Historic Hunter hotel the Criterion celebrates its 115th birthday



'If these walls could talk' is a fitting turn of phrase when it comes to any hotel more than 100 years old and the Criterion Hotel has certainly seen its fair share of history since its license was first granted in December 1903.


In 1903 the Criterion Hotel was the third hotel within the South Maitland Coalfields to be granted a license following the establishment of the East Greta Hotel on 11, February 1902 and the Heddon Greta Hotel on 31, March 1903.


Inextricably linked to the mining industry and the emergence of the nearby Australian Agricultural Company's Hebburn Colliery, the Criterion Hotel played a vital role within the newly created township acting as a local drinking hole, gathering spot, stabling area for horses, works and travellers accommodation provider and place to eat.


Hunter historian and author of books including Dry Lines and Empty Cellars, The Hotels of the South Maitland Coalfield and No Bar to Time Ed Tonks described the area in 1903 as 'a community being carved out of the bush' with the hotel acting as an important pillar of the township.


"Accommodation was important back then because you had single men who were working at the mine, government and mining officials coming into town, and merchants coming through as well. The town needed a place to provide meals because don't forget there was no such thing as a the local fish and chip shop or Maccas and many of the early hotels, including the Criterion also offered stables to cater for the non-human travelers."

Criterion Hotel, Weston, NSW 1924. Photo: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Inextricably linked to the mining industry and the emergence of the nearby Australian Agricultural Company's Hebburn Colliery, the Criterion Hotel played a vital role within the newly created township , acting as a local drinking hole, gathering spot, stabling area for horses, works and travellers accommodation provider and place to eat..


Originally containing 28 guest rooms, the hotel was built at a cost of around 22,000 pounds, which in 1903 was an expensive build for owners Tooths & Co.


According to Mr Tonks, at the time of opening the environment inside the hotel would be have been extremely lively.


"I imagine it would have been pretty hectic because having a local hotel was certainly a novelty for a pioneering township, and it was legal, so the quality of the drinks would have been much better than home brew.


"But, the hotelier would have been under some heavy supervision from the licensing board because this was completely new to the area with the closest hotel being Heddon Greta and don't forget back then the roads hadn't been formed so that would have been a fairly long trip."


The hotel also played an important role in times of trouble with the cool room acting as a morgue for inquests in the instance of fatal accidents occurring at the mine. Overall, 46 men lost their lives at the colliery and it is believed that the bodies of most, if not all, would have been taken to the hotel's cool room to be stored at the time of death.


Over the years, the hotel had it's fair share of licensees from original hotelier James Jones in 1903 to Philip Jenkins who became licensee in 1910. Ada the wife of Mr Jenkins also took the reigns in 1918 after the death of her husband before later handing the running of the hotel over to their son George in 1924.


"It's important to note that in the 1900s while the licensee role usually fell to the man, women also played a very big role in the running of a hotel especially in terms of the food and accommodation and general welcoming feel of the place. Women in the workplace was not the norm at that time but hotels were a bit of an exception," Mr Tonks said.


Today, the hotel is a popular night spot for the local area with live music, DJs, themed nights and a myriad of entertainment on offer. The hotel's food offering is also one of the best in the area with a recently renovated kitchen and dining area and constantly updated menu.


Current hotelier John Campbell, said the attraction of the hotel links to its wide appeal and commitment to the local community.


"A lot of time has gone by since the hotel was first built, but what hasn't changed is the focus on our local community," John said.


"This is a small area and we are primarily here for our locals and those within nearby areas.We try to offer a wide range of entertainment options to suit everyone and our staff in particular are always focused on making everyone who comes here feel welcome."


The hotel will celebrate its milestone birthday a little early on Friday, 23 November with an interactive Coyote Ugly themed party night featuring a range of entertainment, food and drinks specials from 9.30pm.


#CriterionWeston #HunterPubs #AHANewcastleHunter #HunterValleyPubs #HunterHotels

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Australian Hotels Association 2018