Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 4 pm, Weekends and Public Holidays 10am – 2pm.

Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 4 pm, Weekends and Public Holidays 10am – 2pm.

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Our Cambridge Collection has changing exhibitions about Cambridge.  Much of our collection is in storage to ensure its preservation for future generations.


The National Hotel

The National Hotel has always been a Landmark in Cambridge.

In 1866 in the infant town of Cambridge, the Alpha (now National) was erected for Mr Robert Kirkwood – his name is perpetuated in a street nearby.

Early National Hotel landlords were William Laird, William Walker, Andus Raynes, Henry Gillett, Arthur Bach and Arthur A Smith.
In 1905 the hotel had 27 bedrooms and seven sitting-rooms but only one bathroom. The Police Report in 1906 condemned the building which was old and falling down. The foundations were sinking and the side of the building facing Empire Street was bulging out. Alfred Underwood had recently taken over the hotel’s licence and had made some repairs which satisfied the Licensing Committee.
James Watters was transferring the licence to George Horner when fire destroyed the premises shortly after 2:30 pm on Friday, 29 November 1912. Nothing could be done to save the building and the fire brigade concentrated on saving nearby property. Just after the excitement had calmed down there was another outbreak of fire at the Catholic Presbytery in the Convent School grounds. This also burnt to the ground.

(With Apologies to “Father O’Flynn”).

Of men in this town there’s the quaintest variety,
Some of them landlords and full of propriety,
Some of them full of their beer to satiety.
None would I pick as the worst of them all.
Here’s a health to ye, brothers in sin,
Down it and down it, and down it agin.
If you are sensible, naught’s indefensible,
Customers all, of the old National.

When there were sparks in the midst of the towels of it,
When there was fire in the centre and bowels of it,
Who was it rescued the roosters and fowls of it?
Divil if I know! Do you know at all?
Never before such excitement was stirred,
Everyone went off their heads, on my word,
Smash came horology, bang went theology,
House of the priest and the old National.

Men of the town, you’ve a wonderful way with you,
Some of us doubt should we swear at, or pray for you,
Turn a cold shoulder, or wish a “Good-day” to you.
Give you a hand-shake or give you a stick.
Where upon earth was your sense of control?
Gone to the dickens, I swear, on my soul.
Checking the steadied ones, blocking cool-headed ones;
Hind’ring each fireman who worked like a brick.

All I have said is in truth and in sincerity,
Minus unkindness or undue asperity.
Say, will you pardon my youthful temerity?
Just shed a tear for the old National.
When you’ve had time to get over my jest,
Tell me, who were they stood out from the rest?
Right in the murk of it, never a shirk of it
Struggling to save us the old National.

Here’s a health to you Cambridge Brigade,
Here are our thanks for the struggle you made,
Here’s to the luck of you.
Here’s to the pluck of you
Trying to save us the old National.

(Waikato Independent 1912)

A temporary Bar was built by Fred Potts which served until the new hotel was built the following year.
The architect for the new hotel was Mr J Currie of Auckland associated with James T Douce of Cambridge. The builder was Fred Potts a reknown Cambridge builder. The new hotel had 24 bedrooms, ample bathrooms and sitting rooms, and a private and public bar.
There were tennis courts out back and gardens of violets. Also storerooms and sample rooms and rooms for the gardener and porter. In 1916 Mrs Clara Tully took over the licence and at that time the lighting was gas but all the cooking was still done on the coal range.
Licensees about that time were F L Hamilton, Jack Frost, Arvid Shostrom.
In 1927 the brick Sample Rooms were built beside the hotel – not to sample the brew but for travelling salesmen to show their wares. Victor Rickit was licensee from 1928 and Fred and Marie Wilson from 1948-1951.
Renovations were carried out in 1953, and in 1961 while Mr and Mrs W F Robb were licensees, a new lounge bar was opened. It was well known as a tourist stop for lunch and enjoyed a good reputation for accommodation.
In 2002 the current owners extended the terrace at the front of the building which blends in nicely with the upgrade of the central business area.