In the Victorian era, there was a vociferous campaign against the ‘demon drink’. Charles Dickens wrote works, such as ‘Pickwick Papers’, which outlined the great damage brought about in the slums of the industrial cities by cheap, plentiful alcohol. In response, the Temperance Movement flourished, with organizations such as the Independent Order of Rechabites conducting propaganda campaigns against ‘strong drink’. This was a world-wide movement, and in Australia a number of Temperance Hotels – known as Coffee Palaces – were established, to enable families to visit, knowing there would be no drunkenness, as well as furthering the aims of the movement.
Charlotte, Viscountess Ossington, the daughter of William Bentinck, the 4th Duke of Portland, and the widow of the 1st Viscount Ossington (who had been the Speaker of the House of Commons), was a very strong supporter of the Temperance Movement. So much so that in 1882, she caused a magnificent temperance hotel, complete with a bowling alley, bowling green, billiard room, tea garden and a stable block to be built, directly opposite the ruined Newark Castle, in the centre of Newark, Nottinghamshire. The building was to stand as a memorial to her late husband. She endowed it with the rents from various other properties in town. Her aim appears to have been to turn the local farming community, the tradesmen and the many commercial travellers who passed along the Great North Road, away from the consumption of alcohol. This seems rather whimsical, given that some of the major activities in and around the town included the production of barley, and the brewing of beer!
Never the less, the Ossington Coffee Palace opened with great fanfare in 1882, and a plaque affixed to the building reads: “OSSINGTON COFFEE PALACE. A perfect copy of a 17th century hostelry erected in 1882 as a temperance hotel by Viscountess Ossington a daughter of the 4th Duke of Portland, and widow of first Viscount Ossington, one time Speaker of the House of Commons”. The building was built in brick and stone and fitted out with every ‘modern convenience’. This did not help, however, as by 1891, the hotel was making a loss – this was perhaps not helped by the fact that the Board of Trustees paid themselves over £50, and the salary for the Secretary of the Board was the same!
During the First World War, the building was taken over by the War Department, as many other large buildings were. It staggered on into the interwar period, but was requisitioned in 1942 by the Air Ministry, as accommodation for airmen. This is quite understandable, as the former RAF Winthorpe (now the site of the Newark Air Museum) is only 1.5 miles northeast of the town. Many members of the Polish Air Force (and other RAF personnel) trained at Winthorpe, and also undertook some operational sorties from there – sadly, there is a magnificent memorial cross to their fallen comrades in Newark Cemetery.
Despite being founded as a charity, it was established in the 1960s that the Coffee Palace had been operating as a commercial establishment, and therefore its position became untenable. The heirs of the Viscountess Ossington eventually sold the property, and the future of the building looked rather bleak for a while. Fortunately, a deal was brokered which allowed part of the building to be converted for residential use, and the rest occupied by a branch of the ‘Zizzi’ Italian restaurant chain, who even boast that they have ‘inherited’ a benevolent ghost, which floats around the basement!