1851 – In 1851 The Canterbury Association sold Town Section 31 to Mr Maunsell. On 18th December 1858 in Mr Maunsell’s will the town section is left to Harman (as executor). On 22nd June 1860 Harman (lawyer) sells part of T.S.31 to Clifford. On 25th March 1862 another part of T.S.31 is sub-divided and sold to Mr Fox.
1863 – In 1863 Harman sells the appropriate part of T.S. 31 to Joseph Dransfield. It seems likely that there was a hotel on the site at this time as J.Johnson in his book The Story of Lyttelton says that by 1870 there had been about 16 or 17 hotels, some reminiscent of the English inn. Loyalty to the Mother Country was suggested in names such as The Queens Hotel and imperialism suggested by The Albion and The Empire, all in London Street.
Joseph Dransfield was the owner of the earlier wooden hotel on the site of the Empire from 1863-1883. A newspaper clipping in the Lyttelton Museum (Claude Fletcher Album) refers to this building:
“On 30th April 1866 Mr. E. W. Roper advertised that he had opened a Shades at the Lyttelton Assembly Rooms in London Street.”
Wine vaults with a lounge attached were often known as Shades. This term originated at Brighton, England when the Old Bank in 1819 was turned into a smoking room and bar. Very soon numerous hotels sprung up known as Shades as this one was. An 1867 photograph of this can be seen in the Canterbury Museum. This hotel also appears in an 1868 view in W.H. Scotter's A History of Port Lyttelton ; refer (Plate 22).
1868 –In the Lyttelton Borough Council Rates records Joseph Dransfield is the “owner” but not occupier of The “Shades” Billiard Room, Assembly Rooms etc of TS 31. The occupier is Edward William Roper. Mr.Roper was his clerk and was always connected with Dransfield. Roper was recorded in 1868 rates as tenant of the “Shades”.
Joseph Dransfield was born in 1799. He owned 5 acres of bush at the head of Lyttelton Harbour and advertised it for sale in 1859. He was a co-founder of the Chamber of Commerce in Lyttelton. Mr Dransfield was also the chairman of the New Zealand Steam Navigation Company. In October 1864 he let a contract to build a new Assembly room in Lyttelton. This was probably his “Assembly Room” of the 1868 Rates Records and therefore the earlier building on Town Section 31.
Dransfield succeeded Dr Donald on the Lyttelton Municipal Council in 1865. He owned a brick kiln and store both also in Lyttelton. He opened another new store in Oxford Street in November 1868. Mr E.W. Roper looked after this too.
1870 – On the 24th October 1870 the Lyttelton fire started in The Queens Hotel across the road and destroyed this building too. Mr Dransfield suffered heavy losses in the 1870 “Great fire of Lyttelton”. His losses were in excess of £5000, but his insurance cover was only for £1000. A wooden hotel is rebuilt named The Empire. Claude Fletcher’s photo album in Lyttelton Museum shows an earlier wooden building The Empire on the same site in 1873.
Nine years after the fire Mr Dransfield died aged 80 at his home at 45 Voelas Road, Dampier Bay, West Lyttelton.(10.7.1879).
1883 – By 1883 Dransfield’s heirs were living in Wellington. They transfer the property to a hotelkeeper: George Nelson Haxell.
1885 – In this year there is a transfer to the Crown Breweries Co. The Crown Brewery Company then lease out the hotel.
1914 – At the time of the building of the present hotel the lessee is Edmund Hill.
1915 – In The Press of 3rd June 1915 the licensing courts issue a license for the Empire Hotel, which has undergone “re-erection”. This is seen in a 1916 photo in the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Style: early 20th Century hotel.
The first few years of the new century witnessed a boom in the building of hotels. One design that is illustrated in the “Prince of Wales” was repeated almost without variation on many hotels in the city and suburbs. It is a summary of the typical hotel style of the time. It is the Renaissance Style: The cornice with balustrade above is repeated below the first floor windows. These windows are square headed with a moulded hood above them. The lower windows are segment headed. These characteristics of a typical early 20th century hotel are also features seen in the Empire Hotel.
The Empire’s exterior shows that the hotel is of brick with stone-faced facade. This facade features Renaissance style motifs. The rooftop is decorated with balustrade and this is repeated below the top story window. The upper windows are square shaped and edged with contrasting quoins (another classical feature) and a central keystone, which appears to support a moulded hood. The lower windows are arched with keystone and capping. The chimneys are the originals; large, corniced type. Major repainting and conservation work was carried out to enhance this historic building in 2006.
Liza Rossie - 2008