A RELIC OF WELLINGTON’S YOUTH, The Shepherds’ Arms Hotel, was built with much enterprise in a position that in the 1860’s was not much removed from a state of nature. The bush, then, “as dense as any to be seen in the country” sang with birdsong, swarmed with wild pigs and wild goats, and the waterways teemed with eel.
So it was, that beside the pleasantly mumuring Karori Stream, under the shadow of the bush-clad Tinakori Hills Mr Charles H. Gillespie, in 1870, established his hotel. Replete with every convenience suitable to a well-appointed hostelry, including billiard and bagatelle rooms, bar-parlour, two card rooms and passages.
The hotel caught its name through being a house of call for the shepherds of Karori, Makara, and the surrounding district who held their lodge there. A contemporary account describes the patrons…
“The shepherds appeared breezy men, with weather-beaten faces, on which a pair of sissors might have been used to some advantage. Their dogs; as well as their manner of talk, clearly indicating the men’s profession.”
It was not only a resort for the homely shepherd, but a coaching centre also. Time was when into the yard of the old inn clattered once a day the Karori coach, and in its capacious stables the team was rated and refreshed, ready for the return journey later in the day, or, if necessary, re-shod in Leyden’s Shoeing Forge across the way. Such was the Hotels popularity that the coaches plying between Wellington and the Hutt left the straight road to pick up passengers at the Shepherds‘ Arms. From its ample facilities also went out coaches to the Hutt, Makara and through the Ngahauranga Gorge.
In those early days traces of gold were discovered in the Karori Stream and prospectors dug a shaft into the hill near the hotel. No gold was found but the shaft was enlarged and for a time served as a wine cellar.
As time went by the Hotel came to be known as “THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP” on account of Mr Gillespe’s eclectic collection of relics and curios accumulated over the years and that fought for space inside the Hotel.
In 1910 the original structure was pulled down and replaced with the present building. Gillespies collection was long dispersed but the bagatelle table was one of the few relics of the old hotel to find a home in the new.
A Mrs F. Buick was the first licensee of the updated establishment – wellknown in the Wairarapa – she opened the doors to the new hotel with the promotional line “the place where Wairarapa people meet in Wellington.” That this novel slogan proved a drawcard to the good people of the Waiarapa is lost to the mists of time, but it is known that at a Wellington Licensing Committee Meeting in September of 1915 the name of the Hotel was officially changed to The Western Park Hotel.
Little of note concerning the Western Park was recorded following Mrs Buick’s tenure beyond the names of early licensees, including Messers Ballin, Clay, Firth, Duggan, Marriott, Boulton and until 1947 a Mr J. Lane.
The 1970’s and 80’s witnessed a boom in popularity at the Western Park. Where shepherds had once enjoyed an ale, students now flocked to listen to live music, and often it was a case of standing room only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday Nights.