Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 October 2009

Albion Hotel, Shannon

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

Shannon was laid out in 1886 as a settlement of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company to which the government had granted both the right to develop the line and 86000 ha of land to help with its cost. At that time it was New Zealand’s largest private company and so it’s hardly surprising that the new town was named after one of the directors (as was Levin, on the same line).

In 1908 the track through Shannon became part of the North Island Main Trunk Line that connects Wellington and Auckland.

In the area from Linton to Shannon and between the Manawatu River to the north-west and the foothills of the Tararua Ranges lay the enormous Makerua Swamp containing almost 6000 ha of flax. Flaxmills were established to process the fibre, sustaining an industry that went into decline in the 1920s because of plant disease and the draining of the swamp for pasture.

Miranui Mill, the largest flaxmill in New Zealand, survived from 1907 to 1935, having hung on for fifteen years after the swamp was drained. The mill was just north-cast of Shannon and its workers would have been familiar with the Albion, which is at the same end of the town. Indeed, Mr Shannon himself - and, perhaps, Mr Levin - may have stayed at the pub when it had nine bedrooms and catered for commercial gentlemen from the big cities.

The first Albion was built in 1890 but was destroyed in 1915 in a blaze described in the local paper as ‘a splendid sight from an onlooker’s point of view’. It was rebuilt at a cost of £2500 ($NZ5000) in 1916 by William McKegg of Otaki. For obvious geographical reasons, the locals call it ‘the Top Pub’, to distinguish it from the Club Hotel - the ‘Bottom Pub’ -which pre-dates the Albion by two years.


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By Don Donovan