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Railroads England - Inns

( Originally Published 1927 )

The inn was of great importance in coaching days, for it was there that the traveller, having ridden perhaps for hours in a cramped position, buffeted by wind or rain, chilled by the cold of winter or scorched by the summer's sun, hungry and thirsty, could rest and refresh himself at the blazing fire on the hearth or in the shade of the garden. At inns stops were made to water or change the horses, to permit the coachman and passengers to obtain food and drink, and to secure a night's lodging when the journey was a long one and the coach did not travel after dark. These public-houses were of all varieties, from the pretentious Elephant and Castle, which was the great coach terminal one mile from London Bridge, to the little roadside tavern that nestled in some sheltered nook of the Devon or Yorkshire downs. The hotels in the cities were comfortable and commodious, but it was the wayside inns that charmed the traveller. Washington Irving pictured these : "As we drove into the great gateway of the inn," he says, "I saw on one side the rousing light of a kitchen fire beaming through a window. I entered, and admired for the hundredth time, that picture of convenience, neatness, and broad honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn." To that picture he added the pleasing vision of fat hams, fine flitches of bacon, gleaming copper kettles, a capacious table for the customer garnished with a cold round of beef and plenty of foaming tankards.

The country inns were usually divided into two departments, the parlor and the kitchen, the former for the accommodation of people of quality and the latter for the humbler class of travellers. In the inn-yards there was always a plentiful supply of chaises and horses, ready for use at very short notice. In addition to the regular coaching taverns there were also many roadside alehouses, where travellers who could not afford the luxury of the inns were able to take shelter. Smollett describes such an alehouse in his novel "Sir Launcelot Greaves." "The kitchen," he says, "was the only room for entertainment in the house, paved with red bricks, remarkably clean, furnished with three or four Windsor chairs, adorned with shining plates of pewter and copper saucepans nicely scoured, that even dazzled the eyes of the be holder. "

It was delightful in winter to step from the cold of the highroad into the cozy inn-parlor or kitchen and almost equally agreeable in summer to exchange the hostelries of the hot and crowded towns for the clean-smelling and breeze-swept places of entertainment that were to be found on all the coaching roads. Here were roses and honeysuckle, wide spreading trees, trim gardens of flowers and fruits, as well as fresh butter, rich country cream and new-laid eggs. Frequently the wayside inns were situated by winding rivers, with a view of an ancient bridge or picturesque mill, sometimes they boasted extensive views of rolling country, of lakes or mountains, and the traveller could feast his eyes on the beauties of rural nature while he satisfied the inner man.

The innkeeper and his wife, amiable and full of entertaining gossip, would seek to beguile him to stay and order something more, but the coachman would mount his box-seat and the traveller must pay his score and hasten or be left behind. Usually about fifteen minutes were allowed for a tavern lunch of beef, pudding, and cheese, then the guard would sound his horn and the party be off again.

It would seem that ample opportunity was given for refreshment in coaching days, for when an early start was made a stop was customary to permit of breakfast on the road, another for lunch and another for tea, with a substantial dinner at the end of the ride. Notwithstanding this, many travellers took their own provisions with them lest they get hungry on the way. Sir John Vanbrugh wrote an amusing description of the journey of a family up to London from the country by coach; in this he says that "for fear of a famine before they could get to the baiting-place, there were such baskets of plum-cake, Dutch gingerbread, Cheshire cheese, Naples biscuits, macaroons, neats' tongues, and cold boiled beef—and in case of sickness, such bottles of usquebagh, black cherry brandy, cinnamon-water, sack, tent, and strong beer, as made the old coach crack again; and for defence of this good cheer and my Lady's little pearl necklace, there was the family basket-hilt sword, the great Turkish scimitar, the old blunder-buss, a good bag of bullets, and a great horn of gun-powder."

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