York Street, between Wellington & Brisbane. On the left is the car park for the new city Woolworths supermarket. Down the far end, just before the intersection are a couple of conjoined cottages. On the other side of an intersection is an old corner shop. Empty now but it was recently an antiques/collectables shop and before that takeaway food. But the building that I want to tell you about today isn’t in that photo. Here, the two-storey building in the middle of the street, probably a few months before it was demolished: . (To the right, you can see the same two conjoined cottages on the corner that are in my photo.)

(From Libraries Tasmania)

Probably not a place you’d have wanted to visit at the time. Just few years before this photo was taken, the police magistrate described the site as “a den for immoral character, the most notorious in the town.” (The Tasmanian, 7 December 1878)

The Cross Keys Tavern was originally on the corner of George & Cimitiere Streets (the opposite corner of the town). It moved to York Street in 1837:

W. Brean begs to inform his Town and Country Friends, that he has removed his License from George-street to the lower end of York-street, where he has laid in an extensive Stock of Wines, Spirits, &c., of the best quality ; he therefore trusts, that by charging moderate, with superior accommodation, to merit continuance of that patronage hitherto bestowed on him.
Cornwall Chronicle, 8 July 1837

Williams Brean married the widow of the previous licensee. His house seems to have been a respectable enough place at first. At the annual licensing meeting in 1846 it was described as “well conducted, neat, clean, creditable order” (Launceston Examiner, 5 September 1846). A decade later, both the neighbourhood and the building are in not-so good order:

Mr. Byron Miller in support of the application [asked that] they would consider the locality in which the Cross Keys was situated, and the difficulty of keeping a licensed house in such a low neighbourhood in such a way as to prevent all complaints. (Cornwall Chronicle, 6 August 1856)

The Police Magistrate said that when on his round of inspection he had found the Cross Keys the dirtiest and worse state of any house in town. The back premises were all open and unfenced, and he was informed that the holder of the license had another man’s wife living with him in a very unproper state….With reference to his housekeeper alluded to, [Mr Patridge] had endeavoured to get her husband to take her home but the husband was neither able nor willing to support her and instead of doing so had endeavoured to extort money from him by raising false reports respecting her position in the family although he had begged that she might not be discharged from her situation. (Cornwall Chronicle, 4 December 1858)

Earlier in 1858, the house was offered for lease. Read the third paragraph from the bottom.

Launceston Examiner, 5 June 1858

“A large population of mechanics and artisans surrounds it, and no change in the social condition of the town can prejudicially affect the trade of the house.” <– The area is inhabited by the lower orders and can’t get any worse.

According to Downs’ statement he met prisoner yesterday evening, and having agreed to pay 5s for staying at her house that night, accompanied her to her home, which is situated in the disreputable neighborhood of the Cross Keys publichouse, York-street. Launceston Examiner, 24 August 1861

There were problems with gambling, out of hours trading, visits by women of ill repute, all the usual stuff.  The name was changed to the Railway Tavern (despite being on the opposite side of town to the railway-to-be). The police magistrate “presumed the reason for changing the name was that the Cross-Keys had attained such an unenviable notoriety at the Police Court“. Not that the place seems to have fared any better under the new licensee. A few years later, he is charged with receiving money knowing it to be stolen but the location of the building seemed well-suited for a profitable public house:

Mr Coulter said the fence around a brothel next to this house was down, and access could be had by means of a wicket gate to the publichouse. Both houses belonged to the same landlord … Mr De Little said in cases where public houses were supported by brothels that must be bad for the morality of the town, and the Bench in this case should insist on the repairs being accomplished in a week. Mr Weedon said this was the first time he had ever heard that the publichouses of Launceston were supported by brothels, and he must deny that such was the case.
Cornwall Chronicle, 2 December 1868

Finally, in 1871, the license was refused on the grounds that in the area “there were seven licensed houses. The traffic had gone from the neighbourhood, and…this house was not required.” After that, the building became “a residence for young girls” (yes, that’s a euphemism). There were a few attempts to re-license the house but they were refused (not required, bad location and similar reasons). By 1886, about the time the photo at the top was taken, it was listed in a return of dilapidated buildings as vacant, “may be repaired, but only at great cost.” Shortly afterwards the materials of the building were offered for sale

Daily Telegraph, 24 July 1886

And that, presumably, was the end of the notorious Cross Keys Tavern.

More information on Cross Keys Tavern.

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