Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

25 October 2009

Wimbledon Tavern

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.

I was born near Wimbledon in England and assume that this eastern Wairarapa town was named by somebody whose descendants may have been my neighbours.

As for the tavern, they call it the ‘Top Pub’, the ‘Bottom Pub’ being ten kilometres away in Herbertville. Why they don’t call it the ‘Only Pub’ beats me! It’s a most attractive building and comes as a pleasant surprise to the casual traveller in its wooded valley close by the Wainui River.

A once remote sixty kilometres from Dannevirke, the first hotel, built in the early 1880s by George Cripps, was burnt out but it was immediately replaced, in 1889, by the present building. It served travellers and settlers in the dense ‘Forty Mile Bush’ that once stretched from Masterton to Woodville. In early times it was not unusual for forest tree-fellers to come to the hotel with their cheques for several months’ labour. They were provided with music and entertainment, as well as liquor and accommodation, to meet their needs and would stay until the publican told them their pay was ‘cut’ whereupon axes were sharpened for the next earning spree.

One famous publican, Arthur Allan, blind as a bat and known as ‘Popeye’, who took the pub on in 1939, sported a glass eye which, locals maintain, would occasionally finish up in a customer’s beer. The only way ‘Popeye’ could tell whether a glass was full was by hanging his thumb over its rim - when the thumb was wet the glass was full! These days standards are much higher and the pub is clean, neat, very well maintained and also incorporates the local Post Shop.



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By Don Donovan