The University Hotel on the corner of Glebe Rd and Broadway opened its doors to the public in December 1856, six years after the foundation of the institution from which it took its name, and operated as a pub until 1954. As University Hall it retains the scale and curved shape of architect N C Day’s 1890s remodeling for its then owner Evening News proprietor Alfred Bennett. A century later the four-storey building underwent emergency reconstruction after the stone foundations were undermined during its conversion to student apartments.

Alfred Bennett's 1890 plans for alterations after he was taken to court by Glebe Council and ordered to set back a balcony from the street and remove an unauthorised awning.(image: National Library of Australia)
Alfred Bennett’s 1890 plans for alterations after he was taken to court by Glebe Council and ordered to set back a balcony from the street and remove an unauthorised awning.(image: National Library of Australia)

The original hotel was built for local businessman John Walton. Construction began in 1854. When completed, it was an imposing landmark on the road to Parramatta, featuring bars and parlours, sitting, dining and billiard rooms and nine bedrooms, together with extensive cellars in the basement and stables, a coach-house and hayloft in the yard. An application in 1855 by Jean Baptiste Verdeau to call a Francis Street pub the University Hotel was withdrawn.

John Walton went surety for his second-born son Robert (1836-71) who was granted the University’s first licence on 5 December 1856, was married on 16 December, and opened for business just after Christmas.  Offering ‘a choice collection of wines, spirits and malt liquors’ and commodious, comfortable and healthy accommodation, Robert begged his potential customers (local gentry and country visitors) to ‘give him a trial’. However, his career as a publican was short-lived. In April 1857 nine casks of cement were stolen from the premises and the next month the University was advertised for lease. There were apparently no takers – in September his father took over, augmenting the hotel’s income with rent from adjoining houses and a shop, and Robert turned to woolbroking. In September 1858 the hotel’s licence was transferred to Henry James Butters who remained there until 1866 when he moved to another pub on the Bishopthorpe Estate – the Currency Lass on the corner of Glebe Rd and Mitchell St.

The University Hotel’s first floor lodge/billiard room with its balcony overlooking the street was a popular meeting place. There W T Pinhey convened a gathering of interested locals to discuss proposed repairs to Glebe Rd; wizard Professor Franzheim performed his magic tricks; J S Walton showed his sea and land panorama (‘16 000 miles from home’) and then put his apparatus up for sale; Frederick Shipway held dancing classes and organised nights of quadrille dancing; the Operative Stone Masons celebrated the adoption of the short-time principle with an anniversary dinner; the Loyal Love of Liberty Lodge (its secretary Frederick Shipway) held at least one ball; the Electoral Reform League discussed topics such as the secret ballot and manhood suffrage; supporters of political candidates John Campbell and Sir Daniel Cooper planned campaign strategy; and a series of free concerts was given by Irish comic singer Paddy Doyle, ‘descriptive vocalist’ Mr A Campbell and pianist Miss Bassman to which ‘respectable ladies [were] admitted if accompanied by a gentleman’.

When John Walton built the University Hotel he was a tanner and fellmonger selling sheepskins, but he had started his working life as a hotelkeeper. During the 1820s he ran a pub in King St where he was fined more than once for serving drinks after closing time, letting his customers sing at unreasonable hours and gamble on dice and cards (with stakes of over 100 Spanish dollars) and for harbouring a convict servant.  From October 1833 until January 1836 he was publican of the Captain Piper in Lower George St, after which he ran the Jolly Fisherman in George St. He was treasurer of the Sydney Mechanics’ Benefit Society, pledged to help injured tradesmen.

Glebe’s John Walton was almost certainly the same person who owned Walton’s Inn in pastoral country at Burrowa near Yass, and who returned to Sydney after the Burrowa Estate was sold in 1847 to briefly resume his old profession – as licensee of the Albion – before setting himself up as a woolbroker on Parramatta St. By 1852 Walton was a Glebe tanner, advertising for

curriers and fellmongers at good wages, and by 1853 had for lease a tan yard on Bay St with 21 pits, two lofts, pumps, a furnace, curriers’ utensils and livestock. In 1855 his book-keeper Joseph Nott was gaoled for forging a cheque for £117 in his employer’s name. It was the signature, not the amount, that aroused the bank teller’s suspicions.  In 1859 John Walton was elected a councillor for Bishopthorpe Ward on the first Glebe Council.

Business success did not guarantee a long life or protection against epidemics, frequent in Victorian times.  John Walton married twice, Mary Ann Walton dying on 8 February 1848, leaving him with five children, the eldest 12-year-old John junior and the youngest Mary Ann junior who died aged 9 months on 8 June 1848. He quickly entered into a new relationship, marrying 19-year-old Elizabeth McIntyre (the ceremony witnessed by Catherine Frost, wife of a Parramatta Rd publican) on 20 August 1849, eight months after the birth of their first child Thomas John. At least eight other children followed. Of these three died young: eleven-month-old Benjamin and four-year-old Elizabeth Isabella within three weeks of each other in 1858, and eight-year-old Elizabeth Isabella Ann of scarlet fever in 1867.  John’s brother Samuel died at the Bay St house in 1856 leaving a widow and nine children; his sister Martha Bishop died in Norton Street Glebe in 1860 leaving a widower and a large family. A fifteen-month-old grandson Johnny died at Bay St in January 1871.

John Walton senior died aged 70 at 68 Bay St on 14 November 1871 and was buried in St Stephen’s churchyard Camperdown, the resting place also of the second Elizabeth Isabella (it was common practice to name a new baby after a deceased child). John’s son Robert, the University Hotel’s first licensee, had predeceased him on 25 April the same year, leaving a widow Martha Sarah née Briggs and children John (1858-1938), Martha (1861-1944) and Robert (1868-1907). Martha Sarah married Thomas Oak Smith in 1876 but was buried in 1909 in the same Rookwood plot as her first husband. A couple, John and Elizabeth Walton (the wife a decade or so older than her spouse), are buried in Waverley Cemetery, but any connection with the Glebe family is yet to be confirmed.

Sources: 1841 census; Empire 22 December 1856; NSW births, deaths, marriages registry; NSW cemetery records; NSW State Records (reels 1239, 2223, 6062); Sands Directories; Sydney Morning Herald (various editions); Truth 27 March 1910: ‘Old Chum’ article.