Strictly speaking, the Refreshment Rooms at the Horsham railway station did not constitute a hotel. It is included in this history series because, for more than 100 years, it competed with the hotels in town. The railway arrived in Horsham on January 31, 1879.
Railways were fast becoming the preferred mode of travel because previously travellers had to negotiate the dirty and rough roads of the day.
The railway board also became a de facto tourism authority in Victoria, promoting Victoria's many sights and ensuring that passengers on the trains were well looked after.
One way to do this was to ensure all significant stations had refreshment rooms where passengers could get hot meals and drinks while waiting for the steam trains of the day to replenish their coal and water.
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At Horsham, the refreshment rooms were at the western-most end of the station.
In January 1880, the first manager of the refreshment rooms, experienced publican Troy Knight, paid the railways 225 pounds per annum for the lease. Knight was granted a liquor licence on February 10 1880.
He managed the rooms until his retirement in May 1885.
The next lessee was Hermann Altvater.
He had transferred from Sandhurst (Bendigo) Railway Refreshment Rooms to take up his new post. In December 1886, Altvator was granted a 3.30am late licence to allow him to provide refreshments to passengers travelling on the overnight express from Adelaide.
About September 1895, William Robinson leased the Refreshment Rooms. Robinson came to the position with 17 years of experience as a publican.
Katie Sawyer's "Memories of Church Hill" (1973) mentions that Robinson built a large poultry-yard for fowls, ducks and turkeys between the Refreshment Rooms and the roadway and that the refreshment rooms had a bar and tea counter in one room and a formal dining room with white linen tablecloths and silver cruets in the next. Robinson retired on June 30, 1914, after 19 years as lessee.
The next leaseholder was Annie Harrington, who unfortunately died from illness on December 10, 1920. Beginning in 1920, all refreshment rooms came under the management of the newly formed "Refreshment Services Branch" based at Spencer Street, Melbourne. Instead of using private leaseholders, Victorian Railways began employing its own managers and staff.
In 1923 there were 14 refreshment rooms throughout the Victorian Railway network.
It could open for service provided a train was scheduled to arrive. In Horsham, this meant that since the Adelaide to Melbourne express arrived about 2.30am, the rooms were permitted to serve alcohol until 3am, whereas, from 1915, all hotels in town had to close at 6pm.
In mid-1923, the then manager, Edward William Ingham, doubled the length of the bar by demolishing the wall between the bar room and the dining room.
This reduced the size of the dining area, but up to 150 men were counted in the bar on Saturday nights after football.
In mid-1929, Victorian Railways closed the formal dining room at Horsham Station due to lack of patronage, leaving only the bar counter for serving light meals.
However, because the refreshment rooms could stay open long after the normal closing time of 6pm, the bar was very well patronised by locals.
In 1984 Doreen Righetti, a past licensee of the White Hart Hotel, recalled that the publicans in Horsham became disgruntled with the freedom permitted the Railway Refreshment Rooms, commonly known as "The Railway" by Horsham residents.
The licensee of the Refreshment Rooms did not have to pay rates, served alcohol to passengers and locals alike from 7am to 7pm, whether a train was in the station or not, and did not provide meals or accommodation.
From 1940, the Victorian Railways gradually introduced buffet cars on trains. The last rail service in Horsham without a buffet car was the Horsham-Melbourne-Warrnambool service. A buffet car was added to this service about 1960. About 1980, the Railways decided the Horsham refreshment rooms were no longer needed.
The last manager of "The Railway", Miss Nell Ryan, had been at the Horsham rooms for 21 years. She said her quarters, attached to the rear of the rooms, were very spacious, and she was very sad to leave when they were closed after last drinks on October 30, 1982.
She'd worked for 40 years as a manager at various refreshment rooms all over Victoria's rail network. Nell remembered that at Horsham, the bar sold a lot of bottled beer as well as draught beer and provided a "good income".
The Horsham Railway Station, including the old Refreshment Rooms, is now being used by the University of the Third Age (U3A) for seminars and meetings.