In a prominent position in the high street of Glastonbury, Somerset, lies The George & Pilgrims’ Inn. It was originally the hospitium of Glastonbury Abbey, dating from circa 1475.[i] It is situated outside the abbey precinct of the once great Benedictine Abbey. By the 14th C the abbey was the second wealthiest in the country after Westminster Abbey.[ii] It is possible that elite pilgrims were accommodated within the abbey itself as excavations have disclosed the apartment erected for a visit by Henry VII.[iii] However, the majority would have had to find accommodation outside the abbey and the George & Pilgrims’ Inn provided such to those that could afford it.
The frontage of the George & Pilgrims’ Inn at Glastonbury is imposing and ornate. It is a statement in stone and glass built in the fashion of the late 15th C. It is 3 stories high with a battlemented parapet. The first floor is higher than the other two floors. The left-hand side is dominated by an imposing 3-storey canted bay. The entrance is a four-centred archway with mouldings. Situated over the entrance arch are 3 framed panels which include the arms of the Abbey and Edward IV.[iv] Edward IV reigned initially from 1461 to 1470 and again from 1471 to 1483.
The windows vary. They are generally straight headed with cinquefoil cusping. Some lights have ogee arches with spandrels of a type of mouchette design. Others are smaller and wider with cinquefoil cusping without ornate spandrels. The lights are slightly set back within stone frames. There are blind-tracery panels mirroring the light tracery and on the second floor are two ornate statue niches.
The roof line is embattled and just behind can be seen the points of two gables. At each side of the façade is a semi-octagonal column. There is a column to the left of the entrance which once supported the sign. I presume the stone owl now in situ is there to frighten off pigeons! On a black and white image from 1929, which is on Historic England’s website, an incongruous hotel sign is in place. On this photo above the entrance in the now blank panel is written the name of the inn. Also, the photo shows the shields above the entrance arch appearing painted (see: Aug 1929 photo of The George & Pilgrims’ Inn).
Whilst I don’t have any internal photos of the inn, Williams notes in the Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group report on the inn that ‘Except for the front rooms on the first floor and the W one on the ground floor the building is surprisingly simple and, especially in the roof, of a poor standard in contrast to the elaborately ornate façade.’[v]
At the time this inn was built the civil conflict known as the Wars of the Roses (1455 to 1487), for control of the English throne, was occurring. In southern England at least, the business of pilgrimage could continue, and Glastonbury Abbey decided to build an inn to accommodate pilgrims in the town. It is still an inn today.
[i] Julian Orbach and Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset: South and West (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), p. 324.
[ii] ‘History & Archaeology’, Glastonbury Abbey, < https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/history-archaeology.php> [accessed 23 January 2021].
[iii] ‘History & Archaeology’, Glastonbury Abbey’.
[iv] Orbach, p. 324.
[v] E.H.D. Williams, ‘Glastonbury: George and Pilgrim Inn’ (Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group, 1981).
History & Archaeology’, Glastonbury Abbey, < https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/history-archaeology.php> [accessed 23 January 2021]
Orbach, Julian and Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset: South and West (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), p. 324
Williams, E.H.D., ‘Glastonbury: George and Pilgrim Inn’ (Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group, 1981)