Louis Cunningham: Publican of the Leederville hotel1910 to 1926 and founder of the New Oxford Theatre

JP Walsh, who had rebuilt the hotel in 1904, applied for a license for the Osborne Park Hotel in May 1909, although he remained the owner of the Leederville Hotel until 1914 when it was sold to the Swan Brewery Company.


This Leederville rate book entry dated January 1915, p.31 shows the publican’s name as Louis Cunningham and a change of ownership. The Swan Brewery, which was established in 1837, had become Western Australia’s leading brewery, and to protect their market from Victoria’s Carlton and United Brewery, they bought and built hotels in Western Australia.

LOUIS CUNNINGHAM took over as the licensee with his wife Maud in 1 April 1910. Louis had arrived in the colony around 1898 and married Maud Landy (nee Flanagan) in June 1901.

Louis was operating a fruiterer and confectioner shop at 322 Hay Street, Perth when he applied for an Eating House Licence in 1904. He also applied for a Colonial Wine Licence for his premises, which was to be known as The Perth Tea and Light Luncheon Rooms. In 1909 he applied for an Australian Wine Licence to allow him to also sell Western Australian wines, stating that he had owned a Colonial Wine Licence for four years at the same location. The street number had changed to 544 Hay Street and the café was renamed the Perth Café.

His application for a Publican’s General License for the Leederville Hotel appeared in the Sunday Times, 22 May 1910, p.6. At this point the street address was still Leeder Street. A few years later an advertisement in the newspaper described the location as the corner of Newcastle and Oxford streets, Leederville, although the official address became 234 Carr Street with the renaming of Leeder Street. In 1910 the hotel had 11 bedrooms and four sitting rooms exclusive of those required by Cunningham and his family.

During his time in the café in Hay Street and at the Leederville Hotel, Cunnigham was prosecuted at least once a year regarding selling liquor on a Sunday, even if it was only one bottle of wine. He received a more serious charge in 1911 when he was charged with selling adulterated brandy. He was found to have brandy on the premises which was ‘adulterated with water to an extent that reduced it to more than 25 degrees under proof, to wit, to 29 degrees under proof’. Louis had other unopened bottles of ‘Reynells pure grape brandy’ in the storeroom, which were also under proof and claimed that he had been sold them. He was fined the maximum penalty of £50, leaving the defendant to take such steps as he thought fit against the company, and should the defendant be unsuccessful, he would not hesitate to recommend that £5 only (the minimum penalty) be inflicted. As he mightn't be on the bench when, the case might come up in, the future, he would make a note to this effect, and give a certificate that the defendant was not to blame.

 In December 1912 the license was only renewed for three months ‘pending the completion of certain improvements’.

   WA Record, 20 December 1913

Maud Cunningham used the hotel to host events to raise money for charities, as this advertisement to support the Foundling Home for orphans and abandoned children illustrates.  

WA Record, 19 June 1920

She held numerous functions/fetes for a variety of charities, including St Vincent’s Foundling home. An event on another occasion was a ‘Sock and Shoe Gift Evening’. She assured the patrons that they would gain much pleasure giving donations and enjoy the social aspect.

 The hotel was often used as a community facility, providing a useful meeting place for many groups, including the East Perth Football Club, West Perth Football Club and RSL.

An advertisement for the Leederville Hotel in the Daily News, 31 October 1914 promoted the convenience of the trams stopping at the door and that it only took a few minutes to get to the centre of Perth.

Leederville was serviced by trams, with double lines carrying passengers from Perth as far as the Leederville Hotel and then a single line after the tram turned into Oxford Street. The tram heading south from the Oxford Hotel was given priority, with the northbound tram waiting outside the Leederville Hotel until the Perth bound train had rounded the corner onto the other line, thus clearing the way for it to continue into Oxford Street. On 7 December 1912 there was a report in the Truth newspaper where this protocol had not been applied and passengers were heading up Oxford Street towards an oncoming tram. The tram from Perth was forced to go backwards until it was back in Newcastle Street.’

Louis Cunningham was also responsible for the development of entertainment facilities within the early suburb Leederville.

In 1921 he purchased land further along Carr Street, at No. 228, and built the Billiard Saloon Hall, which opened in late 1922 or early 1923. He continued to be the publican at the Leederville Hotel, until his death in August 1926. At the time he was the President of the United Licensed Victuallers’ Association of the Commonwealth of Australia (WA Branch).


 Billiard Saloon with the Leederville Plumbing Service next door, taken 1948.   (PH02495)

Louis Cunningham is also attributed with being a leading force in commissioning the construction of the New Oxford Theatre, on the corner of Oxford and Vincent streets (now known as the Luna).


This page in the souvenir programme for the theatres’ official opening on 2 March 1927 describes Louis as

a MAN amongst men, and this edifice will perpetuate his spirit of generosity and goodwill, so evident in his lifetime to those around him, for countless years to come’.

 An article in The West Australian on 3 March 1927 covering the official opening by the Minister for Works reported that the minister complimented the theatre, saying that there were few outside the capital cities of Australia which could equal it. He stated that the ‘promoters of the enterprise deserved praise for placing such a fine theatre in Leederville. It would serve the purpose of a monument to the memory of the late Mr L.F. Cunningham, who had been one of the promoters, but had died before the building was completed.

 A copy of Louis Cunningham’s will, which was written in 1924, was found in the probate records of the State Records Office. He bequeathed his wife Maud ‘the furniture in her bedroom and such other furniture in my hotel as she may select sufficient and appropriate to furnish a five-roomed house’. Sadly he died two years later in 1926 at the age of 48. His death certificate indicated that he died from complications during an appendicitis operation.

MAUD CUNNIGHAM continued on as publican until 1928 when J J PRENDERGAST was appointed. She purchased and moved into 324 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth.


Researched and written by Michelle Vercoe and Julie Davidson.