Heritage is about the things from the past which
are valued enough today to save for tomorrow.

Railway Hotel

Although now only the 1906 façade remains, the Railway Hotel stands on the site of one of the earliest licensed premises in Perth established by one of the earliest settlers.  It is also is a site of some notoriety being the first building that was the subject of a prosecution under Western Australia’s Heritage Act. 

Built in stages, the hotel originally opened around 1844 as the Commercial Hotel but was also referred to as the Commercial Tavern and Commercial Inn.  The first landlord was George Embleton who had arrived in WA in 1829 and whose name was later given to the suburb in the City of Bayswater.  One of the earliest descriptions of the actual hotel building was as an unpretentious two storey building with a shingle roof.  With stables provided at the rear, it was well frequented by teamsters and travellers and became one of Perth’s most popular houses.  In 1847, the hotel passed to David Ronayne who maintained the hotel’s popularity including as a regular venue for local balls and dances such as the annual Race Ball and the Tradesman Ball.   

At the end of 1879, the Commercial Hotel was renovated and redecorated by its then licensee C. O. Speight, and reopened as the Railway Hotel in anticipation of the railway line and central station which was to open in 1881 nearby in Wellington Street.  The next significant changes to the hotel building occurred in 1897 under proprietors Mr and Mrs McCarthy who had architect F W Burwell design a large dining room and a well-lighted billiard room and also improvements to the façade.  More substantial changes were made by the McCarthy’s in 1906, designed by architects Porter and Thomas, with the hotel being virtually rebuilt which resulted in the three storey elevation seen today; its Federation Free Classical style with circular columns, deep-set verandahs, classical motifs, arches, pediments, pilasters, and a highly decorated parapet.   

Unfortunately, in 1992 developer Joe Scaffidi demolished the façade of the Railway Hotel which was in contravention of a stop work order by the Heritage Council which required that the façade had to be retained as a condition of planning consent for the redevelopment of the hotel site.  As a result, Scaffidi became the first person to be prosecuted under the State’s new Heritage Act and was ordered to entirely rebuild the façade as it was. 

The rebuilt three storey Federation Free Classical facade is today still highly significant having retained its commanding presence in the Barrack Street streetscape, and it is one of the few places in Perth where people can enjoy a beer in the same spot as some of the early European settlers.

Detailed Description

Although now only the 1906 façade remains, the Railway Hotel stands on the site of one of the earliest licensed premises in Perth established by one of the earliest settlers.  It is also is a site of some notoriety being the first building that was the subject of a prosecution under Western Australia’s Heritage Act. 

Built in stages, the hotel originally opened around 1844 as the Commercial Hotel but was also referred to as the Commercial Tavern and Commercial Inn.  The first landlord was George Embleton who had arrived in WA in 1829 initially as a servant of Dr John Watley who had settled in the Bayswater district.  Embleton’s name was later given to the suburb in the City of Bayswater.  The Commercial Hotel was advertised as having good beds, good stabling, quality beverages and an excellent billiard table.  One of the earliest descriptions of the actual hotel building was as an unpretentious two storey building with a shingle roof.  With stables provided at the rear, it was well frequented by teamsters and travellers and became one of Perth’s most popular houses.   

In 1847, George Embleton announced in the local paper that owing to a “domestic calamity” he had to let his hotel to David Ronayne.  After this, the hotel was often referred to as just Ronayne’s Hotel who maintained the hotel’s popularity including as a regular venue for local balls and dances such as the annual Race Ball and the Tradesman Ball.  Ronayne held the licence until the early 1860s, although in 1851 he had a close brush with death, having nearly drowned after being swept off his horse while crossing the Helena River in Guildford.   

By 1863 the hotel was run by William Sloan and a Mr King.  Sloan, a carpenter and joiner by trade also carried out substantial renovations to the hotel and held the licence for many years.  However, in 1879, when the hotel was due for relicense it was refused.  The Reverend Traylen, a strong advocate of temperance, had lodged an objection on the grounds that the hotel was too close to his house and Girls’ Schoolroom.  However, after several months of hearings, Traylen’s objection was finally dismissed on the grounds that the schoolroom was not directly next to the hotel and that the hotel was there before he built his house.  Finally at the end of 1879, the Commercial Hotel was relicensed, renovated, refitted and redecorated by its new licensee C. O. Speight, and reopened as Speight’s Railway Hotel.  The name change was in anticipation of the railway line and central station which was to open in 1881 nearby in Wellington Street.  Speight, however, only ran the hotel for a few months, with the licence passing to Mr E O Cockram in January 1880.  

The next significant changes to the hotel occurred under proprietors Mr and Mrs Thomas McCarthy who held the licence from 1893 until around 1912.  With the population boom caused by the gold rush, the McCarthy’s set about modernising and upgrading the hotel to keep up with the increased demand.  In 1897, a large dining room and a “well-lighted” billiard room were added and the façade was improved and now flanked with a three storey tower as designed by architect Frederick William Burwell.   

Further major changes were again made by the McCarthy’s in 1906, in which the hotel was almost entirely rebuilt into an imposing three storey structure.  The additions and alterations, designed by architects Porter and Thomas and built by contractor R. A. Dixon at a cost of nearly £5000, resulted in the elevation seen today; its Federation Free Classical style with circular columns, deep-set verandahs, classical motifs, arches, pediments, pilasters, and a highly decorated parapet.  As such, it was one of the most impressive facades to a hotel in the city that would be seen for many years to come, and the only other better example of this type of architecture anywhere else in Perth was possibly His Majesty’s Theatre.  Porter and Thomas achieved much prominence in Western Australia architectural circles as the designers of other significant buildings in Perth and the Goldfields, especially hotels. They also designed the Fitzgerald Hotel in Northbridge, and the heritage listed Palace Hotel on the corner of William Street and St Georges Terrace, which ironically is also little more than a façade today although in this case some of the hotel interior was retained in the new development.  

The Railway Hotel received some bad press under the McCarthy’s.  With the McCarthy’s being staunch Catholics, it was reported that only Catholics were employed, and only men as no women were ever employed there, and the employees required to work long hours from 5am to 10pm and even till midnight over the Christmas season with the only time off given to attend church service on Sunday mornings. 

In 1930, further upgrades and changes were made to the hotel by the then licensee, Ernie Leng, with the work carried out by well-known building contractor, C Arnott.  The interior was refurbished, repainted and redecorated and a new glass-washing plant installed.  The verandah on Barrack Street was demolished and replaced by an ornate cantilever. 

Unfortunately, in 1992 developer Joe Scaffidi demolished the façade of the hotel which was in contravention of a stop work order by the Heritage Council which required that the façade had to be retained as a condition of planning consent for the redevelopment of the hotel site.  As a result, Scaffidi became the first person to be prosecuted under the State’s new Heritage Act and was ordered to entirely rebuild the façade as it was. 

Prior to its partial demolition, the Railway Hotel occupied a prominent position in the streetscape of central Perth.   It was situated amongst other similar buildings which complemented its heritage importance although it dominated the streetscape with its size and heavily modelled facade. Even today, the rebuilt three storey Federation Free Classical facade is still highly significant having retained its commanding presence in the Barrack Street streetscape.  The ground floor external facade had been modernised in recent years but the upper floors remained significantly unaltered. 

Today, the Railway Hotel continues to serve drinks to the public, just as it has since 1844, and until recently was one of only a few licenced hotels located near the railway station. While only the façade remains, it is one of the few places in Perth where people can enjoy a beer in the same spot as some of the early European settlers. 

 

Perth Gazette 1 August 1953 p. 3  

Victorian Express 26 February 1879 

West Australian 27 February 1897 

Sunday Times 31 January 1904 p. 10 

Western Mail 15 September 1906 

Inquirer 6 January 1847 p. 2 

Mirror 27 December 1930 p. 8

Location