By Nick Gillooly
Footscray and the west have a thriving pub and bar scene now that seems to get better each day. After years of closures to pubs like the Royal and Barkly hotels, we are now seeing old pubs restored and new bars open. Particularly around Footscray so many new spots are open that just staying on foot you can do a pretty great pubcrawl – but if you think your last Friday night in the west was pretty wild, have a look at some of these stories from the pubs of yesteryear as we journey through the Forgotten Footscray Pubcrawl!
Lets head up north first and check out the Angler’s hotel, home of the worst (quality) car chase the world has ever seen.
The Anglers, (at times called the Anglers Arms, Anglers Rest and currently Anglers Tavern) has existed since at least 1860. That original building was flooded and rebuilt at least once by the 1870s into a more modest structure, and has been redesigned a few times up to its current, modern look.
A pretty big gamble
Punters from the Anglers Arms would congregate in a park nearby to bet (illegally) on the Williamstown Races. This attracted a few problems over the years – but it was always impossible to connect it to the Pub, so it was never shut down. There was an amazing incident in 1936 connected with this illegal gambling. 4 men thought they had a chance for easy money, so they pretended to be gaming police, grabbed a bookie and forced him into their car. Things went wrong immediately when it turned out they had grabbed the wrong man, he was just a clerk – so he had a notebook but little cash. The park and Anglers were packed, so they also couldn’t get the car up past 10km for a speedy get away. The crown (about 400 people) figured out what was going on gave chase… on foot… for quite some time. The pace was so slow that the car couldn’t lose a crown of 400 people, in fact, the crowd only backed off when one of the robbers fired a revolver above their heads. By this time a police officer (O’Donnell) had arrived and asked someone with a motorcycle side car to give him a lift for the “chase”, which is to say he drove next to the car and asked them to stop… more shots were fired and eventually the car was ditched. 3 of the attackers fled into the paddocks and were caught, one swam across the river and apparently got away.
Next lets get on Footscray main drag in Barkly street, to a hotel that is unfortunately not a hotel any more:
The Royal Hotel is one of the West’s most recognisable buildings, and for a long time was the largest structure in Footscray. It’s history can’t possibly all fit on one post – equal parts community, political, criminal and just strange.
The pub was opened in 1873 after being constructed by Frederick Droop (who the street is named for), and straight away had a strange incident where the first licensee was sued by Droop as he was not actually approved to hold a licence. The original structure still remains, and the style modern version we see today is a façade that was added in 1940.
The pub was so solid that the newly established fire brigade used it for ladder rescue drills. Droop also built the Royal Hall next to the hotel, it held dances and assemblies for some years but has been demolished. The Royal also provided relief food and clothing to families during strikes in 1919. But in another strange incident at the hall a fight erupted at a dance assembly in 1882, and Droop’s son did not allow the police inside to break it up.
In 1887 Hugh Morris was elected to the Footscray council and naturally the wrap party was at the Royal. But in another strange incident the new councillor decided he had an issue with a voter he thought was an opposition supporter, and told him to leave the party. When the voter tried to explain he didn’t vote in the election, Morris punched him in the face and a brawl kicked off. It was about 75 minutes between being elected and punching a constituent – surely a world record the Royal should be proud to hold!
In the 1890s a licence was refused to the former publican based on the Royal’s reputation. The police described it as a larrikin house, with constant violations for trading on Sunday and a history of “family members of the owner fighting with patrons”. In the 20’s the Royal became the headquarters of a local push (old timey for gang). This led to a decade of heavy police interest in incidents at the Royal, including several raids trying to expose illegal gambling. Despite all the attention they could never make anything stick in court, and the Royal stayed open.
Although it stopped operating as a pub around 20 years ago, you can still get a wine and great meal at Small French bar and a sandwich at Ollis
The hotel was named after the suburb of Belgravia (now renamed Seddon), it was first build in 1875, and looks to have been most the same structure until it was demolished in 2015.
Footy and Cricket
The Belgravia hotel was the HQ of the Footscray Cricket club in the 1890s. The club was doing well and had just secured the western oval as a home ground. Seeing their success the Footscray Football club wanted to link up with them to gain access to the oval and apply for membership to the top grade of footy – the VFA. The two clubs met at the Belgravia and made an arrangement in 1886, paving the way for the modern day Footscray and Western Bulldogs as well as @VUoval.
The ballad of Grace Watson
In early 1919, Ernest Watson went to the Belgravia hotel and shot the barman 4 times. Why? He believed that the barman (Eric Fowler) and his wife (grace, the proprietor of the hotel) were having an affair. Fowler had some more bad luck – when he was taken to hospital to have the bullets removed he caught the Spanish Flu, which delayed the trial.
When the trial went ahead, Watson was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years prison. This was brought down to 1 year on appeal. Grace wasn’t called as a witness in the trial and didn’t get the chance to defend herself so she took out an add in the paper saying she had never had an affair.
Grace was the brains of the operation so she held the licence for the pub, but since divorce was on the cards Watson sued her for control of the pub while still in prison. Unbelievably, Watson was let out of prison on a good behaviour order with strict conditions before his year was up. Rather than follow it, he got 3 of his mates and went straight to the Belgravia to yell abuse at his wife. After the police turned up it was back to prison for him.
The court ruled that Watson was not entitled to any of the Belgravia hotel licence and forced him to pay costs to his wife. Grace continued to manage the hotel for a few more years before passing the licence on to Eric Fowler, the victim of the shooting. Fowler got married and had a child – but not with Grace.
If we take a left on Victoria street, we can get to one of the oldest continuously operated pubs in the area – The Vic, which was build in the 1870s, burned down and was rebuilt in the 1890s, then demolished and built into todays structure in the 1920s.
A bad year for Julius Necker
Julius Necker was licencee in 1914, and did not have a great year. In February, a man named Robert Duke was playing cards and ended up in a fight against 2 other men out on the street, when things went badly he tried to get back into the bar, only to have Necker throw him out. When the victim claimed he would be killed if he was thrown onto the street – Necker replied “I don’t care what happens outside – as long as they don’t kill you in my house”. The man wasn’t killed, but the court case took up column inches for months, and Julius’ quote was printed as a headline again and again…
Fast forward to November 1914 and 4 men entered the hotel with no money. The barman was good enough to spot them beers – within minutes they repaid him by fighting with several bystanders and had ripped the barman’s shirt off as they tried to pull him over the bar. The barman’s wife attacked them to protect her husband and so poor Julius, probably reeling from the bad press the earlier incident had created for him, tried to intervene and was immediately knocked out.
1920’s Lang to Hart
In the 20’s former heavyweight champion Willy Lang bought the hotel, demolished it (and a few houses) and build the base of the current structure. In 1941, tired of the Hotel business he sold to Dennis Hart, who renamed the Vic “Harts hotel”, adding the sign we can still see today. Sometime after the 1960 the hotel was added to again to take on its current form.
Finally lets head south to the famous Railway hotel in Yarraville.
The Railway was built in the 1870s as a 14 room pub and what a history it has had, if you thought you had big nights at the Railway, have a look at the sample headlines below, which are just a small part of its fantastic history.
At the turn of the century, Yarraville wasn’t the exclusive inner west suburb that is now, and the Railway Hotel in particular seemed to be a flashpoint for a lot of the areas trouble. Some favoured headlines of the day describing pretty standard conduct: “Yarraville disturbance – putting in the boot!”, multiple headlines that just read “OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR” or “Fighting in the street”. In 1889 a crowd came to the hotel after a picnic in Yarraville gardens, had a few at the railway and were stirring up trouble. The police arrived and saw a man they were after in the crowd so they arrested him, the crowd did not take this well and chased the police all thw way to the station, and starting what was described as a “small riot” leading to the headline: “Serious Disorder – Police resisted by Larrikins”.
It wasn’t all violent though, in 1911 a scene was caused by “A Lurid Footballer”, who’s evening at the Railway ended his career with Carlton. In 1917 the owner at the time was fined heavily for running an illegal bookies. Probably the best headline I could find involving the Railway “Naughty Nora’s Nocturnal Narrative”.
This calmed down since then and in 1938 the old Railway was knocked down and rebuilt as the current style modern building we know and love. For a brief time it was also the bright green Blarney stone hotel, but fortunately the “Railway” cast iron letters were never removed. The current owners added the roof terrace around 2016, and the railway has never been more popular – or less trouble.
A special mention needs to go out to the Footscray Historical Society, who have digitised many of these images, all research done on Trove from newspaper sources of the day.