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The Kentish Hotel, Waiuku, New Zealand.
Photo courtesy Keith Oliver

Pubs' ages, like people's, are relative

Old is a relative term. You can have old relatives in their 80s, or old churches that date back 1000 years, and even older pubs. When my wife and I visited the Netherlands a few years ago, we admired the architecture of the New Church in Delft. New, we asked? They told us it was built in 1496. Nearby stood the Old Church. That was built in 1246.

European tourists often scoff at Australia's heritage buildings being called historic. They forget that our first white settlers (mostly convicts) didn't arrive here until 1788.

New Zealanders proudly display "historic" buildings only 150 years old for a similar reason: large-scale white settlement of that country began as recently as 1839. What they claim to be their oldest hotel, which we visited a few weeks ago, was built in the 1850s.

It's an attractive, well-preserved timber building with ornate verandas in Waiuku, a small village 42 km (26 miles) south of Auckland (that's also the home of the famous weather forecasting stone we wrote about last month).

Edward Constable, an early settler from the English county of Kent, built the pub, and named it The Kentish Hotel.

"The verandahs of the Kentish Hotel provided a gathering point for menfolk after Saturday market days to discuss anything from the latest prices at the cattle fair to party politics," Anne Barker wrote in the N.Z. Historic Places Trust's website . "The increasing noise throughout the day meant that no self-respecting lady would venture as far as the 'Kentish' end of town.

"The Kentish Hotel has always provided the backdrop to Waiuku's history and has been the focal point of many civic and social events... Cricket matches and shooting competitions were common in the paddocks near the hotel."

Here in Oz, Things-to-do/sydney.com says: "There are some nice, old pubs in The Rocks, but determining just how old they are seems to be a less-than-exact science.

"The Hero of Waterloo and Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel are probably Sydney's best-known pubs, and two of its busiest. Both vie for the title of 'Sydney's oldest pub' - while other equally ambitious establishments lay claim to the title of 'oldest continually operating pub.'"

What's the world's oldest hotel? The Guinness Book of Records says it's the Hoshi Ryokan in the village of Awazu, Japan, dating back to 717AD, when an inn was built near a hot-water spring said to have miraculous healing properties.

"The Ryokan has evolved through the centuries," says the Hoshi website. "Today, it offers100 rooms and can accommodate up to 450 guests. A new guest, on arrival, is garbed in a Yukata, the Japanese traditional cotton kimono. The hotel boasts of forty-six generations of owners."

Britain's friendly village pubs are world-famous, but just which is the oldest is hotly disputed over numerous pints of warm beer. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, is one of several claimants to the title. Parts of the building date back to the 11th century and it was rebuilt as an alehouse in 1599. Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed there.

America's oldest hotel is thought to be the Beekman Arms, in Rhinebeck, New York, which has been in business since 1766.

Historic Hotels of America says:

In 1766, Arent Traphagen relocated his father’s successful tavern to the crossroads of “Ryn Beck.” The well-built Bogardus Tavern was constructed of sturdy timber and stone to withstand possible Indian attacks. A few years later, the inn was a haven for revolutionaries, hosting George Washington, Benedict Arnold and Alexander Hamilton. The 4th Regiment of the Continental Army drilled on the lawn and the townspeople took refuge here when the British burned the state capital at Kingston, just across the river.

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Story first posted January 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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