The libation landscape in Tamworth has seen much accretion and erosion due to the fickle restoration du jour over time. However, a monolith has curiously remained, Jacob McArthur learns.
The first dram drained in the Tamworth Hotel was probably poured by a teetotaller.
The Marius Street hotel has held its form as kind of time capsule since it opened it doors in 1936 and in 2018 has provided a retro-backdrop for many a rollicking night out.
While the first manger of the hotel, Reg Liddell, had an abstemious thirst he had a hunger to lead the way on the Tamworth hotel scene in the depression.
Mr Liddell only held the fort at the Railway Hotel, as it was called then, for a few of years after its construction, but the building and its look has stuck with subsequent owners and not like the carpet does in a nightclub dive.
Owners, licensees and publicans have been at pains to preserve and maintain the “charm” of the Tamworth, right down to its own distinctive tartan carpet in the front bar, which was established by Reg, wife Jane and daughter Elizabeth more than 80 years ago.
The hotel’s history came full circle recently when the current licensee, Luke Prout, met with Elizabeth O’Hara (nee Liddell) who grew up in the pub in the late 1930s after her parents built the venue.
Mrs O’Hara came back to Tamworth recently with daughters Jane O’Hara and Louise Flaherty who are on a mission to retrace some family history.
Trawling archives and family memories, Mrs Flaherty believed it was a competitive streak in her grandfather which lead him to build the current Tamworth Hotel next door to the original Railway Hotel building which still stands today.
“When he built the new hotel … there were eight other hotels within a quarter of a mile all around,” she said.
“So this was in the depression years, so they were all vying for business.”
The new Railway became “the height of modernity” with its “20 bedrooms, hot and cold water to each room …and a lavatory block for ladies and gents”. “This was a really big deal to have it all,” she said.
Despite his teetotalling ways, Mr Liddell knew cold beer was the hot ticket in town and had refrigeration installed early in the piece. “This became one of the leading hotels in Tamworth,” Mrs Flaherty said.
A family hotel
The pub’s 80th birthday celebration held last year prompted the family to dig into its history.
Mr Prout said, at the time, the birthday party idea was sparked when he saw the original foundation stone on display in the front bar.
“When the article mentioned the foundation stone I thought that’s mum’s mum,” Mrs Flaherty said. “We thought we should visit to say who we are and it just sort of happened like that.”
For Elizabeth’s daughters, the rebirth of the Tamworth Hotel helped pique their interest in their own heritage.
“I think the older you get the more you value your parents memories and their parents memories,” Jane O’Hara said.
“I think it makes more sense to you when you’re older, not that we were never interested, it just means more now.”
Louise said it has helped paint a clearer picture of the family’s history.
“She’ll be 90 in March and our dad recently died in June and we’re thinking now it’s a good idea to start revisiting places,” she said.
“When we were growing up we would hear stories about the hotel and Reg in the hotel and Nana up in Tamworth but you couldn’t piece it together.
“And it’s only become clearer now.”
The design of pubs in Tamworth, and across the nation, has been dictated by the restoration and renovation du jour with styles and trends shifting over the years.
But the Tamworth, despite its name changes, has held on to a certain style and “charm”.
Hotel guests are regularly inquiring about the history of the premises, the current licensee said.
Since taking the reins, Mr Prout has maintained an interest in the venue and its heritage.
“I think the fact it’s one of the older looking hotels in Tamworth and all of the owners have helped to maintain its classic and original look,” he said.
“So I think it has that charm that a lot of other pubs may have converted and built over unfortunately.
“A lot of that happened in the ‘90s.
“I think the fact it still holds that classic charm and look makes people get a little bit more interested.”
He said there hadn’t been a long list of owners over the years and something about the venue made them want to steer clear of too much changes.
He also said there was a sense of pressure to maintain a lot of characteristics when he took over.
“It was a big concern of locals not to change everything too much,” he said.
“I’ve always maintained that the Saloon Bar will stay as it is as a bit of a time capsule.
“And the front bar, the carpet in particular, everyone loves the carpet.”
It was a special opportunity to meet with the the family of the original owners for Mr Prout and he said the stories and knowledge shared would help form a book for future guests and patrons.
“We were missing a fair bit of information but we have it now,” he said.
“People genuinely have an interest in the hotel.”