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The Heart of Canowindra’s Main Street

The first weatherboard Victoria Hotel was built in 1865. A new brick section consisting of ten rooms was built in 1908 in anticipation of the railway coming to Canowindra. The new Victoria flourished and grew in the heart of Gaskill St providing both hotel accommodation and office space.

The weatherboard pub was demolished and two new additions were built in 1911 and 1913. This created an interesting corner where folk could congregate for a yarn.

The graceful arches and iron lace of the verandas were matched in the new wing, though the fashion of the twenties demanded that a veneer of glossy tiles should cover the mellow hand-made bricks outside the bar.

The Victoria closed its doors as a hotel in 1967. After the interior was remodelled, it reopened in 1969 with a group of local investors giving it a new life as Canowindra Convalescent Home during a period of declining business in the area.

In more recent history, The Old Vic was transitioned back to accommodate visitors to the area as a guesthouse and restaurant. It has also become a central hub for the growing local arts scene. The entire Inn is dedicated art space playing host to the work of local artists.

Stories and Characters

Never short of scandal and excitement, if only the walls of The Old Vic Inn and the Main St of Canowindra could talk. Some of the stories below have been passed down through the generations for your entertainment.

Canowindra’s Gold Rush

Canowindra had a brief gold rush in the late 1860’s at Belmore (now Moorbell). The rush was short lived and by 1877 the mines were all abandoned since greater finance was needed to develop them. In 1879, mining began again. Belmore was made a reserve for miners’ leases of 10 acre lots, which are still a feature of Moorbel today. In 1885, the most famous mine, The Blue Jacket, was re-opened and continued as a rich producer of gold until it closed in 1914.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Robinson – The Original Canowindra Woman

Bessie Robinson was Canowindra’s first woman activist who with her family and descendants contributed greatly to the development of Canowindra. Her father, William Robinson, was an early innkeeper in South Canowindra and the town’s first developer. Bessie married firstly John Flanagan. She inherited 160 acres in 1861 in North Canowindra from her father on which the town of Canowindra developed between present Gaskill Street and Tilga Street. Bessie and John Flanagan came to run the old Victoria Hotel from 1868, built on her land. Bessie had four children. Widowed in 1872, she agitated for a school. Her second husband, Thomas Clyburn, worked with her to gain this and the school opened in 1875. In 1878 they developed the Clyburn subdivision on their land and built several shops in the main street, later Gaskill Street. Six children were born to Bessie and Tom. He died in 1891 and Bessie remarried James Marshall. Together they developed the 1904 Marshall subdivision to Ferguson Street. A further Marshall estate subdivision in 1922, the year of her death, developed the town to its present northern boundary of Clyburn Street. This included a Flanagan Street honouring her two husbands. Her descendants have continued to be prominent in public life in Canowindra. Her granddaughter, Amelia Rygate, was the first Canowindra woman to be a member of State (NSW) Upper House.

The Ben Hall Raids on Canowindra

The exploits of the bushrangers have fascinated generations ever since Ben Hall’s gang made three raids on Canowindra during 1863. On each occasion, they visited Robinson’s Inn (on the site where the Royal Hotel now stands). They took everyone who entered the town hostage and entertained them with food, wine and song. Bessie Robinson and her sister (Frances) played the piano and sang to entertain the crowd. The bushrangers could do this because of the mighty Belubula River being in flood and the police only able to look on from the other side of the river. They say that on each occasion that Ben Hall paid for his stay in Canowindra with the money taken from his robbery of the local bank. Ben Hall, John O’Meally and John Gilbert had been members of Frank Gardiner’s Gang and were responsible for the holdup at Escort Rock – more than half of the gold from this robbery was recovered by the police in the weeks after the robbery.

Clarrie and Kit’s Narrow Escape

Whilst Clarrie was dating his lovely Kit – he decided to take her for a quick drink at the Victoria Hotel on their way to a ball. Kit’s parents forbade going to pubs – but love was grand. Unfortunately, they stayed too long and the police came along to see that the rule of 6 o’clock closing was enforced. Scared that they would be caught Clarrie helped Kit (ballgown and all) escape through a side window in the ladies’ lounge. They narrowly escaped and dashed across fields and later attended the Ball as though nothing had happened at all. The window is now boarded up and is part of The Old Vic Inn’s Art Gallery.

1967 Hotelier and Barmaid Scandal

The Victoria Hotel (then known as Boyd’s Hotel), closed its doors in 1967 when the publican ran away with the barmaid. They are still together today and live in Melbourne. It is said that they left everything behind even the children and spouses, as they were both married at the time. Rumour has it that the shearers who drank regularly at the pub were said to come each night and drink until the pub had no more drink left. It took them approximately three weeks because no-one was in a hurry. Each night they would dutifully lock up the pub so that no-one could steal their grog (thoughtful fellas).

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