It’s not hard to imagine the city’s reporters fanning out over the city, heading out to Christchurch’s hotels and taverns to listen in on nearby conversations over a pint. It still happens today and has been for years. Those who have those kinds of jobs – like in government for example – know to be careful about what is said over those Friday night drinks with colleagues – silence can prove to be golden!
So, when ‘The Press’ purchased its neighbour, the Warners Hotel in 1943, one could think that the newspaper was hoping the news would come to them as a result. But no, ‘The Press’ had big dreams for the hotel and it was made pretty clear that the purchase wasn’t for staff to have a place to hang out. The ground floor was to be specialised retail stores with the above stories remaining as a hotel. But the war years and the ones that followed proved to be hard ones and Warners was sold 11 years later – with no changes made.
Another reason for the purchase was to secure the use of the little access lane that sat between the two businesses. It would be known as “Press Lane”. Sadly, with the demolition of The Press building and Warners following the Christchurch Earthquakes, this little lane has not survived. It had been the main access to the paper’s pressing warehouse and for the rest of us – it was a great shortcut to the Square from Gloucester Street.
But the history between these two Christchurch icons was not over in 1954. By the 1980’s, Warners had very much become a reporter hangout, the inside joke was to say “I’ve got a meeting in the west office”.
So sad to think that both these historic buildings and its stories are now gone.
It seems though that a lane or track of some description could have existed as far back as 1852. A cottage (known as Pollard Shanty) was moved to Cathedral Square – on what would be Press Lane – from Hagley Park by a Doctor William Chapman. After 1863, the Pollard Shanty was being used as a laundry for the Warner’s Hotel – then known as the Golden Age Hotel. Here it remained until 1900 when it was moved on to the South Belt (Moorhouse Ave) and it was believed that it was the oldest abode in the city. Unfortunately, it seems to have just disappeared into history and no one can say what became of it.
As for the hotel namesake William Francis Warner, he arrived in Lyttelton as second mate aboard the ‘Rhea Sylvia’. He quickly became chums with Julius van Haast (the founder of the Canterbury Museum) and joined him on many adventures. The two nearly lost their lives a few times and on one occasion, they only had flour and Weka to eat.
Tiring of his wanderings, William became a hotel-keeper at the Golden Age Hotel in Cathedral Square. When owner John Coker moved on, William took over and renamed the place “Warners”.
Tragically one afternoon in 1896, William accompanied some young friends to New Brighton to go sailing. The boat ended up capsizing. The man who had survived the journey to New Zealand as crew aboard a ship, and crossed some of the biggest rivers in the South Island, drowned in the waters of New Brighton. William is buried at St Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery in Upper Riccarton, Christchurch.
*Image of Press Lane Sign courtesy of Kete Christchurch – http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info
*Image of Press Lane after February 2011 quake courtesy of Newstalk ZB – http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz*Image of Warners Hotel and The Press Building courtesy of the Christchurch Art Gallery – http://christchurchartgallery.org.nz