Council Club Hotel

In 1888 construction commenced on the Council Club Hotel on the corner of High Street and Cramer Street. It opened around April 1889 with Thomas Harris serving as the first publican. Harris had previously served as the publican of the Junction Hotel in South Preston.

An elaborate boom style building, the Council Club Hotel was the most impressive hotel in the district. When travellers passed through Preston, the Council Club Hotel was always seen as the premier accommodation. Within a year of so James Eggleton had established a livery and stables at the hotel and was advertising that he offered saddle and buggy horses for sale, as well as breaking in horses to saddle and harness.

In January 1890 an inquest was held at the Council Club hotel for Arthur Pool, 12 and his younger brother Frank who both drowned in a dam on the Merri Creek. Early in the day the boys had approached Harry Shepherd, the care taker and asked for permission to swim but he had said no.   Later he found their clothes on the bank of the dam and police later recovered their bodies.

In more happier circumstances in August, the hotel played host to Harold Sparks, J.P. and laid on a feats 
“…in a most sumptuous and superior style, reflecting the highest credit upon the hostess.”

In February 1892 the Argus reported on the attempted suicide of Charles Fry, stableman at the Council Club Hotel. He had swallowed a dose of oxalic acid, used to clean brass. Fry’s attempts to court a wealthy elderly widow had been floundering and after being rejected had taken the poison. He was taken to hospital where the doctor later stated that he believed the patient had been greatly exaggerating his symptoms. There is no record of whether this somewhat extreme courtship tactic worked with the widow.

The Council Club was clearly earning a reputation as an eating establishment and the following year it was chosen as the site of a banquet to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone for the Preston Shire Hall. It may have been a damp banquet as only the month before the hotel had been flooded as flood waters reached from the hotel down as far as the Bell Street railway station after heavy rains.

But the life of a publican was a precarious profession and in November 1894 Thomas Harris was declared insolvent. 

In 1898, Susan Barton, the current licensee of the hotel was charged with Sunday trading. Barton admitted giving the man a bottle of beer in exchange for a dog he had previously promised her. A fine of £2 was imposed.

Mr Daley’s attempt to break into the Council Club Hotel in August 1902, came unstuck when he was heard by the publican, John Lawler. Lawler went across to the nearby fire station and engaged the assistance of some burley firemen to subdue the would be thieves. One escaped but Daley was caught and handed over to the police. Daley was found in possession of tools taken from the stables of Martin Cagney in Murray Road. A month later William Daley was handed down a two year prison sentence. In December 1913 the license of the Council Club Hotel passed from Thomas George Parry to Mrs Harrington. At the same time the ownership of the hotel was taken over by Gilbert T. Power who announced the complete renovation of the hotel with the motto “the best of everything.”

In September 1915 Mrs Susan Wilson had a rare win over the courts when a conviction for the sale of alcohol outside hours was quashed by Justice Head in the Practice Court. Police had alleged that on the night of the 16th July they had entered the hotel and found the licensee’s granddaughter playing the piano whilst a group of young men were gathered in the parlour for a “sing-along.” Despite no signs of drinking the magistrate had decided the case proved. A fine of £3 had been imposed but Justice Head accepted the publican’s argument that the young men were just having a get together before heading off to war and that no alcohol had been consume.”

In 1917 Mrs Wilson appealed against the Preston Council’s valuation of her hotel, arguing that the reduction of hours had impacted on her business (the introduction of six o’clock closing). The publican of the Prince Alfred Hotel, J. S. McNamara also appealed on the same grounds.

In March Mrs Wilson passed away, she was only 59. Three months later the hotel was placed up for auction. Despite reaching £12,500 it failed to reach the reserve price and the property was passed in for private sale. 

At 6.20 pm on the 23 January 1925, Constable Peach (in plain clothes), went into the Council Club Hotel and found two men consuming alcohol in a room put aside for use by lodgers. The publican, Mary E. Lennon was not there but her son provided alcohol to the two men as they were having a meal at the hotel and he believed that he was within his rights to serve them under those conditions. The Magistrate disagreed and fined him £5. 

The following year it was the new publican, Joseph Shaw, who felt the long arm of the law when he was charged with failing to keep his lodger’s book in order. Shaw, a former policeman, was fined £2. It was not be Shaw’s last transgression. In August 1929 he was charged with selling alcohol with an incorrect label, and in 1931 he was charged with selling alcohol outside hours.  
For a former policeman he did seem to skirt close to the edge of the law and in January 1935 he was charged with the care and management of a common gaming house at the Council Club Hotel. Shaw’s solicitor told the court his client was seriously ill and would plead guilty.

In January 1939 Shaw passed the hotel license on to Frank Pickett, late of the Beehive Hotel, Kew. Shaw had been the publican at the Council Club Hotel for thirteen years. Pubs must have been in the Pickett’s blood because in March 1941, Frank’s wife purchased the Darling Hotel in Richmond. She had plans to modernise the hotel and appointed Bernie O’Brien as the licensee.

By 1950 the hotel was part of the Carlton and United Breweries stable of hotels. As such it was one of the hotels they had slated for renovations in 1952. When C. G. Brock took over the management of the hotel in 1950 it was run down, especially in regards to the accommodation side of the business. An article in the Argus on 4 July 1953 held the Council Club Hotel and Brock as

“…a shining example of what can be done with unpromising material.”

The article went on to say the hotel drew good trade from a nearby timber yard with the works slaking their thirst at the hotel and then staying the night at the hotel before heading back up to the Yan Yean to collect more timber.

Brock, or ‘Brockie’ as he was known, became a local legend. He had a rule that all barmen had to be at least six feet tall and banned women from his hotel. He ran the hotel in partnership with George Gardiner, under the company name of C. & B. Hotel Company. A third partner, William Cole, passed away in 1955.

In December 1961 the site of Zwar’s tannery in Cramer Street was transformed into what was described by the Northcote Leader into a “…huge, architecturally beautiful building – the Preston Bowl.” Beautiful building or not the business was not a success and by 1968 the business had closed. Carlton and United Breweries made the decision to purchase the site and convert it to a hotel, transferring the license of the Council Club Hotel to the new building.
Once the conversion to hotel was completed Brock moved across to the new building and the Council Club hotel was demolished. The new Council Club Hotel continued to operate for several years under the old name before changing its name to Cramer’s, a name it still operates under.

Known publicans
1890  Thomas Harris
1896  Susan Barton
1902  Annie Riordan
1902  John Lawler
1905  Mary Ann Bruntow
1906  Miss Frances May Oates
1912  F. M. Chapman
1913  Thomas George Parry
1913  Mrs Harrington
1914  Gilbert Thomas Power
1915  Susan Wilson
1922  J. F. Sinclair
1922  Mrs Mary Lennon
1925  Joseph Shaw
1939  Frank Pickett
1950  Charles Gordon Brock

Cole, Robert K. Index of Hotels 1841 – 1949. Unpublished manuscript.
Edge, Gary (2004). Surviving the six o’clock swill: a history of Darebin’s hotels. Melbourne: Darebin Libraries.
Northcote Leader (Melbourne, Vic. 1888 - ), August 1890
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 10 January 1890, p.9
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 16 November 1890, p.5
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 15 February 1892, p.3
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 August 1890, p.6
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 2 June 1893, p.9
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 28 August 1902, p.8
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 18 December 1913
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 30 September 1915, p.4
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. 1854 - ), 16 June 1922, p.10
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. 1854 - ), 7 February 1925, p.16