If one is looking for continuity through different periods of history, one of the most interesting buildings that can provide it is the inn. One of the oldest inns in England is The George in Stamford. I had the pleasure of staying there a week ago and I was completely fascinated by the history (and I’m not being paid for this plug – I loved the place so much I couldn’t wait to write about it!). The George stood on the Great North Road, one of the most famous highways in the country. In terms of history, legend and a place in popular culture the Great North Road is up there with Route 66 in America or the Appian Way or the Khyber Pass. In its own way it is an icon.
The exact date for The George is not known but it is referred to in old documents as “a very ancient hostelry once belonging to the Abbots of Croyland.” Much of the Stamford Barony was given to Croyland in a charter of AD 947 so it is possible The George was already in existence at that time as a religious house that gave hospitality to travellers. It is known that there were two religious houses that bounded the inn on either side. One was a hospital of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the knights crusaders, and this is referred to in a document of 1174 along with “The George Inn.” Part of this religious house was destroyed by a Lancastrian army in 1461 during the Wars of the Roses. Today the inn has a wonderful walled garden which was part of the original religious house. In the quiet it is all too easy to imagine you can hear the footsteps of a knight crusader passing by. The interior also incorporates a hotch potch of ancient steps, walls and doorways. The atmosphere is very powerful.
One thing I particularly liked about The George was that where so many inns boast a nefarious past, it draws on its origins as a religious house to stress the very respectable nature of its business. During the 18th century, after the Great North Road became a turnpike, The George erected its famous gallows across the road to deter highwaymen rather than encourage them to frequent the hostelry. In those days no fewer than 40 coaches a day passed through Stamford. I enjoyed a drink in the panelled “York Bar” which was once the room where travellers waited for the northern coach. It adds a huge sense of history that both the York and London waiting rooms are still there (and the courtyard where the carriages stopped is now the restaurant – you can see the arch in the photo above!). During the heyday of the coaching trade The George had an assembly room and a ballroom, and must have been a focus of provincial social life in the town and beyond. It would indeed make the most perfect setting for an inn in a Georgian or Regency romance and I know I’ll be drawing on my experience of staying there for future books!