By MICK ROBERTS ©
THREATENED with demolition in the 1990s, and described by the hopeful developer at the time as worthless of preservation, the ‘Fountain on the Mountain’ – the Balgownie Hotel – survived to celebrate 100 years of trade on Monday December 20 2004.
Balgownie Hotel was designed by architect Alex Elphinstone and built for Francis Caldwell (pictured below) early last century providing a social and sporting home to many of the village’s coal miners.
Balgownie was typical of mining settlements of the time. The miners loved their beer and quickly made the pub their base.
Pubs were usually one of the first places of business in mining villages, but Balgownie’s hotel was obstructed by the establishment of a workmen’s club.
The Balgownie Workmen’s Club satisfied the thirst and social needs of the miners during the 1890s until 32 year old Edward Percy Clout was granted the first license of the newly completed Balgownie Hotel on Monday December 19 1904.
The pub was opened the following day. Born in Camden, Perce Clout had at least two brothers in the hotel trade. He knew the game and knew tradition required him to provide free beer on opening day. That opening day was clearly remembered a half century after by residents.
In an interview in the 1990s local historian Vince Ward told how the local mine produced little coal that day. A large number of men were absent from work and the following day was just as bad due to the miners “suffering a self inflicted illness”.
The pub became the hub of social life in the village, particularly amongst the sporting community.
Clout was largely responsible for establishing a football ground in Balgownie and sponsored sports such as soccer and cricket. An inter-pub quoit competition became a favourite sporting past time at the pub Mr Ward said. “The miners’ game of clay quoits is a very highly skilled game and several champions emerged from Balgownie,” he said.
The hotel produced champion quoit thrower, Bob Vardy who at the turn of the century, was also a top sportsman in soccer and cricket.
Albert Rhodes, grandson of one time publican Tom Rhodes, recalled some colourful memories of the Balgownie Hotel in an interview back in 1995.
The village barber Ernie Bond was a regular drinker who often swayed backwards and forwards between his shop and the pub. He always had a glass of beer sitting beside the barber chair. The tippling stylist was notorious for playing practical jokes and once “frightened hell out of a fellow who dropped in to have a shave. He lathered-up the poor bloke, held his head back and ran the cut-throat razor backwards across his throat,” Albert Rhodes explained. “You can imagine the look on the customers face!”
The Bally pub was nearly lost to developers in 1995 when a deal was struck between the then owners and a developer to buy the site for a retirement village on the condition the pub was levelled.
Regulars and the local community rallied together and the Friends of Balgownie Hotel was formed to save the pub. In turn moves were made for a heritage listing and the South Coast Labour Council joined the push when the powerful union movement threatened “green bans”.
The community realised the social, cultural and historical worth of the corner pub and the developers, seemingly shocked by the overwhelming support, backed off, eventually scrapping their multi million-dollar plans.
Brothers Hugh and Jason Clarke embarked on an ambitious refurbishment plan in the late 1990s. Their plans, which included the reinstatement of the balcony (Lost during 1950s renovations) have returned the hotel as Balgownie’s most imposing architecture.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015