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Empire Hotel

Situated at 236 High Street and built in 1883, the Empire Hotel remained in operation until 1939 when it became a clothing store.

High Street looking towards Cathedral Square
High Street looking towards Cathedral Square. Christchurch Star - no known copyright

In 1867, Joseph Coles and Mark Thompkins applied for license to run the Empire Hotel on High Street. This establishment offered a selection of wines, a reading room and coffee at all hours. By July 1869 John Carl took over the operation of the hotel which, by that stage, also featured luncheon rooms, smoking rooms, and a saloon. Carl remained the manager of the hotel until January 1880 when he transferred the license to Richard Richardson.

Under the management of Richardson tenders for the construction of a new hotel were advertised in September 1882. The former hotel building was demolished by November 1882 and a new hotel building was designed by architect W.A. Simpson.

Built from brick, with a blue stone façade covered in stucco, the building was three storeys high with a basement. The façade facing High Street featured three entrances. The northern entrance provided access, via a stairway, to the basement which was the length of the building. At the front of the basement was the bar known as “The Dive”. The rest of the basement was comprised of a kitchen, servants’ rooms, a scullery and offices. A lift served both the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel, while a staircase for servants provided access to the upper floors.

The central door entrance on High Street opened into the hotel lobby. To the left was a staircase, lit by a skylight, and beneath this was a lavatory. Beyond, a door led into a dining room. At the other end of the dining room was another door which led into a serving room which was also connected to the basement via the lift. The first floor of the hotel, accessed via the staircase in the lobby, had a commercial room at the front which opened into a hallway with ten bedrooms, two sitting rooms, bathrooms, lavatories and offices. The second floor above had another sixteen bedrooms, bathrooms, and lavatories.

The southern entrance on the High Street façade was used to access the public bar. A hallway ran the length of the building, opening into the bar and a sitting room.

The new hotel was completed and opened by October 1883 with the address 212 High Street.

Renovations to what was the public bar on the southern half of the ground floor may have taken place prior to 1887 as the directory for that year lists Charles P. Hulbert running an outfitters store at 212a High Street. A photograph taken in 1910 shows that this section of the hotel had become a tobacconist and hairdresser’s shop which, at the time, was operated by Ern Patrick Jerman. Prior to Jerman, others including E.A Garnett, William J. Alpe, Jubal Fleming and Eslick Brothers had operated a tobacconist and hairdresser’s shop at 212 High Street.

In July 1889, Thomas Quill took over the hotel from John Carl. But in May 1891 Quill applied to transfer the license back to John Carl. In May 1897, John Carl applied to transfer the license to John Louis Carl.

John Louis Carl managed the hotel for a decade until May 1907 when he applied to transfer the license to George Pentecost Payne. In March 1908, Payne transferred the license to Orton Guthrie Bradley. However, in September Bradley temporarily transferred the license to Joseph Bryan.

In April 1909, William H. Fenton applied for the license. In July, Fenton applied to transfer the license to Colin Campbell. In August 1911 the license was transferred from Campbell to John Patrick Murphy.

In January 1913 Murphy applied to transfer the license to Thomas William Watts. In April 1914 Watts applied to transfer the license to Albert Henry Cook. In January 1917 Albert Henry Cook applied to transfer the license to Charles John McKay. Yet in August McKay applied to transfer the license to Morgan O’Brien. In December 1918 the license was transferred from O’Brien to George Martin Ryan.

In 1920, structural alterations were made to the building to plans by architect H. St. A. Murray.

In September 1923 Ryan applied to transfer the license to Peter Galligan. In December 1925, the license was transferred to Patrick Delargy.

In 1929, Ralph Creside Sierakowski purchased the hotel from the Carl estate. Ralph Creside Sierakowski applied in May 1936 to transfer the license to John A. Joyce. Joyce was the last licensee, with his lease expiring in May 1939. Later that year the hotel closed, and the building was renovated. By July 1939 the building had reopened as the clothing store, Fashion House.