By Christine Johnson
Paekakariki’s original railway station was nothing like today’s one, being described in an early issue of the NZ Railway officers “Advocate” as a small, dark old shanty. In view of this, it seems unlikely that the station had some type of refreshment room. However, pieces of old china recovered by myself from the old Paekakariki Railway tip reveal manufacturers marks dating back to the late 1800’s, when the line was still owned and run by the Wellington & Manawatu Railway Company. Markings depict a little brown engine inside an oval, being, endorsed “Paekakariki RR Rooms”. The manufacturer was Alfred Meakin of the Staffordshire District in England and the years of manufacture are 1897-1907 (coat of arms herald), and 1914- 1930 (unicorns head).
Some of the old stations on the NZR were known to have served tea/coffee from what was little more than a tin shed. Amongst Palmerston North, Kaitoke, Halcombe, Patea and Aramoho stations, some refreshment rooms had liquor licences. Naturally, these rooms gained a great deal of attention from the prohibition movement. Between 1900 and 1904 in a number of court proceeding taken against licensees of railway refreshment rooms and their patrons. Concern was expressed that such licences were not under the control of the penal clauses in the licensing act.
On 22 April 1904, in a statement made to the press about this, the Minister of Railways, Sir Joseph Ward, stated that the sale of liquor at railway refreshment rooms had not proved satisfactory and would be discontinued altogether from April 1st 1905. Lessee’s licences were not renewed as they expired. During these early times, all station refreshment rooms were leased and the station liquor licence holders were usually the leases of the rooms.
In the pre-railway coaching days of New Zealand, sustenance stops for passengers were made at about 80 km distances, which was a useful guide to the railway authorities. When train transport began to replace horse haulage, the speeds were limited by the newness of the trackbeds. The limited capacity of the fuel and water tanks made it necessary to have stops close together. Why not make these stops into refreshment stops for passengers? The railways of Britain provided refreshments at some larger stations from the mid 1830’s, setting standards for quality and service that were copied world-wide.
In New Zealand, contractors were quick to tender for the right to sell refreshments at the engine servicing stops and many of them received good financial rewards for their efforts.
A number of contractors provided their own branded crockery but the losses were high because of the poor rate of return. At the termination or expiry of a lease, all furniture, fittings and other chattels were purchased from the contractor by the new lessee. This was part of the NZR’s conditions of contract. An old railway tip unearthed at Paekakariki, bore testimony to the many different leased refreshment rooms in the North Island alone. These pieces are currently on display in Paekakariki’s railway station Rail and Heritage Museum.
During 1909, after NZR took control over Wellington Manawatu Railway Company’s lines, construction of new railway station at Paekakariki and signalboxes was commenced. The station refreshment room was completed during 1909, even though the new station itself did not open until 1910.
Tenders were called for the new refreshment rooms at Paekakariki and the first lease was eventually granted to the highest bidder, Mr Peter Hartshorn, a hotelkeeper of Johnsonville. Mr Hartshorn was to pay the amount of £526:10:0 per annum, for the period covering 1-December-1909 to 31-March-1912.
Leases of Railway Refreshment Rooms were conditional upon the lessee paying the first six months rental, within seven days of accepting the lease. Unfortunately, however, Mr Hartshorn was unable to pay the required amount in the specified time and the Paekakariki Railway Refreshment rooms were again advertised for re-leasing without Hartshorn ever taking up occupancy. In fairness to Hartshorn, his guarantors had failed to supply the deposit, despite promising such, and by the time Hartshorn was able to find another source of security, it was too late. The rooms were re-let, despite Hartshorn’s pleadings and a letter from Parliament stating that he found further security. The Railways were unrelenting.
A new tender was accepted for Paekakariki Railway Refreshment Rooms on 21 December 1909, being one Walter Freeman, Caterer of Wellington. Freeman had an excellent reputation amongst travellers on the former Wellington Manawatu Railway Company dining cars. Freeman’s terms for the lease of the Paekakariki Railway Refreshment Rooms were £450 per annum until 31 March 1912. Unfortunately however, Freeman suffered the same fate as did Hartshorn, with his guarantor also failing to produce the first six months rental in advance.
The lease was terminated without Freeman ever taking up occupancy of the rooms. Freeman also pleaded for extra time and produced a letter from Parliament stating that he had found financial backing. The General Manager of Railways could not be swayed. Freeman’s excellent record with the Wellington Manawatu Railway Company was never taken into account. Furthermore, Freeman also held the lease of Palmerston North Railway Refreshment Rooms during the late 1890’s.
NZR was now in a position where it was forced to take a serious look at the situation at Paekakariki. New Refreshment rooms in a still uncompleted station, built at cost, with no one to lease them to.
One of the tenderers had been Mrs FJ McHarie, who at the time leased the Otaki Railway Refreshment Rooms, but her tender for the Paekakariki Rooms was considered far too low.
Mr JF Thomson leased the Kaitoke Railway Refreshment Rooms. He was considered to have supplied excellent service at Kaitoke and NZR had never received complaints from travelling members of the public. NZR approached Mr Thomson and offered him the lease of Paekakariki Railway Refreshment Rooms, as well as continuing his tenancy at Kaitoke. After the approach by railways he accepted the lease of the Paekakariki Rooms at the rate of £355 per annum. The tenure of the lease ran from 12 January 1910 to 31 March 1912. Once necessary alterations were made to the rooms (the station was still being completed), Paekakariki Railway Refreshment Rooms finally opened for the first train on 31 January 1910, along with the rest of the new station. The opening of the rooms was advertised in the Penny Guide.
Despite alterations being made, Mr Thomson found the kitchen to be too small for both cooking and storage and further storerooms were added later that year (1910). The costs which were duly incorporated into his lease.
Demand steadily grew and by 1919 all of Thomson’s crockery was stored in the goods shed, to the complaint of the railway staff. Additional store rooms were built and these can still be seen today, as an obviously added on part, at the south end of the railway station.
Thomson successfully ran both the Kaitoke and the Paekakariki Railway Refreshment rooms until 1927. Some of his Kaitoke crockery was unearthed in the old Paekakariki railway tip. More recently, some complete pieces dating back to 1907, were recovered from an old turntable pit at Steam Inc’s site.
On 18 January 1927, NZR served formal notice of termination on both of Thomson’s leases with the intention of taking over the successful business of running these successful rooms themselves. NZR finally took full control of the rooms on April 3 1927, using their own crockery. Thus was an end of an era of the private leasing of the old railway refreshment rooms at Paekakariki and Kaitoke.
With the termination of the dining cars in 1917, railway refreshment rooms all over the country were being gradually taken over and refurbished by NZR. Some were closed. The first rooms to be taken over were Mercer, Frankton Junction, Marton Junction and Oamaru, in July 1917. Other stations had gradually followed from there.
1968 finally saw the end of Paekakariki’s railway refreshment rooms. Diesel hauled express passenger trains from Wellington meant that the station was no longer required as a locomotive changeover stop.