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   Chapter 7 No.7

An Old English Home By S. Baring-Gould Characters: 19715

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"I will take mine ease at mine inn!"

What an element of coziness, hospitality, picturesqueness is introduced into the village by the inn! There is another side-but that we will not consider.

I know some villages from which the squire has banished the hostelry, and poor, forlorn, half-hearted places they seem to me. If there be a side to the village inn that is undesirable, I venture to think that the advantage of having one surpasses the disadvantages. What the squire has done in closing the inn he hardly realizes. He has broken a tradition that is very ancient. He has snapped a tie with the past. In relation to quite another matter, Professor G. T. Stokes says: "History is all continuous. Just as the skilful geologist or pal?ontologist can reconstruct from an inspection of the strata of a quarry the animal and vegetable life of past ages, so can the historian reconstruct out of modern forms, rites, and ceremonies, often now but very shadowy and unreal, the essential and vigorous life of society as it existed ten centuries ago. History, I repeat, is continuous. The life of societies, of nations, and of churches is continuous, so that the life of the present, if rightly handled, must reveal to us much of the life of the past."[5] So is it with the parish; and so the dear old village inn has its story of connection with the manor, and its reason for being, in remote antiquity.

I have gone to Iceland to illustrate the origin of the manor, I shall go to Tyrol to explain the beginnings of the village inn-that is to say the manorial inn with its heraldic sign, in contradistinction to the church house, with its ecclesiastical sign. Each has its history-and each derives from a separate institution.

INSIDE THE VILLAGE INN

From a painting by Robert Whale, a village carpenter, in the possession of F. Rodd, Esq., Trebartha

[156]

[157]

What is the origin of signs? The earliest signs were certainly heraldic. We have still in many villages the "So-and-so Arms," with the shield of the lord of the manor emblazoned upon it with all its quarterings. Or we have the Red Lion, or the White Hart, or the Swan, all either crests or cognizances of a family, or of a sovereign or queen. The Swan sign is said to date from Anne of Cleves; the White Hart was the badge of Richard II., and inns with this sign probably were erected in that reign, and have retained this cognizance unchanged since. We know of inns under the name of the Rose, which there can be little question came into life as hostelries in the time of the Yorkists and Lancastrians. The Wheatsheaf was the Burleigh badge, the Elephant that of Beaumont, the Bull's Head was a Boleyn cognizance, the Blue Boar the badge of the De Veres, Earls of Oxford; the Green Dragon of the Earls of Pembroke, the Falcon of the Marquis of Winchester.

It does not, however, follow that the inns that have these signs date from the periods when, let us say, Anne Boleyn was queen, because they bear the token of the Bull's Head, or from the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when Burleigh was in power, because of the Wheatsheaf; for it will not infrequently be found that they take their titles and signs from a much more local origin, the coat or cognizance of the squire who holds the manor.

There was a reason for this: the inn was originally the place where the true landlord, i.e. the lord of the land, received his guests, and every traveller was his guest. In Iceland at the present day there is but one inn at Reykjavik, the capital, and that is kept by a Dane. The traveller in the island goes to any farmhouse or parsonage, and is taken in. Indeed, by law a traveller cannot be refused hospitality. When he leaves he makes a present either of money or of something else that will be valued, but this is a present, and not a payment. In many parts of Tyrol it is much the same. The excursionist is put up at the priest's house. The writer has been thus received, among other places, at Heiligkreutz, in the Oetz Thal. In the evening the room-the curé's parlour-was filled with peasants who asked for wine, and were supplied. When they left they put money in the hand of the pastor's sister, whilst he, smoking his pipe, looked out of the window. When the writer left next morning the same farce was enacted. Further up the same valley is Vent, where again the curé receives travellers, and his sister receives the payment, but there a definite charge is made; but at Heiligkreutz what was given was accepted as a present. The priests who entertain do not of course hang up signs over their doors. The pastor is supposed to be given to hospitality, and would give of his all freely and cheerfully if he could afford it; but of late years, as travellers have become more numerous, his pittance has become smaller, so that his hospitality can no longer be gratuitous.

In the old romances of chivalry we read of travellers always seeking the castle of some knight, and asking, almost demanding, lodging and entertainment.

Hospitality was a duty among the Germanic races. According to Burgundian law, the Roman who received a traveller was not allowed to do so gratis; the poorer Burgundian host was bound to pay the Roman for the keep of the traveller if he was unable to accommodate him in his own house. The honour of receiving a guest freely was too great to be conceded to a conquered people. When Theodoric with his Ostrogoths conquered Italy they were amazed at the Roman tavern system, and at the iniquity of the taverners, who had double measures, a just one for natives and an unjust one for foreigners. Why, the traveller should be treated freely, the Ostrogoth argued; and Cassiodorus, under the orders of the king, drew up laws to enforce at least honesty, if he could not bring about liberality, in the Latin osteria. We are inclined to be overhard in our judgment of the knights and barons of Germany in the Middle Ages, whose castles are perched on every commanding rock by every road and river, but we are scarcely just. It is true that there were robber knights, but so there are at all times rascals among a class, and we are wrong in supposing that every ruined keep was the nest of a robber knight. It was not so. The knights kept the roads in order, and supplied mules and horses to travellers; they also gave them free hospitality when they halted for the night. The travellers paid a small toll for the maintenance of the road, and also for the use of the horses and mules which carried them on to the next stage. On the navigable rivers the barons kept the tow-path and supplied the beasts which would drag the barges up the stream, and for this also they received, and very properly, a toll.

Here and there an ill-conditioned knight exacted more than was his due, but he was speedily reduced to order. It was to the interest of all the knights and barons along the highway to keep the communication open, and not to divert it into another channel; consequently when one member of the confraternity was exacting and troublesome the rest combined against him, or his over-lord reduced him to reason.

As the knights and barons had their castles on heights for purposes of defence, and these heights were considerable, it was not convenient for the wayfarers at the end of a toilsome journey to have to scramble up the side of a mountain to the castle of the lord to enjoy his hospitality. Accordingly they were entertained by him below in the village built on the highway. Moreover, he himself did not always inhabit the castle. It was irksome to him, and his wife and servants, to be perched on a rock like an eagle, consequently in time of peace he lived in his "town house," that is, his mansion at the foot of the hill, where he could get his provisions easily, and see the world as it flowed along the road. In an old German village there is accordingly to be found generally a somewhat stately mansion below as well as the castle above, with the same coat-of-arms carved over their doors, inhabited by the same family in past times, oscillating as circumstances required between the house and the castle.

When roads were maintained and the post-horses found by the knights and barons, they could charge for their toll enough to cover the expense of entertainment; but it is not improbable that the servant, the butler, received a present which he transmitted to his master, and which the traveller reckoned as a fair remuneration for the wine he had drunk and the meat and bread he had eaten.

The lords house could always be recognized by the shield with his arms hung up over his door, and to this day the signboard is in German "Schild." The sign was always armorial. In many a Tyrolean and in some old German inns may still be seen the coat-of-arms of the noble owner, now plain publican, carved in front of the inn, and the schild-the heraldic shield with lion, or eagle, or bear, or swan, or ape, or hare-hanging as well from a richly ornamented iron bar.

Nothing can be conceived more picturesque than the one long street of Sterzing on the Brenner Pass: the houses are old, gabled, and a considerable number of them have their stanchions of richly twisted ironwork painted and gilt, hanging out on each side over the narrow street, supporting large shields with armorial beasts. In the church may be seen the same shields on monuments, crowned with baronial coronets and knightly helmets, the tombstones of former owners and inhabitants of these houses, and also of former landlords.

As commerce increased, and the roads became better, it was impossible for the nobles to entertain freely. Moreover, the Thirty Years' War, again the Seven Years' War, and finally the Napoleonic wars, had so impoverished them that they were forced to charge for entertainment, and to derive a revenue from it.

From one cause

or another they lost their land, and then sank to be mere innkeepers. This was rarely the case in Germany, but it was not uncommon in Tyrol, where to this day the hotel and tavern keepers represent the best blood in the land. They have well-attested pedigrees, of which they are proud; and they dispense hospitality, not now gratuitously, but with courtesy and kindliness, in the very houses in which their ancestors have lived for three or four hundred years, and under the sign which adorned the helmets and shields of their forefathers when they rode in tournament or battle.

At the Krone, the principal inn at Brunecken, in the Puster Thal, the staircase is adorned with the portraits of the family, containing among them prelates, and warriors, and stately ladies; and the homely Tyrolese girl in costume who attends you at table, and the quiet, simple old host and hostess are the lineal descendants of these grandees.

The writer spent a night at the homeliest of taverns at Eben, between the Aachen See and Jenbach. The little parlour was perfectly plain, panelled with brown pine, with a bench round it; in one corner a rude crucifix, in another the pottery-stove. The host wore a brown jacket and knee-breeches, and a coarse knitted cap on his head-quite a peasant, to all appearance, yet he could show his pedigree in an emblazoned tree, and right to bear arms as an adeliger. So, also, at the Croce at Cortina d' Ampezzo. The family tree adorns the passage of the humble inn, and a few years ago, before the run of tourists to the Dolomites, the pretty newly married hostess wore the local costume. On the post road between Nauders and Meran, the last station where the diligence stops before reaching Meran is at an inn, the sign of which is the "Brown Bear." The arms of the family are carved on the front of the house, and the sign hangs over the door. The landlord represents the family which bore these arms in medi?val times, and he is, I believe, of baronial rank.

Mals, in the same valley, stands at the junction of the road from Italy over the Stelvio, and that to Nauders, and that to Meran, as also the road up the Münster Thal, which likewise leads to Italy. Down to last century it was, no doubt, an important place. Trade flowed through it. There are remains of castles and towers about it, and in the Middle Ages several noble families held these castles, the keys to Germany from Italy, under the Emperor. The place lies somewhat high, the land is not very productive, and they were not able to become rich on the yield of the soil. They lived on the tolls they took of travellers, and when the postal system was established and passed into the hands of Government, they lost a source of revenue, and went down in the world. At Mals are two or three inns, and two or three general stores. At the latter can be bought anything, from ready-made clothes to sheets of notepaper and sealing-wax. The principal of these stores is held by a family named Flora. It is worth the while of the traveller to turn into the cemetery of the parish church, and he will find ranges of white marble tombs of the family of his host at the inn, and of the Floras, where he has bought some notepaper and a reel of cotton. These tombs are sculptured with baronial helmets, and proud marshalling of heraldic serpents and bears, with impalements and quarterings and achievements-I will not be certain, but I think they have supporters also.

I remember that in Messrs. Churchill and Babington's charming book on the Dolomites they speak with astonishment at finding themselves in an inn which was once a noble family's residence, and then discovering that they were the guests of this noble family; but such a state of things is by no means uncommon in Tyrol. There are hundreds of innkeepers who are of noble rank, with a right to wear coronets, and who do assume them-on their tombstones.

Now, this state of things in Tyrol is peculiarly interesting, because it shows us a social condition which has passed into oblivion everywhere else, and of which, among ourselves, the only reminiscenses are to be found in the heraldic signs of inns, and in the host being termed landlord. The lord of the manor ceased to be landlord of inn with us a long time ago, and probably very early put in a substitute to act as host, and kept himself aloof from his guests. He lived in his manor-house, and entertained at a guest-house, a hostelry. In a good many instances in England, where there is a great house, the servants of guests are accommodated at the manorial inn, by the park gates. It was not so in Tyrol, and to this day the evidence of this old custom remains. As already said, in Tyrol one may be entertained by the curé. This is only where there is no inn. Where the lord did not have a mansion and receive, there the pastor received in his parsonage. Now, in England there is scarcely a parish without its church inn-an inn generally situated on the glebe, of which the parson is the owner; and very often this church inn is a great cause of vexation to him. It stands close to the church-sometimes conspicuously taken out of the churchyard-and the proximity is not often satisfactory. The church inn has for its sign, may be, the "Ring of Bells," or simply the "Bell," or the "Lamb and Flag"-anyhow, some sign that points to its connection with the church. These inns were originally the places of entertainment where the parson supplied the wants of the parishioners who came from a distance, and brought their food with them, but not their drink. These people attended morning service, then sat in the church house, or church inn, and ate their meal, and were supplied with ale by the parson or his substitute.

At Abbotskerswell, South Devon, is a perfect old church inn, that has remained untouched from, probably, the reign of Richard II. It consists of two rooms-one above stairs, and one below. The men sat in the lower, the women in the upper room. Each was furnished with an enormous fire in winter, and here the congregation took their dinner before attending vespers.

In France the same thing took place in the church porches, and that was one reason why the porches were made so large. Great abuses were consequent, and several of the French bishops charged against, and the Councils condemned, the eating and drinking in the porches.

If the people from a distance were to remain for the afternoon service, they must go somewhere. The writer has seen the porches of German and French cathedrals full of women eating their dinner, after having heard the morning mass, and who were waiting for the service in the afternoon; but they are no longer served there with ale and wine by the clergy. Flodoard, in his account of S. Remigius, says that that saint could only stop the inveterate custom at Rheims by a miracle: he made all the taps of those who supplied the wine to stop running. But to return once more to the ordinary tavern. The French auberge, the Italian albergo, derive from the old Teutonic here-berga, which has for signification "the lord's shelter"-that is, the house of shelter provided by the lord of the manor.

A cartulary of 1243, published in the Gallia Christiana, shows us a certain knight Raimond, who, on his birthday, assigns an annual charge on his estate of three hundred sous for the support of the village hostelry, which shows us that in France the nobles very early gave up themselves entertaining, but considered themselves in some way bound to keep up the inn.

In 1380, at Liège, the clergy stirred up the people against the nobles to obtain their expulsion. But a difficulty arose, as it was found that the nobles were the innkeepers of the city, and to expel them was to close the public-houses, and for that the Liègeois were not prepared. So the riot came to an abrupt conclusion.

In Farquhar's Beaux' Stratagem, 1707, the squire is represented as habitually frequenting his village inn, and as habitually becoming drunk there. Smollett tells us that Squire Pickle, when he retired into the country, met with abundance of people who, in consideration of his fortune, courted his acquaintance, and breathed nothing but friendship and hospitality; yet even the trouble of receiving and returning these civilities was an intolerable fatigue to a man of his habits and disposition. He therefore left the care of the ceremonial to his sister, who indulged herself in all the pride of formality, while he himself, having made a discovery of a public-house in the neighbourhood, went thither every evening, and enjoyed his pipe and can, being well satisfied with the behaviour of the landlord, whose communicative temper was a great comfort to his own taciturnity. At the village tavern squire and attorney and doctor were wont to meet, and not infrequently the parson appeared there as well. That condition of affairs is past. It is not so in Germany-where, in small villages, gentlefolks and tradesmen, the Catholic priest and the evangelical pastor, the baron and the notary, the grocer and the surgeon, meet of an evening, knock glasses, rub ideas, and in a cloud of tobacco smoke lose bigotry in religion and class prejudice. Would not the same have been the case had our squires and parsons continued to frequent the village inn? Would not their presence have acted as a check on over much drinking?

It is now too late to revert to old habits, but I have a hankering notion that it would have been, perhaps, on the whole, better if the gentle classes had not "cut" the tavern, and instead have taken their ease there, in sobriety and kindly intercourse, yeoman, squire, and farm labourer, on the one level of the tavern floor, round the blaze of the one hearth warming all, drinking the same generous liquor, and in the one mellowing atmosphere of tobacco smoke.

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