Inns started to assume their colourful and essential role in our national life during the 13th Century when the number of traders and pilgrims travelling long distances across the country started to significantly increase. Taverns and alehouses were primarily designed to serve alcohol, whilst the inn would provide the weary traveller with a warm welcome, a bed for the night, wholesome food and a secure enclosure for their horse.
During the 14th Century, the men and women who ran inns were still known as hostelers and Hospitallers. In the City of London, the Court of Common Council kept a close eye on the conduct and service of innkeepers, but it was not until 1473 that inn owners successfully petitioned the City Corporation to become known as Innholders. It was common custom at this time to adopt an appropriate patron saint as a Livery Company or Guild’s spiritual guardian and Innholders decided around this time to adopt St. Julian, the Hospitaller. (Picture 6 – St Julian)
During the 16th Century, the influence and spread of the emerging Company of Innholders was significant and King Henry VIII signed our first Royal Charter in 1514. This important historical document, complete with Royal Seal and the King’s signature, was saved from the Great Fire of London and remains in our ownership today.
By 1522 a Hall was acquired and used by the Company for both Livery purposes and for the transaction of public business and has an interesting history.
The privileges and obligations contained within the Royal Charter extended beyond the City of London and Members of the Company were required to uphold high standards of service. A livery crest displayed at the inn provided travellers with an assurance of quality, similar to the star rating which hotels have today.
The number of inns expanded in line with the rising popularity of the coaching trade and many Innholders became very wealthy; however, if family or staff fell on hard times, the Company would often be petitioned to provide welfare or educational assistance, an approach we continue today with our patronage and charitable work.
In the 17th Century there was often a shortage of low denomination coins and tradesmen found it very difficult to provide small change from a larger coin. For innkeepers this would typically be change from the purchase of a pint of ale or a bale of hay. Tradesmen solved this problem by issuing their own tokens which saved them parting with official coinage. Tokens could only be used where they had been issued and many were never redeemed. British trade tokens are highly collectible; however, very few City of London inn tokens survive.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries the influence and power of many Livery Companies started to decline. It was during this period that the Company’s authority was undermined by Parliament’s new distilling and licensing laws and our Royal Charter rights outside the City of London were curtailed.
With the purpose and legitimacy of such organisations in question, a Royal Commission was set up in 1884 to examine whether the Livery Companies had any further claim to their traditional privilege and, where it existed, their wealth. Public opinion was swayed in favour of retaining Livery Companies for two key reasons. A recognition and respect that these companies had a legitimate legal right to retain property acquired over time – and for the wide range of charitable work which companies continued to fund.
By about 1800 many Livery Companies were unable to sustain their membership exclusively from their own trade or profession and a family connection became the more common pathway to the Livery. By the early part of the 20th Century our Company’s links with the hospitality industry had almost entirely lapsed: however, with exceptional support from our Livery and Freemen we have restored and reinvigorated our association with the hotel and hospitality industry through the Master Innholders.