Excelsior Hotel

Situated at 120 Manchester Street, the Excelsior Hotel building was constructed in stages from 1881 to plans by architect William Barnett Armson.

Excelsior Hotel, 120 Manchester Street, 22 June 2011
Excelsior Hotel on Manchester Street. Contributor (ctb): Christchurch City Council. Heritage team. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The site of this hotel, on the corner of Manchester Street and High Street, was originally part of Town Section 984. The first hotel on the site, the Harp Hotel (Harp Tavern), was erected prior to October 1864 when it was inspected to ensure it complied with regulations. Although its interior was still unfinished at the time of its inspection, it was found to meet the requirements. The license for the hotel had already been granted to Anne O’Hara and her son, James O’Hara, in July 1864.

By June 1868, both Anne and James were bankrupt, with their largest creditor being George Allen. In July, the license was transferred from the O’Haras to Mrs Harriett Meddings. Under her proprietorship, the hotel was renamed the Borough Hotel by September 1868. Although Harriett Meddings was still in occupancy in January 1869, when George Allen applied for the hotel license in May 1869, it was refused as the hotel was occupied by Harriett Hart. A license for the hotel was granted to her in June 1869. Harriett Hart managed the hotel with her husband, John Hart, who she married in November 1868.

Early Manchester and High street intersection
Early Manchester and High street intersection. Creator (cre): Christchurch Star. Christchurch Star - no known copyright

The license for the Borough Hotel was transferred from Harriett Hart to William Priston (Preston) in March 1870. Priston took over the operation of the hotel in partnership with Joseph H. Andrews. Although Priston and Andrews ended their partnership in March 1871, Priston continued to manage the hotel. He died at the hotel on 15 December 1875. In June 1876, the license was passed to his wife, Alicia Kate Priston.

In September 1876, the license was transferred from Alicia Kate Priston to William Power. He managed the hotel for the following year until April 1878 when the license was transferred to John Barrett.

It was under the management of Barrett that the hotel gained publicity for being the site of the 1879 Boxing Day riot between Irish Catholics who were residing in the hotel and Protestants who were partaking in an Orange procession. Barrett’s license for the hotel was cancelled after he was found guilty of inciting the riot which took place outside the hotel. The license was then held by Michael McGovern on behalf of Barrett, who remained the owner of the hotel.

Following the loss of Barrett’s license, the architect, William Barnett Armson, was hired to design a new hotel building on the site. Armson advertised tenders for the erection of a portion of the hotel in October 1881. The hotel was possibly built in stages, as Armson advertised once again in June 1882 for tenders to erect the remaining section of the hotel.

In May 1882, Michael McGovern, who still had the license for the Borough Hotel, applied to transfer it back to John Barrett. Although the hotel came to be known as Barrett’s Family Hotel in July 1882, it wasn’t until September 1882 that the application for McGovern to transfer his license to Barret was granted.

By November 1890, the hotel had come under the management of Patrick Burke, the license being transferred to him from Barrett in December, and it became known as Burke’s (Family) Hotel. Under his management, the building was renovated. On the ground floor, the private bar and parlour bar were removed and at the High Street end, two rooms were converted into one which became the private bar. The dining room faced onto Manchester Street and there was also a billiard room. The first floor had bedrooms with private sitting rooms.

In May 1898, James Murphy applied for the hotel license and the transfer from Burke to Murphy was approved in June. Murphy applied to change the name of the hotel to the Shamrock Hotel in June 1900. He died in November 1901 while in Ireland. In 1902, the lease was transferred to his widow, Mary Anne Murphy, and William Quinn, who then transferred the lease to Reuben Ogden

It was under the management of Ogden that in June 1906 a lawyer, Wright, applied on his behalf to change the name of the hotel to the Excelsior Hotel. In February 1906, Ogden transferred the license to Thomas Arthur Cloudesley. In May 1906, Cloudesley applied to transfer the license to Frederick William Green. In September 1906, Green applied to transfer the license to William Colclough. Following the death of Colclough in November 1910, the license was transferred to Ada Rebecca Rowse.

In April 1911, John Barrett leased the property to Roper and Company Limited, wine and spirits merchants, for a term of seven years. The company then leased the property to Ada Rebecca Rowse in May. Rowse remained the proprietor until November 1913 when she applied to transfer the lease to Thomas Green. Thomas Green transferred the license to Patrick Mahoney in March 1915. In October 1918, Mahoney applied to transfer the license to Thomas Tansey.

Following the death of John Barrett in March 1919, his son, John Stephen Barrett, a solicitor, leased the property to Quill Morris and Company Limited, whisky distributors, in May 1920. The term of their lease was until December 1924. In the same month, the company leased the property to Thomas Tansey. Under the proprietorship of Tansey the hotel gained an unsavoury reputation, with the police finding that patrons were still drinking in the hotel after hours.

In July 1924, John Stephen Barrett sold the freehold of the hotel to James Charles Lamb who intended to take over the hotel on 1 January 1925. In January 1925, Tansey applied to transfer the license to George Fox Webster. Lamb leased the property to Ballin Brothers in October 1925 for a term of six years. In that same month, Ballin Brothers leased the property to George Fox Webster for a term of three years.

By 1927, the hotel under Webster’s management was losing income and from 6 September to 3 March 1928 he managed the hotel on behalf of Ballin Brothers. In the week prior to his death in February 1933, James Charles Lamb leased the hotel to Peter Galligan for a term of three years. The lease was renewed in 1936 between Galligan and Eliza Jane Lamb.

Eliza died in May 1942 and by 1957 the property was in the ownership of Capital Trust Company Limited. In 1973 it was transferred to Newman Hotels Limited and then to Carls Securities Limited in 1976. The building remained a bar and in 1989 it was listed as a Category 1 Historic Place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The building was purchased by the Christchurch Heritage Trust in 1997. Following this, the building was refurbished and it reopened in 1998 with a café and bar on the ground floor and a hostel, the New Excelsior Backpackers, on the first floor. The building continued to operate in this capacity until it was damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes. After the February 2011 earthquake the western façade was retained while the remainder of the building was demolished. Although it was originally planned to incorporate the façade into a new building, it was finally demolished in 2016.