The English Urban Inn 1560–1760
The English inn has given rise to a very considerable literature over the past century and more, but it is no paradox to say that its history has never been written.1 There are any number of books and articles on the Romance of the Road, in which a few precious facts may at times be found embedded among a mass of popular sentiment and Pickwickian nonsense. There are a few worthy if rather superficial general works about inns, dealing chiefly with their physical appearance, usually from the picturesque angle. There are a number of local studies of inns and inn signs, some of them quite useful as far as they go, and there is Larwood and Hotten’s monumental History of Sign-Boards, published as long ago as 1867. There are also one or two useful works, like Joan Parkes’s Travel in England in the Seventeenth Century (1925), containing a good deal of miscellaneous information, culled from contemporary tracts and the like. And there is a handful of scholarly monographs dealing either with particular aspects of the subject, like Dr W. A. Pantin’s seminal essay on the structures of medieval inns in E. M. Dope’s Studies in Building History (1961); or with the inns of particular towns, like Robert Dymond’s ‘The Old Inns and Taverns of Exeter’ in the Devonshire Association’s Transactions (xii 188o). Apart from these and similar works, the historian will find the literature of the English inn for the most part a wretched farrago of romantic legends, facetious humour and irritating errors. There is no serious, systematic study of the functions of inns, of what exactly went on within them, and of why, in the days before railways and reform movements, they became the centres of so much of the social, political and economic life of the nation.
KeywordsMigration Corn Mercury Income Straw
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