This paper considers the significance of the spaces and material culture of the ‘principal inn’ as the centre of a distinct world of elite mobility in eighteenth-century Britain. Inns were central to the expansion and improvement of the travel network that brought the British Isles closer together through the long eighteenth century. The turnpike system introduced improved surfaces to old and new roads while new coach-building technology allowed faster movement on those roads. However, it was the national network of inns, regularly and reliably punctuating Britain's roads, that made fast and efficient travel a practical, everyday reality from London to York, Bristol to Holyhead, Edinburgh to Inverness. On arrival the inn provided food and accommodation for travellers, hay and stables for horses and grease for carriage axles. From cross-country travel to crossing the inn-yard, finding a table in the parlour or climbing the stairs to bed, the inn served the traveller across different scales of space and mobility. Moreover, for the elite traveller, inns were not simply blank containers for travel-related activities; they were material constructs that gave those activities form and meaning. Within the principal inn refined interior spaces and well-made, fashionable things placed the elite traveller in a reassuringly familiar cultural space, a bubble of comfort, luxury and good taste which they did not leave from one inn to the next.



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Past and Present



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School of Society and Culture