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Hospitality began here

by Vic Keegan


You could live in London for ever and not stumble across the Innholders Hall, built on the petrified remains of its original home destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. This stunning anachronism, hiding along one side of College Street, a narrow lane within a stone’s throw of Dick Whittington’s house, is brimful of memories. When I visited it  yesterday with the Thorney Island Society I was not even sure what an innholder was. Turns out it  is a hostelry owner or hotelier. The guild was formed in medieval times to protect its trade -hence its claim to be “the home of hospitality since 1473”.
As you enter on the left there is a large parchment framed on the wall. It is the original royal charter signed by a 23 year old Henry V111. A visitor from Google apparently remarked what a good copy it was and refused to believe it was an original.
At a time when most office blocks are reckoned to have a lifespan of 60 years it is quite eery to be in a building that rests on the burned-out beams of its former self which were themselves built on a Roman Quay, remains of which have been uncovered during excavations for nearby buildings.
The Hall itself is replete with original panelling and some beautiful ceilings. The great hall, complete with minstrels’ gallery is lit with candles during dinners. In these surroundings it was a bit f a surprise to find a bust of Clement Atlee, socialist prime minister of Britain from 1945 to 1951 in pride of place in the entrance hall. His family apparently had, and still have, strong associations with the Innholders and Attlee himself was a memberof the Court.
Like most livery companies the Innholders were male monopolies and had moved away from their moorings over the centuries. By the 1970s hardly any hoteliers -whom they eere set up to support –  were in membership. That is now being remedied. Also, women have been admitted for some years and are gradually taking higher rankings in the very formalised hierarchy. If the livery company wants to celebrate its arrival in the 20th century then there could be no fitter place than a  dinner at the home of hspitality.

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