The Oldest Pubs and Inns in England
“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as a good tavern or inn.”
So wrote Samuel Johnson and for many, this remains true today. Think of an English inn and what springs to mind is the image of a sleepy village, ancient church and a cosy inn with old beams, roaring fires, tankards of ale and good company.
Do such inns still exist today? Indeed they do – and some are over 1,000 years old! Let us introduce you to some of the oldest and most ancient inns and pubs with rooms in England, perfect for a short break with a difference…
There are two main contenders for the title, ‘Oldest inn in England’ – and the Old Ferry Boat at St Ives in Cambridgeshire (pictured above) is considered by many to be England’s oldest inn. According to legend, the inn has been serving alcohol since 560 AD! The inn is mentioned in the Domesday Book and like many old buildings, is reputed to be haunted.
The other main contender is the Porch House, formerly the Royalist Hotel, in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds (pictured above). Authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records as England’s oldest inn, it is certified as dating from 947 AD. Look out for the 16th century stone fireplace in the dining room; it is inscribed with symbols identified as ‘witch marks’, to protect against evil.
The George Hotel of Stamford stands on the site of a medieval inn and boasts a history going back 1,000 years. Once owned by the Abbots of Croyland, the architecture is impressive: pass under original gateways, wander ancient passageways and discover the remains of an old chapel. In later years the George became an important stop on the coaching route from London to York. The hotel has now been sympathetically modernised, retaining many of its historic and ancient features whilst offering all modern comforts.
The Shaven Crown at Shipton under Wychwood in the Cotswolds (above) dates from the 14th century. This ancient inn sits in a picturesque Cotswold village and was founded by monks of Bruern Abbey to give food and shelter to pilgrims. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the building was seized by the Crown and later used by Queen Elizabeth I as a hunting lodge. Step inside and you will stunned by the beautiful medieval architecture!
The George Inn at Norton St Philip (above) claims to have had a licence to serve ale from 1397 and identifies itself as Britain’s oldest tavern! The George has a long and interesting history. The diarist Samuel Pepys passed through here on his way to Bath from Salisbury. Later in 1685 during the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion, the inn was used as the headquarters of his army as they retreated from Bath. After the rebellion failed, the infamous Judge Jefferies used the inn as a courtroom during the Bloody Assizes; twelve people were then taken and executed on the village common.
As for England’s oldest hotel, the Old Bell Hotel at Malmesbury (pictured above) lays claim to this title. The hotel dates from 1220 and is reputed to be England’s oldest purpose-built hotel. Situated adjacent to the magnificent 12th Century abbey, it was originally used as a guest house for visiting monks. Part of the hotel may have been built on the abbey churchyard, and the hotel is indeed reputed to be haunted by, amongst others, a Grey Lady.
The Mermaid Inn at Rye is the epitome of a smugglers’ inn, with cellars built in Norman times and secret passageways in some of its rooms. Originally constructed in 1156, this ancient inn was rebuilt in 1420! Enjoy a drink in the favourite haunt of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers in the 1730s. This grand old hostelry simply oozes history and character.
Parts of the Highway Inn at Burford (above), one of the most picturesque small towns in the Cotswolds, date back to the 1400s. The inn is full of atmosphere with its creaky floors, stone walls and ancient beams. In winter, curl up by one of the original fireplaces, lit every day between October and April, or in summer enjoy the quiet charm of the medieval courtyard garden.
Originally built as a resting place on the pilgrimage trail from Winchester to Canterbury, the 600-year-old Crown Inn at Chiddingfold has been welcoming guests since 1383, including royalty. 14-year-old King Edward VI stayed overnight here in 1552. This lovely old medieval building, with its traditional Wealden crown post roof, boasts elegant stained-glass windows and cosy fireplaces.
The only inn to be owned by the National Trust, The Fleece Inn at Bretforton was built around 1425 and incredibly, remained in the same family ownership until 1977 when it was bequeathed to the National Trust! The inn was carefully restored after a fierce fire in 2004 and retains its original atmosphere and architecture. Guests can stay in the Master’s Bedchamber in the inn itself, or there is a glamping option in the orchard.
The National Trust village of Lacock boasts a wonderfully atmospheric 15th century former coaching inn, The Sign of The Angel. The exterior of this impressive half-timbered building with its mullioned windows, hints at the wonderful medieval features to be discovered within. Step inside the inn and step back in time: with its creaky old floors, stone fireplaces and uneven walls, it is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life – but with all the 21st century comforts you could need!
The 13th century Three Crowns Hotel is situated in Chagford on Dartmoor. This 5 star hotel has enjoyed a long, and at times, bloody history: its impressive stone porch is the place where the Cavalier Sidney Godolphin was killed during hand-to-hand fighting with the Roundheads in 1642. Built in granite with a partly thatched roof, the hotel is a wonderful blend of medieval features and contemporary style.
All these wonderful old buildings offer today’s guests 21st century comforts in stunning, historic surroundings. So indulge your passion for history, soak up the atmosphere and stay a while in one of England’s oldest inns!