell us about the carpet that you had at the Lodge please?

Byron: Oh, yeah, [chuckle] yeah. The carpet in The Lodge … we got a … I’d done a trip through Scotland buying a bit of grog, and I saw this Buchanan tartan carpet. We stopped in [at] the Buchanan Arms in a place called Drymen which is by Stirling, a bit further north from Glasgow. And I decided then … ‘hey! Buchanan Hotel – Buchanan’s carpet!’ So I came home, and I saw Pat Magill – some of you may remember Pat Magill in the carpet business? Yeah. And I said to Pat, “can we get some of your guys to make … or one of them, somewhere … to do the carpet for the bars? The Buchanan tartan.” And he said “Bucko, nothing’d give me greater pleasure.” So he went … and we bought – I forget how many rolls of carpet it took, but that was why that was there, because I’d seen it in Scotland.

Questioner: You had waistcoats to match it. The barmen used to wear the waistcoats to match the carpet.

Byron: They did. Yeah. You’re not suffering from Alzheimer’s! [Laughter]

Questioner: I put the carpet on top of one of the rows of cork there, we used to stock. Our whole store in one year when we went from the flagon to the cork [?], the whole storeroom was cork bottles only. Yeah – I remember it was about eight rows. Yes, the carpet sent me … it was a while before we could get down there.

Byron: Thank you for that, Shane. I recall Sid Brittain – he was a very, very quick barman. Very quick indeed, in many ways. [Laughter]

Questioner: This is just an aside – I’m a musician. 1970s brings back memories for me. Ten o’clock closing came in 1967.

Byron: Correct.

Questioner: 1971 to ‘75 I played in several … not pop group bands in this hotel – and that’s how it looked, exactly like that. In fact I played there forty-four times.

Byron: Oh, thank you! Were you paid? [Laughter] Did you get the money?

Questioner: I should actually look that up. [Laughter] No, we were, yeah.

Questioner: What’s the influence of the saleyards, Byron?

Byron: Yeah – big. Yeah, yeah. The ewe fairs there were fabulous, and I can remember one day it was so hot – it must’ve been in February – it was so hot, and Kel Tremain’s up there getting the bids like this, you see, and he said “hey Buck! Why don’t you bring us up a beer?” So I took note of that, went back to the hotel, got the little … we’ve got a little carrier there … filled it up with cans, took it back to the saleyards, and they all got into it. And I tell you what – that was the best bit of advertising I’ve ever done for the hotel. [Laughter] Every sale after that, they used to pile in, you know, [chuckles] and I didn’t object. The saleyards were big … good business for us. That’s where Baldy Christensen … you saw earlier on … the guy who did the lazy stick, yeah. He did a wonderful job there.

Questioner: Go through the slides again please, and start at the beginning – there was one right at the beginning that … family photo one.

Byron: Yes. The family photo? Yes, that’s very, very early there. Well, I’ll explain it all to you … Dad and Mum, my brother Ashton – he joined the Navy when he was sixteen and got TB and died; Gloria got a heart attack and died; Byron’s still here talking to you.

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Landmarks Talk 8 May 2012


  • Byron Buchanan

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