This page includes comments on and quotations about:
- Inns, hotels and lodging houses
- Names of Inns
- The nature of accommodation
- Poor accommodation
- Improving accommodation
- The cost of accommodation at inns
- The cost of accommodation at lodging houses
- Service at Inns
- Tips to servants
Most towns had at least one inn designed to provide accommodation for commercial travellers, lawyers and others on business. The burgeoning numbers of tourists put a strain on these inns, which increased in number and size from the end of the 18th century. Since most people didn’t travel more than 20-30 miles in a day, it was necessary for there to be accommodation at such intervals, so small inns were established, often in isolated locations, where the distance between towns was greater than this; they were often called New Inn, or Cross Inn. It was rare for a tourist to stay in an inn for more than one or two nights. The Corsygedol Arms at Barmouth was an exception – the gentry often stayed at this exclusive resort at the inn for more than a week. Some tourists also stayed at the Capel Curig Inn for more than a night or two – mainly because they were waiting for the weather to improve.
Occasionally, inns were fully occupied, so tourists and travellers had to share a bedroom (or even a bed) with a stranger, stay at a nearby cottage or farm house, or sleep in a carriage. It is not recorded whether such arrangements attracted a reduction in the usual charge, because, at the time when this happened, the main charges were for food and drink, rather than for a bed.
Names of Inns
Almost all inns had English names, some of them named after the arms of the land owner – Red Lion, Black Lion, Bloody Hand etc. One of the few inns which had a Welsh name, in Corwen, was often called the Owen Glendower (as Shakespeare’s spelled it) after the late 14th / early 15th century Welsh Prince, Owain Glyndwr.
It is said that the first modern hotel was built in Exeter and was known as ‘The Hotel’. Its name was changed to Royal Clarence Hotel, 1827.
Hotels were unknown in Wales until the early 1800s. They served the needs of tourists who wanted to stay in one place for several nights – early examples are the Penrhyn Arms Hotel, Bangor (built 1799); The Goat Hotel, Beddgelert (opened 1802), and the Victoria Hotel, Llanberis (opened 1832). The Capel Curig Inn, opened in about 1800, was referred to as an hotel by 1815.
The term Hotel was in use before 1800. In a critical review of T.K.’s ‘Account of a Journey through North Wales 1767’. Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 37, (1767) pp. 589-590, P.Q. suggested that a tourist might have complained with more reason of the large brick building at Newcastle Emlyn, which is called an inn, and presents a promising front, but in fact is no more than an Hotel de chase for the gentry of the county at particular seasons, and by no meant calculated for the reception of strangers. (Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 38, (1768), pp. 5-6). There are a number of hotels in Britain called Chase Hotel – the name might derive from their being the place where fox hunters met.
Lodging Houses were found in resorts such as Tenby, Aberystwyth and Barmouth, and later at north Wales resorts. They were occupied by those who stayed at the resorts for several weeks: a family and their own servants often rented a suite of rooms, a whole floor, or the whole building during their stay.
The nature of accommodation
Very few tourists described (or illustrated the interior of) their accommodation other than to report whether it was good, poor or indifferent depending on the cleanliness of the rooms, the quality of the service and the dampness of the sheets. Perhaps only the better-off tourists expected to have a sitting room of their own (where their meals would be served) and a bedroom, but sometimes they had to share the sitting room with strangers and occasionally the bedroom too or they would have to make a bedroom their base until a sitting room became available. It seems more likely that most ate in the same room and possibly at the same table as other guests.
Anne Lister was one of the few who described her accommodation in some detail in her private diary during a tour of Wales with her Aunt in 1822. She wrote some of her account in code, especially when recording discharges which she had to syringe daily (she is thought to have contracted a venereal disease from her lover, Mariana Belcombe who had been infected by her husband). She was thus pleased to have some privacy when it was offered.
Conway, Harp Inn
we have been comfortable here – good, clean beds, tho’ very small rooms – no window – curtains, no wash-stand – the pitcher & basin on the toilet table – good breakfast & great attention – the people seem clean, tho’ the house looks dirtyish & second-rate because, perhaps, it is old & not easily made to look clean or kept clean… we found the room in which we sat so very damp, it gave my aunt the rheumatism & we had dinner in a little sitting room upstairs – on looking more about us the house did seem dirty & uncomfortable & in spite of the civility of the people we wanted to change our quarters
Bangor, Castle Inn
It is the best inn in the place, but bad enough & dirty enough – quite full – 2 very small hot uncomfortable looking rooms at the top of the house – and a sitting room on the left of the entrance on the ground floor next to the street & even about this we had some difficulty, finding other company when we returned from the cathedral & obliged to civily turn them out, tho’ here before us –a reverend Mr & his daughter Miss Jones from Ruthin… there was not even a chair in my room last night – in fact, the place was too small to hold me – it was very close, & the whole house had a smell of dirtyness & meat kept too long
Caernarfon, Uxbridge Arms
It is a large handsome looking house, built by the present Marquess – we have a sitting-room, about 11 yards by 6, lighted by 3 large sashes – I should think it about 14ft high or perhaps more – have had a good breakfast & are very comfortable more especially after such inns as the Harp at Conway & far worse as to sleeping rooms the Castle at Bangor
[In code: my aunt & I for the first time have a double bedded room but I have managed to get a dressing room up in the garret]. Capital lodgings rooms, good bed & slept well – Breakfast at 10 – the worst breakfast I have had because the butter strong & not good & the coffee bad or perhaps the boiled milk a little inclined to be sourish
we have a comfortable sitting-room upstairs [in code: A double-bedded room adjoining & I have my wash-stand. Dress & undress here in the sitting room]. … [code: At ten, discovered a neighbouring double-bedded room at liberty. Had all moved there & glad to get a place to myself.]
Lister, Anne, diary, West Yorkshire (Calderdale) Archives (Halifax) 7/ML/TR/11; RAM 52-76 and 78-9, Transcribed by Kirsty Anne McHugh for the Curious Travellers project.
Most tourists seem to have put up with the poor roads, bad food and infested beds at inns in Wales. Indeed, some almost relished their discomfort in that these torments made the effort of seeing such magnificent scenery more valid. Only those who were already rather grumpy, such as John Byng, allowed their dissatisfaction with the facilities become more important than the landscape.
As the fashion for touring Wales became a reliable source of income for inn keepers, better facilities and food were provided so that by the 1830s, it was possible to get a good four-course meal in north Wales in place of the bacon and eggs (and sometimes even more basic meals) which some were offered in earlier years. The watershed in the quality of accommodation in north Wales may have been the visit to Llangollen Bangor and Caernarfon by the 13 year-old Princess Victoria and her mother in the autumn of 1832.
The cost of accommodation at inns
James Bucknall Grimston’s diary of a tour of 1769 contains very detailed accounts of every half penny spent for his whole journey from St Albans, around Wales and back home, so it is possible to compare the average cost of inns in England and Wales.
Average costs per night
In England (25 nights in inns) £1/4/2 (£1.207)
In Wales (38 nights in inns) £0/15/7 (£0.708)
The difference of eight shillings and seven pence is a result of the high cost of staying in Oxford, Bath and Bristol, whereas the trip back from Chester, via Liverpool was not so expensive per night.
Grimston, James Bucknall, (Third Viscount Grimston, 1749-1809), A Tour in Wales, 1769, Report on the manuscripts of the Earl of Gorhambury, Historic Monuments Commission Report, (HMSO, 1906), pp. 242-283, 31 August, 1769
John Byng kept many of his bills from inns during his many tours of England and Wales between 1781 and 1794, but these are the only record of his expenditure that we have. There is no record of the tips he paid to the staff at inns, and he recorded very few other items of expenditure.
The first printed bill from an inn in Byng’s tours (1784) is typical of many for both Wales and England. No mention is made of beds, and often none of breakfast. It appears that paying for an evening meal, alcohol and accommodation for the horse and servant covered the cost of the bed, but extras might be charged for a fire in the bed chamber and rushlights.
The printed bill for Byng’s stay at the Cross Foxes in Mallwyd (David Loyd, innkeeper), 1784
To Eating 1s 4d
Tea 1 s 4d
Brandy 1s 3d
Ale 0s 4d
Servants eating and ale
Horses Hay and Corn 2s 0d
[total] 6s 3d
Andrews, C Bruyn, (Editor), The Torrington diaries: Containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, (London, 1934) in 4 vols. This include facsimile copies of many inn bills.
Goat inn, cost of accommodation from 9 shillings a week including a servant … and others at 15 to 25 shillings
Mr and Mrs Woolrych, Tour, 1819, NLW, 16630B, pp. 82-87
1826, The Lamb Inn, Dolgellau
‘Paid 1s 6d at the Lamb as the landlady made no charge for beds but leaves it to the traveller to give what he pleases. I gave her 6d and she was very thankful.’
Masleni, Thomas John, Sketch of a Tour of Scenery in Wales, in the Autumn of 1826, NLW Mss 65a, p. 26
Separate charges for beds appear during the first quarter of the 19th century.
1826, St Asaph
At the age of 15, W E Gladstone (later Prime Minister) toured north Wales and at St Asaph paid one shilling for a bed and 1s 6d for his evening meal.
Gladstone, W.E., (1809-1898), 1826, British Library, Add. 44718, f. 70r
Four or five huts are erected at the summit with very fair sleeping accommodation… the hut keeper makes a charge of 5 shillings for supper and bed and breakfast. When our party had all struggled up … great was the consumption of bottled stout – brandy – tea – eggs – bread and butter etc
Billinghurst, H.P., A Pedestrian Ramble through Oxford, Chester and North Wales, 1854. Women’s Library, London, 7RMB/B/1, p. 257
There were enormous variations in the charges for accommodation. Walker Baily stayed at 4 inns in North Wales in 1853, which cost between 5s and 7s 6d per night, but he spent his last two nights at the Victoria Hotel, Llanberis (possibly one of the first establishments in north Wales to be called an hotel) which he described as wretchedly uncomfortable, but not extravagant. The cost was 10s 6d per night.
[Baily, Walker], A Journal of a short walking tour in North Wales 1853, NLW MS 12044
TW Fisher paid the following charges at inns in 1865, but he did not record what proportion of these were for food and drink.
Dolgellau 7s 3d
Tan y Bwlch 8s 6d
Llanberis 3s 6d
Chester 6s 6d
An account of a tour through North Wales, August, 1865, by T. W. Fisher, London.
‘Journey book no 2, Beginning from August, 1865. ‘Tour through North Wales’, NLW, mss. 899 D
The cost of accommodation at lodging houses
we now have a small parlour [in lodgings], a large chamber with two beds, a very good dinner, and our bread and butter for sixteen shillings a week each. [Catherine Hutton and her mother]
Hutton, Catherine, Hutton Beale, Catherine, Reminiscences of a gentlewoman of the last century; letters of Catherine Hutton (Birmingham, Cornish Brothers, 1891), letter, Aberystwith, August, 1787, p. 50
The terms of the place seem moderate, a bedroom and parlour being only charged one guinea per week and dinner at the ordinary [meal shared with others] 3 shillings and everything else on proportion.
Douglas, George L.A., NLS Ms 10349; NLS Ms 10350 (a tidy copy of the same). p. 167
Lodgings of 3 rooms cost £1/4/0 per week plus 5 shillings for the landlady’s cooking and the use of her fire.
Holland family, Chapple, John, Elizabeth Gaskell, The Early Years (1997, 2009), pp. 288-310
Lodgings let at 9 shillings per week each person but many lower.
Anon, A Tour of part of north Wales by the author and his friend, William Enfield, Nottingham with many watercolours, Cardiff Central Library, MS 4.365, p. 25
Services at inns
Inns provided a few services such as washing articles of clothing. Many pedestrians carried little with them other than a change of underwear (which they referred to as linen), but records of charges for washing are rare. It is possible that some tourists rinsed their own on arrival at an inn, in the hope they would be dry by the next morning, but the chamber maid might have done this as a matter of course and expected a good tip. Many on the larger inns had a boots boy who cleaned the tourists’ boots and shoes.
Tips to servants
All the staff at an inn expected a tip until the 1850s. This could be between 6d and 1s per night, per tourist for each member of staff (the chambermaid and waiter) and half that for the boots boy.
In the third edition to Leigh’s Guide to Wales and Monmouthshire (1835) the editor noted that the servants in Welsh inns ‘have not yet been spoiled by that injudicious extravagance of travellers, miscalled liberality; they are therefore humble and easily satisfied.’