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The Old Inns of Village and Town page 2

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The George is one of the "fair inns" described by Stow as existing in his time, and is mentioned as early as 1554, when its name was the St. George. The original inn, the St. George, was burnt in 1676, but the house was rebuilt in the same style. The greater part of the inn has recently been destroyed and the site is now used as a L.N.E.R. goods office. Shakespeare lived most of his life in inns, and it is probable that he met and talked with other great Elizabethan poets at the famous Mermaid Tavern. The site of the Mermaid has been the hub of inquiry and speculation for many years, and it is not yet definitely settled. The general weight of opinion places it in Cheapside, with side entrances in Friday Street and Bread Street.

We must be thankful that modern improvements have not swept away St. John's Gate at Clerkenwell. It is the only remaining relic of the medieval Priory of St. John, the chief English seat of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, and was built by Prior Docwra in 1504. It is not generally known that this place at a later date became an inn, known as the Jerusalem Tavern, and the proprietor advertised a particularly powerful tipple known as Chevalric Punch. The Baptist's Head in St. John's Lane is a modern structure, but the sign has been in the lane since 1612. In the taproom remains a carved mantelpiece which dates from the time of Elizabeth.

Many men who afterwards rose to eminence in church and stage were born at inns. The Bell inn at Gloucester, in Southgate Street, is identified with many famous personages. George Whitefield, the celebrated preacher, was the son of the landlord of the Bell, and later the house again became the cradle of a great theologian, for when John Phillpotts took over the house in 1782, his son Henry passed into the Church and rose to be Bishop of Exeter. David Garrick was born at the Raven, at Hereford, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon first saw light at the humble Wheatsheaf at Kelvedon. The Bear Hotel, Devizes, was formerly kept by the father of Sir Thomas Lawrence, R.A., and was the scene of the artist's childhood.

The term public house has to-day lost its true significance; indeed, it is a name which in later years became debased by its association with squalid drinking dens and gin-shops. But the old-fashioned inn was in every meaning a public house; a place of resort where men met in public to entertain each other and to sink all social differences. For every meaning of a club, even at this present time, there is no place to equal the village inn. Here the doors are open to every well-behaved member of the community irrespective of the accidents of rank or religion. The inn has evolved from the common house of our Aryan forefathers, and to-day stands witness to brotherhood and humanity. A man entering an inn is straightway received as a guest; he is accepted as a good fellow until he proves that he is the contrary. What other institution is there in the world where, at a man's first appearance, the old members would accept him with such good comradeship?

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