In 1864, Napier had a population of around 1200 people. To serve this population, there were 13 hotels with public bars.
In their favour was the garrison established on Napier Hill in 1858. When the soldiers pulled out of Napier in the 1860s, the annual licensing meeting of awarding publican licences said the population could not stand any more hotels in Napier.
It was common for a brewery or merchant firm to own the hotel building and to lease it to those awarded a licence to operate the hotel.
Competition was fierce amongst hoteliers, and some went out of business.
The Masonic Hotel, for instance, had 14 publican licensees from its beginning in 1861 to 1892, before it stabilised over the next 100 or so years.
Many of the hotels had horse stables attached to them, such as the Masonic Hotel in Hastings St. The stables acted almost like a modern-day service station, except instead of petroleum products, oats were used to refuel the horses.
A common name for them was livery and bait stables. The term "livery" meant that horse-drawn vehicles were available for hire, while "bait" meant the traveller's own horses could be stabled, fed and cared for.
Cobb & Co, which many will remember as a restaurant established at Napier's Masonic Hotel in 1980, was originally a horse coach transport business, and left from the hotel in the 1860s.
The Masonic's stables were at the back of the hotel, which was then a wooden, and smaller version of what the Art Deco Masonic Hotel is today.
One of the early stable operators was Charles Palmer, who was one of the earliest European settlers in Hawke's Bay.
It appears that he was involved with the Masonic Hotel's stables from its beginning in 1861.
In 1867, he started up his own stables, behind the Bank of New Zealand when it was near the current St John's Cathedral.
He didn't last long in that venture and returned to the Masonic stables a few months later.
Exactly a year later, Charles once again left the Masonic stables and established himself at "his new and more commodious stables" used by a blacksmith in Hastings St. These were right next door to the Masonic Hotel's stables.
A business hazard with stables was dry wooden materials and the abundance of hay. A fire in 1869 totally destroyed his stables, although all the horses were saved.
The Napier fire brigade's engine was "utterly useless, being quite out of repair" to fight the fire. Surrounding buildings were protected from fire by having wet blankets placed on them, and water was used in buckets from nearby the house's rain tanks.
The cause of fire could not be determined, although it was thought his 14-year-old stable hand, who slept in the loft, dropped a match, but this was disproved at the inquest.
Once again, in 1870, Charles Palmer's Stables were destroyed by fire, and no cause could be found either. A police constable stole a saddle while articles were being saved from the fire and was found guilty and went to gaol.
In 1878, the Masonic Hotel offered for sale the buildings of the stables for removal. With Charles Palmer right next door to the hotel, and planned expansion of the hotel on that site, they were no longer needed.
Fire would once again destroy Charles Palmer's stables in 1896.
This time the stables adjoining the Masonic Hotel were rebuilt in brick.
When Charles Palmer passed away in 1906, the proprietors of the Masonic Hotel, Neal and Close, purchased his property.
The next year they converted (as shown) the old stables by adding another floor for hotel rooms to match the next door building and featured a promenade deck.
With horses rapidly being replaced by motor vehicles, ironically the original ground floor stables were leased to a motor vehicle company.
Another floor of hotel rooms was added to this building around 1929 to replace the promenade deck.
Being built of unsecured brick and the hotel promoted as "almost fireproof", the original Masonic Hotel and the additions to the hotel from the former stables building collapsed and caught fire during the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake. Its rebuilt hotel is the one that exists today.
*Michael Fowler is writing a history of the Masonic Hotel and is holding an informal gathering at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel's Gatsby room on Monday, June 17 at 7pm to gather any knowledge and photos of the hotel's era, especially from the 1960s to 1990s.
*Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are only available from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings for $65.
Michael Fowler FCA (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.