Old Country Inns of England

Old Country Inns of England

Henry Parr Maskell
Henry Parr Maskell

Author: Gregory, Edward W. (Edward William), 1871-
Taverns (Inns) — England
England — Social life and customs
Hotels — England
Bars (Drinking establishments) — England
Old Country Inns of England



Uniform with this volume
Setting forth the historical and literary associations of those ancient hostelries, together with an account of the most notable coffee-houses, clubs, and pleasure gardens of the British metropolis.
By Henry C. Shelley
With coloured frontispiece, and 48 other illustrations
53 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.


The Chequers, Loose

Text of Title Page


“Why do your guide books tell us about nothing but Churches and Manor Houses?” Such was the not altogether unjustifiable complaint of an American friend whose motor car was undergoing repairs. He was stranded in a sleepy old market town of winding streets, overhanging structures and oddly set gables, where every stone and carved beam seemed only waiting an interpreter to unfold its story.
In the following pages we have attempted a classification and description of the inns, which not only sheltered our forefathers when on their journeys, but served as their usual places for meeting and recreation. The subject is by no means exhausted. All over England there are hundreds of other old inns quite as interesting as those which find mention, and it is hoped that our work may prove for many tourists the introduction to a most fascinating study.
Thoughtful men, including earnest Churchmen such as the Bishop of Birmingham and the Rev. H. R. Gamble, are asking the question whether the old inns should be allowed to disappear. The public house as a national institution has still its purposes to fulfil, and a few suggestions have therefore been included with a view of showing how it might easily be adapted to modern social needs.


I. Manorial Inns 1
II. Monastic Inns 14
III. The Hospices 29
IV. The Rise of the Towns 41
V. The Craft Guilds and Traders’ Inns 56
VI. Church Inns and Church Ales 67
VII. Coaching Inns 81
VIII. Wayside Inns and Alehouses 96
IX. Historic Signs and Historic Inns 112
X. Sports and Pastimes 135
XI. The Inns of Literature and Art 148
XII. Fanciful Signs and Curious Signboards 160
XIII. Haunted Inns 181
XIV. Old Inns and their Architecture 195
XV. The Commercial Traveller 209
XVI. The New Inn and its Possibilities 220
XVII. Inn Furniture 237
XVIII. The Innkeeper 256
XIX. Public House Reform 272



The Chequers, Loose Frontispiece
The King’s Arms, Hemel Hempstead x
The Spread Eagle, Midhurst 8, 10
The Bull, Sudbury 19
Pigeon House at the Bull, Long Melford 21
Yard of the White Horse, Dorking 27
The White Hart, Brentwood 42
The Swan, Felstead 51
The Bricklayers’ Arms, Caxton 61
The Golden Fleece, South Weald 63
Porch, Chalk Church, Kent facing 67
Church House, Penshurst 72
The Punch Bowl, High Easter 74, 76
Yard of the White Hart, St. Albans 84
Coach Gallery at the Bull, Long Melford 86
Fireplace at the White Hart, Witham 89
Old Coaching Inns, St. Albans 94
Botolph’s Bridge Inn, Romney Marsh 95
The White Horse, Pleshy 99
The Chequers, Doddington facing 104
The Chequers, Redbourne 106
The Three Horse Shoes, Papworth Everard 108
The Horseshoes, Lickfold 109
The Red Lion, Wingham 113
The Swan, Sutton Valence 116
The King’s Head, Roehampton 119
The Nelson, Maidstone 129
The Horse and Groom, near Waltham St. Lawrence 136
The Falstaff, Canterbury 149
The Sir John Falstaff, Newington 152
Sign of the Fox and Hounds, Barley 165
Sign of Black’s Head, Ashbourne 170
Sign of White Hart, Witham 173
The Angel, Theale 175
The Clothiers’ Arms, Stroud facing 184
The Greyhound Inn, Stroud 190
The Ship, Wingham 194
The King’s Head, Aylesbury 196
Tap-room at the Bull, Sudbury 198
The King’s Head, Loughton, Essex facing 200
Fireplace at the Sun, Feering 203
Fireplace at the Noah’s Ark, Lurgashall 207
Fox and Pelican Inn, Haslemere facing 212
The White Horse Inn, Stetchworth, Newmarket 228
The Woodman Inn, Farnborough, Kent 240
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Loughton, Essex 248
The Skittles Inn, Letchworth, Herts 254
Recreation Room in the Skittles Inn, Letchworth, Herts 266
The Bell Inn, Bell Common, Epping 280
Sign of the Angel Inn, Woolhampton 285


The King’s Arms, Hemel Hempstead



Which among the thousand of old inns to be met with on our country roads has a right to be called the oldest? There are many claimants. The title-deeds of the Saracen’s Head at Newark refer back to 1341. Local antiquaries cite documentary evidence to prove that the Seven Stars at Manchester existed before the year 1356. Symond Potyn, who founded St. Catherine’s Hospital for poor Pilgrims at Rochester in 1316, is described as “of the Crown Inn.” A Nottingham ballad relates the adventures of one Dame Rose who kept the Ram in that town “in the days of good King Stephen.” Then we have the witness of the German Ambassador to the comfort and excellence of the Fountain at Canterbury, when he lodged there in 1299, on the occasion of the marriage of King Edward I to Margaret of France. Nay, the legend runs that within its walls the four murderers of St. Thomas arranged the last details of their plot in 1170, and that the wife of Earl Godwin stayed at this inn in 1029. But what are all these compared with the Fighting Cocks at St. Albans, said to be the oldest inhabited house in England? A few years ago its signboard modestly chronicled the fact that it had been “Rebuilt after the Flood.”
Nevertheless, we can safely assert that no English inn has a history of more than 800 years, and that very few hostelries can trace their independent existence to a period earlier than the fourteenth century. Until the towns had acquired rights of self-government and trade had in consequence begun to expand, there was little occasion for inns. England under the Norman kings was a purely agricultural country with scattered villages where dependent tillers of the soil grouped their clay-walled thatched hovels around church and manor-house. Even ancient towns, with a record of a thousand years, were merely rather larger villages on a navigable river or a cross road. Foreign merchant ships were just beginning to call once more at the seaports on the chance of trade.
Travelling on the roads was attended with serious dangers and inconveniences. Robbers abounded, some not so courteous and discriminating as the legendary Robin Hood. Armed retainers at the tail of some noble lord’s retinue were occasionally not above a little highway robbery on their own account, and if the victim failed to beat off his assailant his remedy at law was precarious at best. Such a band, if sufficiently numerous, would even go so far as to attack the King’s officers sent in pursuit of them. The journey might at any time be brought to an abrupt conclusion because the travellers’ horses and carts were forcibly commandeered by the purveyor to the King or some great noble. The roads themselves were in a disgraceful state, full of deep ruts, holes and quagmires, quite impassable in wet weather; their repair was left to chance or the good-will of neighbouring owners. In the towns they were encumbered with heaps of refuse. The rolls of Parliament from the reign of Edward I onward contain numerous petitions for a regular highway tax.
A curious illustration of the lack of any systematic authority over the roads, even as late as the fifteenth century, is preserved in the records of the Manor of Aylesbury. A local miller, named Richard Boose, needed some ramming clay for the repair of his mill. Accordingly his servants dug a great pit in the middle of the road, ten feet wide and eight feet deep, and so left it to become filled with water from the winter rains. A glover from Leighton Buzzard, on his way home from market, fell in and was drowned. Charged with manslaughter, the miller pleaded that he knew no place wherein to get the kind of clay he required except on the high road. He was acquitted.[1]
Furthermore, all England was parcelled out into manors, each a little principality in itself presided over by a lord who in practice possessed summary rights over life and property within his domain. A stranger might be called upon to undergo a very searching examination to account for his presence in the neighbourhood. Most of the inhabitants were forbidden to leave the demesne without the consent of their lord. Not that this was a great hardship; the idea of a journey rarely occurs to the bucolic mind, and fully half the rural population of England in these days of cheap railway excursions are content to spend their lives within their native parish, or at any rate never venture beyond the market town.
In every manor there was a manor-house, the residence of the lord and the centre of the life of the community. It was usually quite a simple building on the main street near the church. Here were held the manor courts, view of frank pledge, assize of bread and ale and other quaint customs, some of which have come down to our own days. Hither at Hocktide and harvest would come the tenants and their wives, bringing their own platters, cups and napkins for their feast.
Such few travellers as were benighted on the road, small merchants or pedlars going to a local fair, a knight or squire on his way to court, Kings’ messengers and officials, would naturally put up at the manor-house. Hospitality was so rarely called for that it was willingly afforded, just as it is at an Australian homestead in the backwoods. One more sleeping place on the rushes in the hall, another seat at the common table—above or below the salt according to the hosteller’s estimate of the guest’s condition in life—was no great matter. Doubtless each in his own degree made his present to the hosteller in the morning; the butler in a country house still expects his solatium from the parting guest.
By the middle of the fourteenth century the roads had become more frequented, and it was no longer the fashion for the lord to reside in the comparatively humble manor-house. The cost of living had seriously increased; the nobility were impoverished by attendance at court, the foreign wars, and their crowd of retainers. So the lord retired to his more secluded castle or country seat, leaving strangers to be entertained at the manor-house by a steward who afterwards was replaced by a regular innkeeper as tenant. Throughout these changes the family crest or arms remained on the front of the building. Or sometimes the manor-house was turned to other uses and an inn was built close by, and the coat of arms hung over the door in order to induce travellers to transfer their custom thither. Such is the origin of the official inn throughout feudal Europe, but in the Black Forest and the Tyrol the process was sometimes completely reversed. As the nobility became poorer they parted with their estates and turned innkeepers. One can still now and then make the surprising discovery that mine host is by birth a baron, actually entitled to bear the arms above his door, and that it is his ancestors who sleep under those magnificent marble tombs in the minster hard by.
Inns with heraldic emblems for their signs, or called the Norfolk Arms, Dorset Arms, Neville Arms, according to the local landowner, abound everywhere—the actual arms scarcely ever being emblazoned on account of the heavy tax on armorial bearings. But it is not easy to trace their connection with the manor-house. Manors have been alienated over and over again; with each change the sign on the inn has usually been repainted with the arms of the new owner. One of the few exceptions is the Tiger at Lindfield, which carries us back to the Michelbournes of the fourteenth century.
For a characteristic example of a manorial inn we must invite our readers to visit the sleepy town of Midhurst, venerable in its winding streets of projecting upper stories, deeply moulded eaves and gables; a town nestling among the gentler slopes of the South Downs, on the banks of that sweetest and most musical of trout streams, the Sussex Rother. Here is an old inn, far away from the great roads which no vandal has yet ventured to rebuild. The older portion dates from about 1430, and no doubt stands on the site of the original manor-house of the De Bohuns. It is an excellent example of an early timber-framed house of the better class, with massive old oak ceilings, ingle-nooks and “down” fires. The old fireplaces and recessed ovens are pronounced by experts to be genuine fourteenth-century work. A very large addition was made in 1650, when the stables were also built. This latter portion will not be regretted by the visitor who loves more comfort and cheery surroundings than is possible in a conscientiously preserved fourteenth-century hotel.

The Spread Eagle, Midhurst
In clearing away the paint from one of the panelled rooms at the Spread Eagle an inscription was discovered: “The Queen’s Room,” possibly referring to the much travelled Queen Elizabeth who was entertained “marvellously, nay rather excessively,” by Sir Anthony Browne, first Viscount Montagu, at Cowdray, in 1591. A melancholy interest attaches to the sign of the Spread Eagle. It was the crest of the Montagu family, which came to an end in 1793 with the drowning of the last Viscount Montagu at Schaffhausen, on the Rhine, in the very same week that his splendid mansion at Cowdray was destroyed by fire.
It is worth noting that the double-ga

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Old Country Inns of England
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