Commercial Hotel

The intersection of Elder and Grainger streets was at one time the hotel hub of Lambton, with three of its four corners hosting a licenced establishment. In 1865 John Stoker opened the Gold Miners’ Arms on the north east corner, and in 1868 Michael Doyle opened the Rose, Thistle & Shamrock Inn on the south east corner.

In 1888 the Commercial Hotel opened on the south west corner in a newly erected building. The name was familiar to locals as there had been a previous but unrelated hotel of the same name on the northern side of Elder St for a brief period around 1880. The new Commercial Hotel building was commissioned by Mr G Buckley, designed by local architects Bennett and Yeomans, and constructed by Mr J Frogley. The newspaper at the time reported that

“The building is of brick, containing fifteen rooms, with large cellar 20 x 16, bathroom and water tank, wardrobe, large yard, stables and out-offices. The main building contains a large hall, used by the Masonic Order, 36 x 18, with ante-room attached; billiard-room, 26 x 26, high and lofty, fitted with fire-place, large-sized table, and eleven ventilators, making it cosy in winter and cool in the summer.”

The first publican was Mr W Brown, followed by John Sample in 1889. Another notable publican was George Smith, who held the license of the Commercial Hotel from 1901 to 1912, before becoming publican of the Northumberland Hotel at the other end of Elder St from 1913 to 1920.

After 84 years of trading as the Commercial Hotel, in 1972 it was renamed the Snake Gully Hotel. In 1979 it became the Hotel Amos, then reverted to Snake Gully Hotel in 1982. In 2002 it was renamed Bar 121, and then renamed to Snake Gully Hotel again in 2016.  The hotel closed in August 2018 bringing to an end over 150 years of continuous hotel operations at the Elder/Grainger St intersection.


The article above was first published in the December 2018 edition of The Local.

John Sample’s Commercial Hotel 1893. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The Snake Gully Hotel in July 2018

The First “Commercial Hotel” in Lambton

Several books, including one I collaborated on (Lambton, A nineteenth century mining town, 2nd edition) state that the Commercial Hotel on the south west corner of Elder/Grainger Streets dates from 1880. This is incorrect. While researching this article I discovered that the Commercial Hotel of 1880 was a different hotel, somewhere on the north side of Elder St. The Commercial Hotel that opened in 1888 on the southern side of Elder St was described at the time as a newly erected hotel.

Mr R Ward operated the first Commercial Hotel until 1882, when he advertised the sale of the property.

Note that the location is described as being …

“erected upon a quarter of an acre of land, fronting Elder-street, and running through to De-Vitre-street, thus having two frontages to the principal streets.”

In August 1882 the Newcastle Morning Herald reported that …

“Messrs. W. Lightfoot and Son have removed to Lambton, and commenced business in the premises in Elder-street, lately known as the Commercial Hotel, as grocers, drapers, ironmongers, dealers in colonial produce, etc.”

A few years later, in January 1885, the property was again advertised for sale, split into two allotments.

The first allotment is described as having a frontage to Elder St of 33 feet. Note however that the second allotment has a frontage to Elder St of 18 feet but a frontage to De Vitre St of 35 feet. The difference in frontages can only occur if the block is either wedge shaped, or has an irregular shape. Loading up lot boundaries from the NSW Globe KML (from NSW Governement Spatial Services) into Google Earth shows that there are no wedge shaped blocks on the north side of Elder St, but there is an irregular set of lots where

  • the total area is 0.25 acres (matching the area described in the 1882 sale)
  • the western lot has a frontage to Elder St of 33 feet, and the eastern lot a frontage of 18 feet (matching the details of the 1885 sale)

There are no other lots that match the details of the 1882 and 1885 sale advertisements, so I am reasonably confident that this is where the first Commercial Hotel in Lambton was situated. The site is at address 102-104 Elder St, where Raine & Horne Real Estate, and Williams Artisan Bread & Espresso is now located.

102 and 104 Elder St Lambton. Site of the first Commercial Hotel in Lambton.

Additional Information

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections has another Ralph Snowball photograph of the Commercial Hotel, captioned “George Smith’s Commercial Hotel, Lambton NSW, 11 August 1891”. The date cannot be right as George Smith did not become licensee of the Commercial Hotel until late 1900 or early 1901.

George Smith’s Commercial Hotel, Lambton NSW. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Licensees (to 1921)

Licensees after 1921 (incomplete list)

Name changes

The Australian National University archives has a photograph of a card from Tooth and Company Limited that shows two of the hotel’s name changes in the 1970’s.

  • Changed from “Commercial Hotel” to “Snake Gully”, 8/6/1972
  • Changed from “Snake Gully” to “Hotel Amos”, 1/11/1979

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Jun 1868Advertisement for Michael Doyle's "Rose, Thistle, & Shamrock Inn" at Lambton.
21 Aug 1879"Mr. Henry Laurance, the oculist optician ... will be at the Commercial Hotel, Lambton, on Thursday next."
19 Nov 1880"Richard Ward applied for the transfer of his license of the Marquis of Lorne Hotel, Dixon street, to a house in Elder-street." The request was refused by the bench. Was the house in Elder St the Commercial Hotel which R Ward occupied in 1882?
6 Apr 1882Advertisement for the sale of Mr R Ward's Commercial Hotel. It is described as being on a quarter acre block between Elder and De-Vitre street in Lambton.
8 Aug 1882"Messrs. W. Lightfoot and Son have removed to Lambton, and commenced business in the premises in Elder-street, lately known as the Commercial Hotel, as grocers, drapers, ironmongers, dealers in colonial produce, etc."
17 Jan 1885FOR SALE - "That splendid BUSINESS PREMISES situate in the best part of Elder-street, Lambton, and occupied at present by W. Lightfoot and Sons as a Drapery establishment, consisting of two good shops, with a seven-roomed dwelling, kitchen, out buildings, and two underground tanks. The land has a frontage to Elder-street of 33 feet, by a depth running back to De Vitre street."
2 Nov 1888"The new hotel built to the order of Mr. G. Buckley, situate at the junction of Elder and Grainger streets, is now complete." "Mr. Brown has spared no pains in tastefully furnishing every room, so that the Commercial Hotel, with its genial host and sanitary surroundings, can be safely recommended as ranking amongst the first-class hotels of the district."
7 Nov 1888
5 Nov 1888
Mr. W. Brown, the host of the new Commercial Hotel, celebrated the opening of the house by inviting a few friends to partake of a neat "spread" on Monday night.
11 Jul 1889At the Waratah Licensing Court, the licence of the Commercial Hotel was transferred to John Sample, despite objections of the police.
18 Jan 1921At the license renewal hearing, the Commercial Hotel is described as "a fairly new brick building of two storeys" with "nine bedrooms, six of which were available to the public." The licensee at the time was Stephen Thomas Shipley, and the owner was Anne Jane Buckley.

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