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Old World Scotland
Chapter VIII. Scottish Inns


IN Scotland the free and open hospitality which bespeaks a primitive condition of society survived much later than in the better civilised parts of Europe. With a hostile England on her southern marches she occupied a situation peculiarly isolated from foreign influences. The establishment of trading communities was also sadly discouraged by repeated invasions from England, which confined commercial intercourse almost entirely to certain of her sea-coast towns. Even when no active hostilities were afoot her trade with England was extremely limited during the whole period anterior to the union. Thus, although the Scot himself was known as scholar or soldier in many lands, it was but rarely that Scottish ground, except ill the case of an English raid, was trodden of foreign foot. In Edinburgh and other cities frequented by the Court, a tincture of French elegance and refinement imparted a certain bizarre effect to the essential rudeness of the national habit ; but even here the alien influence did not penetrate beyond a very narrow circle. The inland regions, sparse in population and devoid of trade, had scarce any intercourse with the towns—they, were self-supporting and self-dependent. Travellers were mostly one or other species of beggar—pilgrims, poor scholars, friars, bards, minstrels, mountebanks, sorners; for, as the industrial Part of the rural community enjoyed all

fixity of tenure, few of its members had friends or relatives at any distance from their own homes, while such wayfarers as were not beggars were chiefly nobles bound for the castles of their brethren, or for the great hunting gatherings which formed in times of peace their chief occupation and amusement. The commonest resort for lodgings was either the guest-house of the monastery or the noble's mansion ; accommodation and cheer being regulated by the qualities and conditions of the guests. Except in famine years, a rude abundance prevailed throughout the land until at least the fifteenth century ; and as rushes, straw, fern, or heather were deemed sufficient and even luxurious bedding by the majority, the housing of strangers was attended with small inconvenience.

The earliest recorded instance of legislative interference on behalf of travellers is an Act of David II., in 1357. The accommodation to be secured by it must have been extremely rude and humble. It provided that in every burgh the sellers of bread and ale should "receive passengers in herbery within their houses," and sell them provisions at the prices enacted from neighbours. All such as refused full payment might be apprehended in the king's name by ''the community of the burgh," which was not to be held responsible for any injury inflicted on the defaulter during his arrestinent (a very complete bill of immunity). The Act of James I. (1424) was more cornprehensive in scope. It decreed that in burghs and thoroughfares hostelries should be provided with accommodation and food for man and beast; the intention clearly being the provision of better lodging and entertainment than could be had at the alehouses. As regards the opening of hostelries, the Act appears to have been effectual; the difficulty consisting in making them popular. In the following year the new-made hosts, having waited in vain for custom, presented a grievous complaint to the king against the "villanous" practice of travellers in putting up at the houses of their friends. All travellers on foot or a-horseback were thereupon prohibited from lodging elsewhere than at the inn, special exception being made in the ease of those with large retinues, who, however, were bound to send their followers and servants to the inn. But the ancient custom of free hospitality survived many such enactments, and, passing through long and gradual stages of extinction, died very hard. In the sixteenth century the " hosteller without the town " of Berwick-on-Tweed, in the eyes of the Scots author of "The Friars of Berwick," was "good'' (by contrast, no doubt, with those in Scotland proper); but it seems to have been seldom frequented for lodging, and the bed for the wearied friars was "intill one loft was made for corn and hay." There was an attempt to revive the old Acts regarding inns in 1567 but, so far as the general establishment of suitable hostelries was concerned, they continued to remain a dead letter for two centuries more. Fynes Moryson, in 1589,
did never see nor hear that they have any public house with signs hanging out " (a picturesque feature of the English villages), but the better sort of citizens brew ale, the usual drinke (which will distemper a stranger's body), and the same citizens entertain passengers on acquaintance or entreaty." Plainly the attitude of the taverners towards strangers savoured somewhat of a supercilious independence. Eighty years after Moryson, Thomas Kirke testifies to an exactly similar state of matters.

The Scots," he says, "had not inns but change-houses (as they call them), poor, small cottages, where you must be content to take what you find." By this he meant that there was absolutely no choice of dishes in the menu. What he did find was ''perhaps eggs with chicks in them and some lang kale; at the better sort of them a dish of chapped chickens " (probably cocky-leeky). As to the enticements of the latter delicacy, we may turn to Burt, who crossed the border in the year of grace 1725; only we must substitute pigeons—no doubt esteemed a special luxury—for chickens. "The cloth," says Burt, "was laid, but I was too unwilling to grease my fingers to touch it, and presently after the pot of pigeons on the table. When I came to examine my cates, there were two or three of the pigeons lay mangled in the pot." In objecting to the "mangling" Burt does but betray the Southron benightedness; but the mark of "dirty fingers in the butter" was a touch he may be pardoned for failing to appreciate. It is but fair to add that, while the ineffable filthiness of the bed-curtains ahnost debarred him from making trial of his bed, he was agreeably disappointed to find—as he did throughout Scotland—that the linen was 44 well aired, and hardened." Dr. Somerville, a native Scot, testifies, some time after the experiences of Burt, that there was little improvement. In his youthful days "f'ew inns were to be met with in which the traveller could either eat or sleep with comfort; and so ill-provided were they with the most necessary articles, that on a journey people used to carry a knife and fork in a case deposited in the side-pocket of their small-clothes." Glasses were so scarce that a single one usually went round the whole company; and, as the said company was frequently very heterogeneous, it is plain that to fastidious persons, if any such there were, the act of drinking would not be one of unalloyed delight. The presiding genius of the change-Louse, or inn, was the ale-wife, or "brewster-wife," as she was called, who assumed a position of entire equality with her guests, and in taverns of the better class expected to be asked to take a glass of wine with them when that liquor was dispensed.

A century ago Edinburgh herself was no better off than the country districts in the matter of inns. In 1776, according to Major Topham, she had "no inn that is better than an alehouse, nor any accommodation that is decent, cleanly, or fit to receive a gentleman." In the "best inn in the metropolis " (situate in the Pleasance), the bare-legged waitress, in short gown and petticoat, informed him and his companion that "we could have no beds, unless we had an inclination to sleep together and in the same room with the company which a stage-coach had that moment discharged." information of a like kind is still sometimes given in the height of the tourist season to travellers in Scotland; but the arrangements at which the Major stood aghast were chronic and perpetual in the hostelry of the Pleasance the old common guest-chamber of ancient times was still a fact. A glimpse of the Highland hotel of the period is afforded in Ramsay's "Scotland and Scotsmen of the Eighteenth Century." The original Highland innkeeper would appear to have more than vied with his Lowland brother in "pride, sloth, and dirtiness." Communications couched in terms with any semblance to command were resented as a serious breach of manners on the part of the visitor, the inn being regarded as the host's "own house." Thus a Southron lady, who had been too inconsiderate of the feelings of a sometime duniwassel, discovered, to her dismay, that "both inkeeper and servants had disappeared on the eve of dinner." Possibly the traditional "Highland pride still lingers within the precincts of a few Highland hostelries; and occasionally, at least, the "Highland hunger "is manifested in the bill.


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