The Williams’ Club Hotel, and the family that owns it, has been an integral part of the landscape of Glenn Innes for more than a century.
In the days before pay TV, gaming machines and karaoke, pub life revolved around horse racing, football and cricket. “That was it,” John Williams says. “You either played football or watched football. And between times you talked about football. To have a footballer serving behind the bar was a magnet for business.” In its heyday his family’s pub, the Williams’ Club Hotel, had 22 footballers on the payroll, so doubtless business was brisk.
A corner landmark in the main street of the NSW New England town of Glen Innes, the Club Hotel is distinguished by its wide iron-lace verandahs. The building may have seen grander days and now presents an endless job list of maintenance work, but the Williams family continues their proud tradition of ownership, which notched up a century last year.
When it was built in 1906, the Club was considered state of the art, with hot and cold running water to the upstairs guest rooms, urn-shaped finials crowning the roofline and a grand dining room serving meals to house guests and travellers celebrating safe passage on the dusty coach trip between Armidale and Tenterfield. In the 1860s the bushranger Fred Ward (‘Captain Thunderbolt’) had given travel in the region, in particular the Ben Lomond stretch of what is now the New England Highway, a bad reputation. He found the slow stretch up the range an easy target for hold-ups.
In the late 1800s Irish-descended Yass farmers Thomas and Bridget Williams decided to settle in Glen Innes, primarily because the area was known to be drought resistant. Sometime soon after Thomas swapped a bullock team and some cash for the Mount Pleasant Hotel, situated on three hectares of land on the outskirts of town. Family lore has it that Thomas was alerted by frequent guest Sir Henry Parkes to recent legislation that allowed hotel licences to be transferred within a six-kilometre radius of the original. While that story may be apocryphal, it is fact that in October 1889 Parkes delivered a stirring speech in the Tenterfield School of Arts in favour of Federation. And it is also fact that a decade after Parkes’ death in 1896, the licence for the Mount Pleasant Hotel was transferred to the newly built Club Hotel, making it the state’s first hotel-licence transfer.
The move was a good one for Thomas Williams and by the time of his death in 1949 he had become something of a hotel magnate, owning 16 hotels across NSW. Thomas’ third son, Stanlislaus, bought the Club from his father in 1927 and in 1956, Stan’s third son, Patrick, bought the pub from his father. Pat held the licence for 48 years until his death in 2004. Today, his wife Fay continues the family tradition and lives in the upstairs apartment where they raised their five children – Tony, Mary-Anne, Thomas, Julianne and John.