THE first necessity for the traveller on arrival was to look for a place in which to stay. Unless he was going directly to friends, he had the choice of stopping at an inn, finding lodgings, or hiring a furnished house. There was no difficulty about finding an inn. In many cases the landlord himself would meet the boats, and persuade the foreign travellers to follow him. At Harwich, we are told, an enterprising landlord seized a passenger's overcoat and hurrying in front of him, led him triumphantly to the Three Cups, where, the passenger, Count Kielmansegg tells us,
"we found everything we could wish for, a good cup of tea, bread and butter and well-aired, clean beds".
If the landlord did not meet the arrivals, it was not difficult for them to find an inn. It was one of the most important buildings in the town, with a wide archway leading to the yard where there were often three tiers of galleries. Inn signs were of enormous size. Grosley comments on this and on
"the ridiculous magnificence of the ornaments with which they are overcharged and the height of a sort of triumphal arch which supports them, and most of which cross the street".
The few of these "triumphal arches" which survive are very beautiful, and the signs themselves were often extremely ancient. The oldest of all was the Bush which the good wine did not need. This was the ivy bush, which, it is said, came with the Romans to Britain and denoted the worship of Bacchus. The traveller would be struck with the hosts of Dragons, Bulls, Bears, Swans, Lions, Sugar Loaves and Peacocks, which abounded, though, to be sure, their counterparts existed on the Continent. "The Ship and Shovel" struck him as peculiar. Was there ever an inn called the Shovel, and had it joined forces with the Ship and why was there a man's head on it? He would have been told, if he had asked, that the Shovel denoted the Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who was, besides a great admiral, the friend and supporter of the common sailor. The Green Man was surprising too; who could know that he was the gamekeeper and that his green clothes were an early form of camouflage. The Bull and Mouth, some have thought, was a corruption of Boulogne Mouth; but it is quite probable that it was the union of two inns, the Bull and the Mouth. In the same way the Goat and Compasses may have been the result of a similar fusion, though we are told that it descended from the Puritan motto "God encompasseth us". The traveller from Catholic countries might have been surprised to find in that very Protestant England, several Maid's Heads, some Virgins, a Pilgrim's Rest, a St. Peter's Finger and many George and Dragons.
The traveller had his choice of inns but must select them with care. There were, first, the grand establishments, the Posting Houses, which entertained the quality who posted in their own carriages or in post-chaises. They might accommodate riding gentlemen if these were duly accompanied by their servants. Some of these inns accepted passengers from the mail-coach, some did not; but they never stooped so far as to take in the common stage. Those low people had to go to the inns which catered for them; but they had the satisfaction of knowing that there were others of a still inferior order. The passenger in the waggon, the walker on foot, was seldom admitted or, if he were, was pushed into the kitchen and fed upon remains. Some protested, like Pastor Moritz, who did not see why his money should not be as good as another's.
"As I entered the inn (at Windsor)" he says "and desired to have something to eat, the countenance of the waiter soon gave me to understand that I should there find no very friendly reception. Whatever I got they seemed to give me with such an air, as showed too plainly how little they thought of me, and as if they considered me but as a beggar. I must do them justice to own, however, that they suffered me to pay like a gentleman. No doubt this was the first time that this pert, bepowdered puppy had ever been called upon to wait on a poor devil who entered their place on foot."
Moritz was shown a room which he said "resembled a prison for malefactors", and when he asked for a better one he was told that they had no room for such guests, and that he had better go back to Slough. For such accommodation he had to pay nine shillings, which included supper on an old tough fowl, and the share of a room with a drunken man who got into bed in his boots. The good pastor would have done as well at a hedge-inn, and probably have been charged a tenth of the price. His bill was preposterous, the landlord was evidently set upon fleecing a foreigner.
The Good English Inn
The hedge-inns, who took wayfarers and waggon passengers, charged about 9d. or 1s. for bed and supper. There was one where Swift slept on his way from Moor Park to Leicester which charged only 6d. for a clean bed to himself. At another hostelry Moritz found that, when he had put on clean linen and spruced himself up, he was taken into the parlour instead of the kitchen, and was even addressed as "sir" instead of "master". At the Mitre at Oxford he found "prince-like attendance", but then, though he came on foot, he was introduced by an Oxford clergyman.
Even in good inns it was not unusual for total strangers to share rooms or even beds. This was regarded in much the same way as the sharing of a ship's cabin at the present day. The unfortunate Grosley was turned out of his bed at 3 a.m. to make room for another traveller. The inns at the ports catered for foreigners, who might often be detained there for days waiting for a favourable wind. The landlord could sometimes talk a little French and German, and one enterprising host at Dover kept a library of books in several languages to beguile the time of the windbound traveller. There were inns in London which took in only foreigners. There was the German inn in Suffolk Street where Sophie de la Roche stayed, and a French house, La Saboniere in Leicester Fields. There they were all the time in the company of their fellow countrymen, which is the aim of so many travellers, and did not have to talk that detestable English which they found so difficult. They had their own food too, the cooking and the wines of France and Germany, which they were sure were better than anything this country could offer.
On the whole, however, the English inns were good. Arthur Young, who had travelled through the length and breadth of England and had said many nasty things about English inns, became enthusiastic about them when he was on French soil.
"Go" he said "in England to towns that contain 1,500, 2,000 or 3,000 people in situations absolutely cut off from all dependence and almost the expectation of what are properly called travellers, yet you will meet with neat inns, well-dressed and clean people keeping them, good furniture and refreshing civility."
He goes on to contrast this with the squalor, poverty, rudeness and bad food to be found at the French inns. He admits that the French beds were better than the English. These were good in England only at first-rate houses. When the traveller entered an inn he was usually welcomed by the landlord in person, a rubicund man who had often swollen to a vast size from much drinking. The proprietor of a good inn was a man of substance; he ranked above the tradesmen of the town, and Defoe tells us of one who was Mayor of Doncaster,
"company for the best gentlemen in the kingdom and who kept a pack of hounds".
The common dining-room or "coffee room", as it was called, was an innovation, which came in at the end of the century. In earlier days the traveller had the choice of hiring a private sitting-room or having his meals with the landlord and his family in the parlour or kitchen. This is the explanation of the curious error in She Stoops to Conquer when travellers arriving by night at a private house mistake it for an inn.
The gentleman travelling in his own carriage or in a post-chaise always had a private sitting-room. The mail-coach passenger generally did the same and invariably if there were ladies in the party. The stage-coach traveller, however, who ordered a private room was considered to be giving himself airs. Frenchmen and Germans were astonished at the good appointments of the best inns. They found the stairs and landings carpeted. The bedrooms were spacious and clean with good mahogany furniture and immense four-post beds, piled so high with feather mattresses that it needed a short pair of steps to mount into them. There were curtains at the windows and curtains round the beds, wax candles in the sitting-rooms and pictures on the walls. In one inn, a humble one, where Moritz stayed he found
"printed papers with sundry apt and good moral maxims and rules fastened against the room door . . . on such wretched paper" he says, "some of the most delightful and finest sentiments may be read-such as would do honour to any writer and any country".
All inns did not confine themselves to fine sentiments and moral maxims; Goldsmith tells us how he wept over The Babes in the Wood which he found pasted up on the wall of some inn.
Food At Inns
In the principal houses the food was very good. The tables were covered with immense joints; there were fowls, fish, pies and even game, though it was illegal to sell it, and how the landlord got it no one knew or troubled to inquire. Even in "the hall there might be glass cases containing hams and saddles of mutton and rounds of beef." In spite of this abundance and comfort the foreign traveller often complained. He thought that the custom of bringing each visitor a pair of slippers on his arrival was a filthy one. He asked why there were no napkins and disliked the idea of wiping his fingers on the tablecloth as the English did. Some travellers thought they had more than enough of cold meat and salad; but after all the great joints had to be finished and English cooks had not the skill of the French in concocting made dishes, nor were they ever popular in England. Macky, the French traveller, complained that when he came to England there was no "ordinary", and that
"you must bespeak a whole dish and pay for the whole, though you eat never so little of it, so that one that cannot feed on one joint must therefore travel dear if he travel single".
Towards the end of the century, when public dining-rooms were introduced into the larger inns, a set dinner became the rule. Grosley declared that at one inn he could not get anything to eat without going into the kitchen and selecting a steak from the coal fire over which they were broiling.
"The sole business of the cook" he says "was to be constantly blowing the sea-coal, which was half extinguished by the fat of the steaks, and to put new steaks in the place of those which the people of the inn came, in succession, to snatch from off the gridiron."
Englishmen liked to choose their own steaks and take one which was well cooked or half raw according to his taste. Coffee, the foreigner complained, was like
"a prodigious quantity of brown water. Nowhere do people drink worse coffee."
Vegetables impregnated with soot were boiled in pans full of water, and lost all their taste and often their colour unless a little copper was put in to keep them green.
"The Englishman" Lichtenberg says "after drinking some tepid liquid, cooks his soup in his stomach so that he may be sure that its strength does not evaporate."
Soup, however, was not often served. It was considered extravagant, as English cooks knew nothing of the art of making it out of bones and vegetables and the servants, unlike their brethren on the Continent, refused to eat the meat from which it had been made. It is curious that the three things with which the foreigner most often found fault, cooked vegetables, soup and coffee, are those which are most frequently criticized today. We do not seem to have learnt much in culinary art in the last two hundred years. Our meat usually met with praise.
"I know nothing more nourishing" says Meister "or that I could eat more frequently without being cloyed, than a good beef steak with potatoes, plumb pudding and good Cheshire cheese."
Faujas de St. Fond tells us that he was given
"Slices of beef and veal cut very thin and beaten tender, about the size of a hand, sprinkled with bread crumbs, grilled and nicely served on a silver dish, fine big potatoes with salt butter to follow, delicious beer and good Bordeau wine."
On the other hand there were travellers who said that the sight of English red "rosbif" made them turn pale.
"The Englishman is entirely carnivorous" says Zetzner, "he eats very little bread and calls himself very economical because he spares himself of soup and dessert, which circumstance made me remark that an English dinner is like eternity, it has no beginning and no end."
English dishes were highly seasoned with pepper and other condiments. It was customary to serve honey sauce with beef, and puddings were loaded with sugar. This was not always to the foreigner's taste; but in England, at the beginning of the century, there was no fresh meat in the winter, and what had been salted often needed sauce or condiments to disguise its flavour.
Defoe declared that "the English consume more flesh than half Europe besides" and foreigners seem to have been mostly of this opinion. There were various local dishes. Bath Olivers and Banbury cakes, Devonshire cream, Cornish saffron cake and Melton Mowbray pies are still with us; but there were other varieties which have either entirely disappeared or are little known. In Cambridge the traveller might be regaled with her famous brawn, in Norfolk with cygnet, and at Newbury with crayfish. Laver was served in Somerset, Northumberland had a dish called singing hinnies, and Kent was famous for its huffkins, Cumberland for its hasty pudding and the Sussex downs for wheatears, which Macky declared were like ortolans. You could, moreover, get wonderful cheese at the Bell at Stilton at half a crown a pound. The abundance of food, particularly meat, is noted by many travellers; but Grosley complains that he never got enough to eat in England.
"What would be scarce enough for a Frenchman of ordinary appetite" he says "would suffice three hungry Englishmen."
He had only two or three slices of bread and butter for breakfast and this had to last till dinner at three or four. Dinner was a very large meal and was generally followed by tea at seven or eight. Supper was eaten by the middle classes and the poor who dined at noon; but those who had a later meal did not often take it. It was considered unwholesome. De Saussure, however, insisted upon having it. He complained of the
"plumb porridge, a dish" he says "few foreigners find to their taste . . . a great treat for English people, though I assure you not for me".
Faujas de St. Fond tells us that
"the taste for cleanliness has preserved the use of steel forks with two prongs. They are changed at every course. With regard to little bits of meat which they cannot take hold of, recourse is had to the knife which is broad and rounded at the extremity."
In France the three pronged fork was in general use and it came into England during the century; but inns kept to old customs and the two pronger was in existence as late as the nineteenth century. Travellers seldom stopped at an inn for more than a day or two. If they arrived upon a Saturday they would, as a rule, remain till the Monday, and in such cases were generally the guests of the landlord. People wishing to remain for some time in a place usually took a house, or went into lodgings. Lodgings were generally cheaper than inns. Moritz who had been staying at the Freemason's Tavern in London, where he had paid £1 10s. 9d. for eight days, including breakfast and dinner, moved to lodgings kept by Germans,
"where everything " he tells us "is much more reasonable, and you here eat, drink and lodge for half a guinea a week".
When he was at the Mitre in Oxford he had been obliged, he complains, to pay 3s. for supper, bed and breakfast and to give 1s. to the waiter, though at Sutton near Birmingham he had only paid 1s. for the same accommodation and given the chambermaid 4d. "She very civilly thanked me" he adds. Benjamin Franklin took a furnished room in Little Britain, for which he paid 3s. 6d. a week. Later on his landlady, who wanted the protection of a man's presence in the house, made
"an abatement of two shillings and thus I continued " Franklin says "to lodge with her during the remainder of my abode in London at eighteen pence a week".
Franklin amazed his fellow workmen in the printing trade by his water-drinking habits. They themselves always drank a pint of beer before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with bread and cheese, another between breakfast and dinner, one at dinner, another at six o'clock and one upon finishing their work. They could not understand how the American Aquatic, as they called him, could do heavier work than they could manage on water alone. They paid every Saturday night a reckoning of four or five shillings for beer, "this cursed beverage" as Franklin called it.
A Large Bill
The foreigner was considered fair game by some unscrupulous inn-keepers, but occasionally they overreached themselves. The French Ambassador, who with his suite of twelve stayed for one night at the Red Lion at Canterbury in 1762, was charged the monstrous sum of £44 10s. 8d. As all they had had was lodging and a light supper, he paid the bill with a protest. The story of this imposition spread through London and men travelling the Dover road avoided the Red Lion. Within a few months the landlord put up his shutters. If lodgings were cheaper than inns, and this was usually the case, they had fewer amenities, and the cooking was not generally so good.
"Dinner to such lodgers as I am" says Moritz "generally consists of a piece of half-boiled or half-roasted meat, and a few cabbage leaves boiled in plain water, on which they pour a sauce made of flour and water. The toast" he adds "is incomparably good."
This sauce was in general use, whenever a sauce was thought necessary. It was probably this to which Voltaire referred when he said that "the English had a hundred religions and only one sauce".
Some travellers merely slept and breakfasted in their lodgings and took their other meals in a tavern. Taverns were to be found only in London and the larger towns. They were in fact the restaurants of those days. They were also the common meeting ground of all men, as Crabbe describes them:
All the comforts of life in a tavern are known
'Tis his home who possesses not one of his own
And to him who has rather too much of that one
'Tis the house of a friend, where he's welcome to run
The instant you enter the door you're my lord
With whose taste and whose pleasure I'm proud to accord
And the louder you call and the longer you stay
The more I am happy to serve and obey.
The tavern might have a table d'hôte or, as it was called in those days, an ordinary. Prices varied from Pontack's the French house, which charged a guinea for dinner and gave its patrons stewed snails, petits poussins and the best French wines, to the "dive" of which Smollett spoke, where he had "seen many a pretty gentleman with a laced waistcoat dine very comfortably for three pence halfpenny" on tripe, cowheel or sausage. For a shilling a man could get a good dinner at many ordinaries.
"Ordinaries" Macky writes "are not so common here as abroad, yet the French have set up two or three for the conveniency of foreigners in Suffolk Street where one is commonly well served."
Macky came to England early in the century, by the end of it the ordinary had established itself at most London taverns and a country town inn had its farmer's ordinary on a market day. Many taverns and chop-houses had their own specialities. There was calipash and calipee at the King's Arms, behind St. Clement's church was a house famed for its mutton chops, and several taverns, notably Dolly's and Betty's in Ivy Lane, specialized in beef steaks and ale. If a man were poor there was an establishment in Moorgate which provided "farthing fries of sausage and black pudding ".
Tom's and Will's Coffee-Houses
"After dinner and the play or other diversion, the best company" Macky tells us "go to Tom's and Will's Coffee-Houses near adjoining, where there is playing of picquet and the best conversation till midnight. Here you will see blue and green ribbons and stars sitting familiarly with private gentlemen and talking with the same freedom as if they had left their quality and degrees of distance at home, and a stranger tastes with pleasure the universal liberty of speech of the English nation."
The coffee-houses had become prominent features in London life. They were to be found in all parts of the metropolis and much business was carried on in them. The greatest number were in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane and Covent Garden and near the Royal Exchange. Newspapers were always provided and, in an age when these were dear, men often came to a coffee-house merely to read them. They would also find paper, pens and ink, and if a man had an abode up two pair of stairs in St. Giles's or some other humble locality, he would often give the coffee-house as his sole address. Some of these places had other attractions. Don Solero's had a museum, which a customer was entitled to see if he had paid as much as 8d. for a snack. Garroway's was celebrated for its wine auctions. Here wine was sold by the candle. An inch of candle was lighted when the sale began and the man who was bidding when the candle flickered out got the wine. At other houses music was the attraction. Lichtenberg writes of one which was frequented by servants, journey men and apprentices. Every member put down 4d. for the evening entertainment "for which he had music and a female singer, anything else had to be paid for separately". At most coffee-houses there was card playing, and at all reputable ones the play was straight and above board. There were others, however, visited mostly by foreigners and strangers to the metropolis; the wary Londoner avoided them. Macky found himself in one of the worst of these. It was known as Little Man's.
"I was never so confounded in my life" he writes "as when I entered into this last. I saw two or three tables full at faro, heard the box and dice rattling in a room upstairs and was surrounded by a set of sharp faces, that I was afraid would have devoured me with their eyes. I was glad to drop two shillings or half a crown at faro to get off with a clear skin and was overjoyed that I had so got rid of them."
The coffee-houses which had the sign of a woman's hand-holding a coffee-pot were invariably brothels. This was, of course, known to Londoners; but respectable foreigners entering such places, in search of refreshment and innocent recreation, were shocked and embarrassed. Most coffee-houses had their habitual customers, often of a particular trade, profession or politics.
"I must not forget to tell you" Macky says "that the parties have their different places, where, however, strangers are always well received; but a Whig will no more go to the Cocoa Tree or Orsinda's than a Tory will be seen at the Coffee-House of St. James's. The Scots generally go to the British and a mixture of all sorts to the Smyrna. There are other little coffeehouses much frequented in this neighbourhood, Young Man's for officers, Old Man's for stock jobbers, paymasters and courtiers."
He might have added that Robbins' and Garraway's attracted City men, that the Chapter Coffee-House had its clientele of booksellers, that Old Slaughters in Martin's Lane attracted its crowd of literary men, when these were not thronging the Bedford or the Turk's Head to listen deferentially to the Great Cham.
The London clubs grew out of the coffee-houses. Grosley tells us that they were not often open to foreigners, but if specially recommended
"they meet with all that respect and easy reception so much preferable to ceremony and compliments".
De la Rochefoucauld had a poor opinion of clubs.
"It is to these clubs" he says "that one must, in large measure, attribute the lack of society in London and the ruin of many families. The club is such a convenient means of social intercourse that it attracts everyone. It is composed of two or three hundred members; usually the number is not fixed. The club-house is always large and well furnished, the tables are always supplied with newspapers, with tea for those who want it and dice for the gamblers. Thus is provided everything that people want. Young men go to the club in their riding-boots, there is nothing to worry them and that is precisely what suits everybody."
He adds that club subscriptions were from about five to nine guineas a year and that meals were very expensive. He was speaking, of course, of the clubs of the well-to-do; but there were others. Macky enumerates seven clubs, which he had apparently visited, and tells us that almost every parish had one.
"My house" he says "is in Long Acre where every Wednesday and Saturday, a mixture of gentlemen, lawyers and tradesmen meet in a great room and are seldom under a hundred. They have a grave, old gentleman in his own grey hairs, who is their president and sits in an armed chair some steps higher than the rest of their company and keeps the whole room in order. A harp plays all the time at the lower end of the room and every now and then one or other of the company rises and entertains the rest with a song, and by the by, some are good masters. There is nothing drunk but ale, and every gentleman has his separate mug, which he chalks on the table where he sits as it is brought in, and everyone retires when he pleases as from a coffee-house. The room is always so diverted with songs and drinking to one another that there is no room for politics or anything which can sour conversation."