DEVELOPMENT OF COACHING HOUSES
“How the people managed to get from place to place before the post-office had a history,” soliloquizes James Wilson Hyde in his book, “The Royal Mail: Its Curiosities and Romance,” “or indeed for long after the birth of that institution, it is hard to conceive. Then the roads were little better than tracks worn out of the surface of the virgin land proceeding in some cases in a manner approaching to a right line, over hills, down valleys, through forests and the like; in others following the natural features of the country, but giving evidence that they had never been systematically made, being rather the outcome of a mere habit of travel, just as sheep-tracks are produced on a mountainside.”
He was describing the early roads of England, but a little further along he declares, “In Scotland, about the same time, the roads were no better.” Of course, the writer of that entertaining work did know how people managed to get from place to place, because ordinary travellers rode horses or were passengers in carriers’ wagons, and the very wealthy had elaborate vehicles in the days before the stage-coach. At this period the roadside inn was a very poor specimen of refuge for the traveller, and therefore travelling was not one of the recreations of the people, as it is now, because it was uncomfortable and slow.
In 1679 a Yorkshire squire, Thomas Kirke, travelled in Scotland and subsequently wrote his experiences. “The highways in Scotland,” he wrote, “are tolerably good, which is the greater comfort a traveller meets with amongst them. The Scotch gentry generally travel from one friend’s house to another; so seldom require a change-house (inn). Their way is to hire a horse and man for twopence a mile; they ride on the horse thirty or forty miles a day, and the man who is his guide foots it beside him, and carries his luggage to boot.”
After reading this one does not know whether to admire the imagination of the writer, or the endurance of his guide. One or the other is wonderful.
Similar conditions existed in virtually all of Western Europe at the time and these quotations may be accepted as applying almost equally well to France, Italy and Germany in those days.
There was another method of travel open to persons whose business compelled them to go from place to place, before the advent of the stage-coach, which may be said to have been the outcome of the organization of a postal system in Great Britain and Scotland. This method was the carrier’s wagon. Of course, freight and goods of one kind or another which could not reach the interior towns by water were carried in wagons owned by individuals whose business was to haul parcels and packages. These wagons were not very comfortable, and as their best speed on a long summer’s day was only fifteen miles, the traveller who selected this mode of travel did so to save the greater expense of hiring a horse. The only attempt to make life bearable for passengers was found in the introduction of straw or rushes which filled the floor of the wagon, and on this the weary traveller might sit or lie until his journey’s end. These wagons usually were drawn by six horses, and the driver walked alongside.
The stage-coach may be said to have been the evolution from both the postboy, who had become “a source of great vexation and trouble,” and the carrier’s wagon; and as it progressed in speed and little comforts, the road-side inn progressed through the increase of patronage. At first the stage-coach was not so speedy as the postboy, for in 1635 postboys made the journey from London to Edinburgh in three days, while in 1763 the stage coach between these two cities required four and a half days for the journey. The postboy had become obsolete in England by the year 1715.
One of the earliest of the stage-coach inns in London was the George Inn, without Aldersgate, which is not to be confused with the Old George Inn, Borough; nor yet with the George, Tower Hill, which stood on a site which over-looked the public execution ground, where a granite slab in the pavement informs the curious that “this was the site of ancient scaffold. Here the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino suffered, 18th August, 1746.” These men were among the last beheaded in England. Lord Lovat was be-headed the following year and consequently was the last person whose head fell under the blow from the headsman’s axe. Strictly speaking, in his case not an axe but the first beheading machine, similar to the guillotine, was used.
An advertisement of stage-coaches in the year 1658 shows that from the George Inn without Aldersgate, London, a coach left on three days a week to Salisbury “in two days, for XX. s.; to Blandford and Dorchester in two days and a half, for XXX. s.; to Burput, in three days, for XXX. s.; to Exmister, Hunnington and Exter, in four days, for XL. s.; to Staniford, in two days, for XX. s.; to York, in four days, for XL. s.”
There was still to be seen in London, thirty years ago, the remnants of The Saracen’s Head, which stood on Snow Hill, which is on the Holborn Viaduct. It was a coaching house, whose history went back to the days of Charles II. While part of it, the coach yard especially, was pulled down when the Holborn Viaduct was constructed in 1868, remnants of the front were standing until more recent years. To modern readers, the Saracen’s Head immediately suggests Dickens, and we shall have more to say about the ancient house when we make a survey of the Dickens inns and hotels in a later chapter. It is said the Norwich coach set out from this inn as early as 1681. Unless this, Saracen’s Head took its sign from another house, or vice versa, there was another Saracen’s Head in London at the same time, and not much more than half a mile away, for an advertisement of 1739, which has been preserved, informs us:
“Exeter Flying stage-coach in three days, and Dorchester and Blandford in two days. Go from the Saracen’s Head Inn, in Friday Street, London, every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.” Thirty years later the “Taunton Flying Machine, hung on steel springs, sets out from The Saracen’s Head Inn, in Friday Street, London, and Taunton, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at three o’clock in the morning,” the journey taking two days. In 1773 the Exeter Fly set out weekly from the Bull and Gate in Aldersgate.
In Holborn, too, was another ancient coaching house, or at least a post house which was removed in 1899. This was The Bell Inn, mentioned by John Taylor, the water-poet, who wrote in 1637, “there doth a Poste come every second Thursday from Walsingham to the Bell in Holborne.” It was still in existence a quarter-century ago, and William Black makes a sympathetic reference to the old Bell in his most successful novel, “The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton.” It also figures in the “Pickwick Papers” of Charles Dickens.
A few other contemporary London inns in the same vicinity should be mentioned from their connection with well-known characters of other years. One of these was The Essex Head, No. 40 Essex Street, Strand, which bowed to improvements thirty years ago. It was here that Doctor Johnson established his Essex Head Club, whose rules were drawn up by the great oracle himself.
The Essex Head Club was formed by the Doctor near the end of his life, and, as Boswell informs us, that notwithstanding the complication of disorders under which he then labored, he “insisted that such members of the old club in Ivy-lane as survived should meet again and dine together, which they did, twice at a tavern, and once in his house; and in order to insure himself society in the evening for three days in the week he instituted a club at the Essex Head, in Essex Street, then kept by Samuel Greaves, an old servant of Mr. Thrale’s.”
Under the rules the club consisted of twenty-four members who held meetings on Monday, Thursday and Saturday of every week; “but in the week before Easter there shall be no meeting.” It was a very modest organization, for while a member who stayed away forfeited three pence, if he came to the club he “shall spend at least sixpence.” The final rule was “one penny shall be left by each member for the waiter.
At the Strand end of Drury Lane there stood until 1896 a Tudor-like structure which for many years was distinguished by the sign of the Cock and Magpie. It was what is known in England as a public house, but the London antiquaries agreed that it was in this house that the famous Nell Gwynn, the actress who became a favorite of Charles II, lived. Pepys, the Diarist, mentioned that he saw her standing at her lodgings door in Drury Lane, adding, “she seemed a mighty pretty creature.” Her biographer, Peter Cunningham, at the conclusion of his researches, placed this house at the corner mentioned, and a bookseller who occupied the building in the last century satisfied everyone that Cunningham was correct. Notwithstanding its appearance, a writer some years later declared the house was not built before the time of Charles I. Although its sign was the Cock and Magpie, in accordance with English usage the last word was cut in half, and the tavern was spoken of as the Cock and Pie.
There were seven main or stage roads in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries according to many popular writers, but “Patterson’s Roads” gives particulars of nine. They were a little better in the latter century but it required a hundred years of stage-coaching to bring the roads into condition for quick horse traffic. It would not be possible to condense within a chapter the story of all of the inns on these roads that might reasonably be regarded as historic. This subject already has been rather exhaustively covered in the breezy, entertaining pages of Captain Mal-let’s “Annals of the Road,” and of the volumes by Lord William Lennox, James Hissey, Charles G. Harper, W. Outram Tristram, and Stanley Harris. Even those coaching houses which had their praises sung by travellers, or by writers who have come after them, will be found to have been either within the limits of Metropolitan London of today, or not far from it.
Colonel Patterson’s “Roads,” which became the guide for all travellers in England in the opening years of the nineteenth century, lists the principal inns in England, Wales and the Scotch lowlands. The lists, however, will not bear reproduction because they are noted in the index under the large towns or places the stage-coaches stopped, and none of those-in London is mentioned. Some of the inns either have disappeared altogether during the last century or, at least, changed their signs. There are various colored Bulls and Horses, and Swans, Saracen’s Heads, to say nothing of various Arms, such as the Kings Arms, at Kenilworth, and the Rutland Arms at New Market. There are Black Lions and Red Lions, Roebucks and Harts; Blackamoor’s and other kinds of Heads; Stars, Fountains, Crowns and Elephants and Castles. One would need the patience of a Cuvier to properly describe them, and they would furnish a new page of signboard natural history. While Colonel Patterson gives brief histories of country houses on the roads, no inn receives more than a mention. He did not even star them, as Baedeker does, to hint where the service is better. But then, it was a road book in the days when touring was not so common nor so convenient as it is in these.
While some of these old inns have changed their signs, in a few instances they have not obliterated all trace of their antiquity. Take the Golden Crown Inn, now the George, in LichfieldDoctor Johnson’s Lichfield, but the good Doctor’s career never was connected with the innit formerly had the sign of the Crown and it was the Crown when the ill-fated dramatist, George Farquhar, that rather brilliant Irishman, wrote his comedy, “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” in 1707. He gave its landlord a name that has been bestowed on innkeepers and hotelkeepers from his day to ours. Who has not heard of the hotelkeeper referred to as the Boniface? It is he who opens the comedy with the scene in his inn when the Warrington coach arrives late at night. It is true that in the play the inn is given no name, figuring merely as “an Inn in Lichfield,” but it is said Farquhar himself had stopped there and knew the Crown.
“Chamberlain ! maid ! Cherry!” cries the excited inn-keeper. “Daughter Cherry! All asleep? All dead?”
Daughter Cherry comes running, crying as she enters, “Here! here! Why d’ye bawl so, father? d’ye think we have no ears?”
“You deserve to have none, you young minx! The company of the Warrington coach has stood in the hall this hour, and nobody to show them their chambers.”
“And let ’em wait, father; there’s neither red-coat in the coach, nor footman behind it.”
“But they threaten to go to another inn to-night.”
“That they dare not, for fear the coachman should over-turn them tomorrow. Coming! coming! Here’s the London coach arrived.”
From which it will be understood that in the daughter’s estimation, London passengers were to be preferred to country ones.
The George, or Crown, which Baedeker identifies with Farquhar’s inn, stands to-day on Lichfield’s main street, but the suspicion arises that the old hostelry has been some-what altered during the intervening two centuries.
Tristram found the Royal George at Dover had undergone a change since the eighteenth century. “There is no touch perceptible of the Dover of 1775, of the Dover, that is to say, of Mr. Jarvis Lorry and the old Dover Mail,” he wrote in Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, “Where is the drawer at the Royal George who opened the coach door as the custom was? Who used to cry into the ears of still half-awakened passengers the following programme of peace: `Bed room and breakfast, sir? Yes, sir ! That way, sir. Show Concord!’ ” (The Concord bed-chamber was always assigned to a passenger by the Mail.) `Gentleman’s valise and hot water to Concord (you will find a sea-coal fire, sir). Fetch barber to Concord ! Stir about now for Concord;’ and so on. Where is Concord, with its vision of comfort and a sea-coal fire? Where is the Royal George indeed? Its place is no longer known among Dover inns, or it may be the Lord Warden Hotel, for aught that I know.”
At Newhaven, on the Sussex coast of the English Channel, there may still be seen the Bridge Inn or Hotel, which, while also showing signs of alteration, yet reveals some evidences of one of the chief incidents in its long history. Newhaven was on one of the links in the great Brighton Road, and the Bridge Inn was one of the favorite stopping places for passengers to and from Dieppe, France.
Early one morning in March, 1848, the steamer Express arrived in the harbor and Captain Paul, accompanied by General Dumas, put off in a boat for the shore. Arriving there, they went immediately to the Bridge Inn and told the hostess, Mrs. Smith, that a party of six persons on board required accommodations in her inn. Having made these arrangements, General Dumas started for London, and Captain Paul returned to his ship.
A few hours later, eleven o’clock, to be exact, a boat from the ship landed six passengers. There were “an elderly gentleman attired in an old green blouse and travelling cap and a rough great coat; a lady of similar age, plainly dressed in a black bonnet and a checker black and white cloak, attended by a young female; and three other persons.” The party was conducted to the inn, where preparations for it had been made. It was only then that the astonished and flattered landlady discovered that she was entertaining King Louis Phillipe and his Queen, of Prance. There had been set apart for the unknown guests two sitting and six bed-rooms, together with the inn’s long room for the royal attendants. Conducting the guests upstairs the landlady, turning to leave their majesties after she had ushered them into the sitting room, saw the exiles, overpowered by the events of the last few days, giving vent to floods of tears. The Revolution of February had shown the weakness of the monarchy, and while the streets of Paris were still filled with angry mobs which an unprepared military could not silence, Louis Phillipe abdicated his throne in favor of his grandson, the young Count of Paris. But with that act the House of Orleans had passed from France, for the young Count was rejected and a Republic proclaimed, with the adventurous Louis Napoleon as president.
Long before the sun set on the day Louis Phillipe arrived, all Newhaven became aware it was entertaining the King and Queen of France. The following morning, while the royal party were preparing to board a train for London, they had to listen to two addresses in Latin and one in French, both signed by the pupils of the local grammar school. New-haven had not seen so much excitement in a century, and the Bridge Inn never had so distinguished a party of guests.
There were so many inns with the sign of the Castle in London that if one is not careful he may confuse their respective claims to fame. As all of these have passed away we shall refer to only one, The Castle Tavern, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. While this house was a resort of the “bloods” in the eighteenth century, its chief claim to historical mention is in an incident which occurred in July, 1772, when a duel was fought between Captain Thomas Matthews and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Contrary to general belief, all duels are not dramatic in character, but there was enough of the dramatic in this one, not only to set the tongues of gossip wagging for weeks, but sufficient material was left for Sheridan to make one of his wittiest and most laughable comedies, “The Rivals.” There was even enough material left after a century and a half for modern playwrights and cinema scenario writers to absorb sufficient to make new “original” plays.
The drama, which ended in an upper room of a tavern in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London, had its opening scenes in Bath, then the abode of fashion in England. Both Captain Matthews and Sheridan became deeply interested in a fair young singer of Bath, Miss Elizabeth Linley, eldest daughter of the composer and conductor of the Bath Orchestra, Dr. Thomas Linley. At first the beautiful singer, who had numerous admirers, showed a partiality for the Captain. Young Sheridan therefore did not press his suit, but harbored a suspicion that the Captain was not the worthy lover Miss Linley believed him to be. Sheridan sought his confidence, in the course of which he had several letters from the unsuspecting Lothario in which he described his real feelings towards the singer. In one of them he admitted he had no genuine love for her, that she had given him so much trouble that he would renounce all pursuit of her if his vanity did not desire conquest. That he was resolved to “abandon the character of a suppliant and to assume the authority of a master. But if she refused to meet him, he would carry her away by force.”
Sheridan visited Miss Linley and handed her the letter among others he had received. After reading the note she fainted, and upon being restored she asked Sheridan’s advice, saying that Captain Matthews would ruin her reputation. The young lover calmly proposed that she fly with him to France, where he would place her in a convent, so on the day fixed by Captain Matthews to kidnap the lady she was starting for London by post-chaise. They went to France, were married in Dunkirk, and then, leaving his young wife in a convent, Sheridan returned to England, having learned Captain Matthews had published an insulting paragraph in the Bath Chronicle in which he characterized Sheridan as one who no longer “deserves the treatment of a gentleman,” and that he should “trouble himself no further about him than, in this public manner, to post him as a 1 and a treacherous s.” Sheridan vowed he would not sleep until he had satisfaction. He searched London until he found the Captain, whom he challenged to a duel in Hyde Park. The parties met there, but discovering Matthews was trying to escape in the dusk, he seized him and dragged him to the Castle Tavern. Lights were called for and the party led to a private room; here Sheridan quickly had his antagonist at his mercy. The latter’s secretary rushed for-ward crying: “Don’t kill him!” and Matthews sued for his life.
Sheridan, after breaking the Captain’s sword, insisted that he sign a vindication, which he did. So no blood was spilt.
Three years later, in Covent Garden Theatre, not far from the scene of this duel, was given its first performance of Sheridan’s first comedy, “The Rivals,” in which, it will be remembered, is that very timid duelist, Bob Acres, whom some have thought was originally intended as a satire on Captain Matthews.
While we have been loitering around Bath mention should be made of the York Hotel, a very old inn, which a century ago occupied the position of the most fashionable hostelry in the most fashionable resort in the United Kingdom. Pierce Egan, in his book, “Walks Through Bath,” published in 1819, describes the house as it then was in this manner:
“The above Hotel is a fine building, and considered one of the largest and best inns in the kingdom, out of London. Its accommodations are in the first style of excellence, under the superintendence of Messrs. Lucas and Reilly. In the season it overflows with company of the highest rank in life. The dining room is equal, if not superior, to the large room at the Crown and Anchor, in London. The suite of rooms correspond and are furnished in the most superb manner. It has a subscription-club of the first respectability, denominated the `Friendly Brothers,’ consisting of three knots. The members are elected’ by ballot, and are free in London, Dublin and Bath. The subscription is three guineas per annum; but an additional charge is made for newspapers, publications, &c. Stages set out from York-House every day for London. This hotel is stored with a profusion of silver plate for the service of its visitors. A catch-club is likewise held here.”
No one who has read “Life in London” or “Finish to the Life in London” could doubt that paragraph, with its amplitude of superlatives, was written by Pierce Egan, who, it might be said in passing, was a literary ancestor of Charles Dickens. Fortunately Boz improved upon his heritage.
In the middle of the eighteenth century there was a modest hostelry in Coventry, England, on the road to Birmingham, known as The Bull Inn. Richard Yates and John Palmer, two noted actors and managers of the period, stopped there one night in the year 1752 on their road to Birmingham, where they had erected a new theatre, which they were to open within a few days. After they had finished their dinner and were enjoying their glass of wine, their ears “were saluted by the melodious sounds of a young warbler.” They listened with great interest and then had the waiter open the dining-room doors so they might hear the singer with better effect. Then they searched out the owner of the voice, who proved to be a boy of tender years. He was given a glass of wine and asked to sing one of his favorite songs. This he responded to so well that the managers called the landlord and began to question both. It appeared the boy supported a widowed mother by the pennies he collected from his songs sung in public houses. Yates offered to take him as an apprentice but the boy urged that his mother would be in need. Then the manager offered to pay the parent two shillings a week if the lad would accompany them. Finally the managers had their way. The boy went with them, was taught singing and acting and finally won a high place on the stage as a singer and actor, in England and in Ireland, as Joseph Vernon. He died in 1782, while still a young man, and the best singing actor the English stage had known.
With the coming of the stage coach, which on the continent was the diligence and a rather differently constructed vehicle, the frequency of tours, usually through France and Italy, with an occasional adventure into Germany or Switzer-land, caused the creation of a new expression and a new recreation for wealthy Englishmen in the eighteenth century. This was the Grand Tour. The chief pivotal spots in this travel were Paris and Rome. The stage coach improved the roadside inn in England, and to some extent the desire to do business with the travelled Englishman led to an improvement in the inns and hotels in France and Italy during the latter half of the eighteenth century. It was in this period that the French word hotel began to be applied to the elaborated inns, both in France and in England, although it was not until the days of the French Republic that the word was properly naturalized in England.
Some of these travelled Englishmen have contributed books in which they have related their experiences on the Grand Tour. The poet Gray, probably best recalled for one poem, although he wrote many, “An Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” made the Grand Tour with Horace Walpole as his companion. He disagreed with his noble young pupil, and returned alone to England. But not before he had visited Voltaire, Lawrence Sterne, made two journeys to France, and on one of them extended his tour to Italy. As a result we have that rather extraordinary performance, whose taste and morality have not always pleased his critics, “A Sentimental Journey to France and Italy,” but which remains, in its way, a masterpiece.
Neither the French nor Italian inns of the period were regarded as good as the best inns in England at that time. Indeed, the French inns were praised faintly for their efforts to make life pleasant for their guests. As the principal route followed between England and France had Dover and Calais as its termini, there were inns of some pretensions in each of those ports. At Calais, Dessein’s was the leading inn, although it was admitted that it did not compare favor-ably with the better class houses in England. A contemporary described Dessein’s Inn as one of the most extensive in Europe, with such modern innovations as gardens, shops and a handsome theatre.
Arthur Young, in his “Travels During the Years 1787, 8, 9, and 1790 Undertaken more Particularly with a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources and National Prosperity, of the Kingdom of France,” which was published in 1792, singled out the Hotel Henri IV, at Nantes, for such extravagant praise as “the finest inn in Europe.” He expounds further, “It cost 400,000 liv. (£17,-500) furnished, and is let at 14,000 liv. per ann. (£612.10 s.) with no rent for the first year. It contains (60) sixty beds for masters and (25) twenty-five stalls for horses. Some of the apartments of two rooms, very neat, are 6 liv. a day; one good 3 liv., but for merchants 5 liv. per diem for dinner, supper, wine and chamber, and 35 f. for his horse. It is without comparison the first inn I have seen in France, and very cheap.”
But even Young found the French auberge usually a sad place for an Englishman seeking comforts. In some of the smaller villages, where there were post houses, other travellers of the same century declare that they offered very little beyond bare shelter. In some of them even beds were needed, and bread and a fire were often wanting. Smollet, who had travelled through France long before Young, wrote that in the South of that country, excepting in large cities, inns were cold, damp and dirty.
All who have read Dumas’s. breezy, rapid romance, “The Three Guardsmen,” will recall the Franc-Meunier inn in Meung, before which the novel opens with D’Artagnan arriving on his Bearn pony. The town of Meung was a small place in 1625, when the story opens, and in 1883 it still had less than 4,000 population. Unless the map of France you examine is a very old one, you probably will fail to find Meung indicated upon it, for it has long since become Mehun-sur-Loire, being the chief place in the canton of Loiret, in the arrondissement of Orleans. The Franc-Meunier was a historic inn, although it would be difficult to identify it today, because D’Artagnan was a very real person and all Mr. Dumas did was to rearrange the mousquetaire’s memoirs and put into them those touches which permitted him to place his name on the title page as author. With all respect to the redoubtable D’Artagnan of reality, he would have remained in oblivion had not Dumas given us the dashing, tactless D’Artagnan of romance.
Until the World War made a desert of the Eastern part of France, there stood on the main roads between Paris and Metz a number of ancient inns and former .posting houses which were scenes of a drama enacted in the summer of 1791, when Louis XVI, and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, together with the French royal family, were fleeing France in a common road vehicle, called a Berline, which was a form of diligence or stage coach then in more or less general use in that country.
The flight had been organized with the greatest care by Count Fersen, a handsome, well-liked young officer, who was popularly believed to be in love with the Queen. The route mapped, money gathered for expenses, details of soldiers arranged to be placed at critical points, all made with the greatest secrecy. Louis and his Queen were dressed in costumes that allowed them to pass for bourgeoisie. The start was made in the early morning, but difficulty pursued the fleeing monarchs; details of hussars were not where they should have been; an indiscreet and loquacious postmaster at one of the post-houses remarked that the king was expected. News of the escape was in the hands of the National Assembly, and pursuit followed quickly.
At Pont-de-Somme-Vesle, where there were, indeed, a party of soldiers in waiting, the post-master confided in one of the dragoons that the king was going to pass; at Sainte-Menehould, a similar rumor was spread by a barmaid. At the former posting-house this rumor caused so much excitement that the officer in charge of the detachment retired with his company. Another crowd greeted the emigrants as they stopped at the posting-house at Clermont-en-Argonne, while they received a relay of horses. They felt that Metz was near, and Paris far off, and that they had not been recognized. At Varennes, where they arrived late at night, the party found neither soldiers nor horses for their relay. One of the inhabitants of the town was awakened and advised that the party go to the Hotel Grand Monarque. Before long some lingering roysterers in a nearby tavern discovered the identity of the travellers. Their conveyance was directed to the Bras d’Or, where passports were demanded. A grocer, Sauce by name, gave the Royal travellers a lodging for the night, and by morning they realized they were captives.
There was to be seen in the Rue Mazet, Paris, between the Pont Neuf and the Boulevarde Saint-Germain, until recent yearsperhaps it is there stillan old coaching house that was used for that purpose so far back as the time of Louis XIV. Then the coaches set out from this house for Orleans and the central part of France. During the Eighteenth Century until the Revolution, it was a posting house under the service general de la poste. A quarter century ago it was, as appears from its sign, once more an auberge, known as “Restaurant du Cheval Blanc.” It is a very old building, evidently antedating the Grand Monarch.
In Tours, the ancient town hall of the commune of Chateauneuf for a long period was occupied as an inn. Its proprietor, as the sign indicates, thought it deserved better, so he named it Grand Hotel de la Croix Blanche. The Hotel de la Crouzille, which was still standing in Tours a quarter century back, its two Norman high peaks giving its façade that distinction and appearance belonging to centuries of age, which perhaps permitted the telling to visitors that here was born the famed Mlle. Louise de la Vallière, one of Louis XIV’s favorites, whom he declared was the only one who ever loved him, and who was said to have died of a broken heart over that love. Louis had the audacity of the Grand Monarch of his time and the de la Vallière and the Montespan were placed in the same coach with his Queen, the devoted and pious Maria Theresa, when all three ladies accompanied the king to Flanders to see him carry on a war. More recent commentators declare that the belief that Mlle. de la Vallière was born in this ancient structure is a false one backed up by no scientific proof. Yet it is interesting to think that a woman who exerted so much influence over one of France’s most magnificent kings, might at least have seen the old house, and perchance might even have entered it, once upon a time.
Before we leave France let us see one of the last of the old French inns to disappear from that part of Paris which every-body, Parisians and visitors alike, allude to as Old Paris. In the Rue Galande, until a few years before the World War, stood an ancient inn, then proclaiming itself La Chateau Rouge, and apparently with good reason. It had the old archway for an entrance, the old signs painted on the walls so long ago that they were nearly obliterated, letting the passer-by know that he could get “Vins Bieres Cafe” there. Whatever its past, glorious or otherwise, it had fallen from its high station, and had become a common lodging house for unfortunates who slept on chairs and tables; crowded in wherever they could find the space. The building was picturesque, but its story evidently was a sad one.
Those travellers who made the Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century and published accounts of their travels, seem to agree that the inns of Italy at that time were beneath contempt. One traveller advises those about to go to Venice to hire a house in the better class section; or at least to rent a furnished room. No one recommended the existing inns. Again we are told by the same authorities that outside of the capitals of Rome, Naples, Turin and Milan, there were no good inns to be found in Italy. It is true that some other travellers have even said that good accommodations could be obtained in Venice and condemned the inns of Naples. If it be of any significance it might be related that Parrino’s Guide to Naples, which was published in the year 1725, goes into meticulous detail about everything in Naples. He describes churches, hospitals, statues, fountains; all the wonders and all the religious congregations of the wonderful city on the Bay of Naples, but he is silent about inns or hotels. No modern guide book would be regarded as worth while that did not mention at least the leading hotels of the city it sought to describe.
From some of these old travellers we learn the names of a few hotels or inns they seemed to be willing to recommend, even if they restrained themselves from expressing any enthusiasm. Thus we learn from De Brosses’ “Lettres sur l’Italie,” quoted by William Edward Mead, in his book, “The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century,” that at Rome the Auberge du Mont d’Or, in the Piazza di Spagna, was the only good inn for strangers. Nugent, an English traveller, in his “Grand Tour” declares that in Naples the Cardinal’s Hat and the Three Kings are the best inns in that city and the ones usually selected by English travellers.
Much the same was written about the German inns during the same period. While exceptions were noted the tourists seemed to unite in generally condemning the inns of France, Italy and Germany at this time. The beds were bad, the dinners uneatable and the accommodations lacked the common conveniences. Yet, in the Eighteenth Century it must be admitted that inns nowhere, even in England, were above reproach.