Is the Maids Head Hotel the oldest?

By | Category: Travel news

At the claim to be the oldest. Do you know better?

Last week, the Maids Head Hotel in Norwich launched a claim to be the oldest hotel in the UK. Dating from the twelfth century, the general manager of the hotel, Christine Malcolm, hopes to stimulate a debate on which actually is the oldest hotel. The claim was launched with the fanfare by the deputy town crier of Norwich and indicating that the earliest record of the hotel yet found dates to 1287 when visitors to the cathedral put up there.

But is it the oldest?

There are older pubs in our countries but what documentary evidence is there to say that people stayed there? Most pubs, hostelries, taverns – call them what you will – had space upstairs for travellers to stay the night either because they wanted to or because they were too drunk to leave. Take the Bernard Knight novels of Crowner John. His mistress, Nesta, ran the Bush Inn and people stayed there. Knight, a former forensic scientist, researches his novels thoroughly so, set in the 1190’s during the time of Richard I it is likely that hotels go back that far.

Imagine what a boon a review site like Trip Advisor would be to travellers of that day and age? “Brews a good ale but the straw in the rooms isn’t changed very often.” Or “Sleeping seven to a room with one slop bucket makes me award it just one star.” “Stingy with candles,” could be another comment or “for 1d a night, it was daylight robbery.”

Such a review would have been scrawled on parchment then and would only be available to those that could read so that is probably why Trip Advisor is a recent phenomenon. But what was cutting edge marketing in those days? Word of mouth had to be the answer which is often the best recommendation today. The town crier – probably a Lenny Henry type figure – could be paid by Ye Olde Premier Inn to advertise the benefits of a room to recover from a hard working day flogging religious relics down the market.

It’s just a shame that because so few people could read and write that the Maids Head Hotel wasn’t recorded as being around that early. It might have been but so might many others. Can anybody suggest a hotel that predates it?

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