You don’t always have to go to a museum or battlefield to soak up the most vivid parts of England’s rich history: you could always just sleep amongst it instead, at one of the hotels below.
Some of these venues were rumoured to hold treasure and graves dating back almost 1,000 years, while others were used as headquarters for notorious smugglers. If you really want to immerse yourself in the historical atmosphere, you can even sleep in rooms that have hosted kings and queens from across the centuries. Here’s our pick of 10 of England’s oldest hotels.
1. The Spread Eagle Hotel, Sussex
Now a plush venue adorned with four-poster beds and an extensive gin bar, the Spread Eagle Hotel in Sussex was once purchased by Henry VIII’s Lord High Admiral, Sir William Fitzwilliam (also 1st Earl of Southampton), in 1533. It was later visited by another famous admiral, Lord Nelson, during the 1790s. Guy Fawkes, the figure behind the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (a failed attempt to assassinate King James I), is also thought to have stayed at The Spread Eagle.
The oldest part of the hotel dates back to 1430 and it’s in this section that Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have stayed, in a room now made suitably lavish and named the Queen’s Suite. This room even comes with its own wig closet (also dating back to 1430), believed to be the only one remaining in an English hotel.
2. Walworth Castle Hotel, County Durham
The original Walworth Castle and estate date back to around 1150, created by the Hansard family, who later became known as the official chroniclers of UK parliamentary debates. The castle was bought by the Jenison family in 1576 and later hosted King James VI of Scotland on the way to his coronation, where he would become King James I of England in 1603. The room that James stayed in is now the hotel’s bridal suite.
The castle was later used by the British Army’s Durham Light Infantry regiment during World War Two, to house prisoners of war from German and Italian forces.
3. Angel and Royal, Lincolnshire
Widely labelled as one of the oldest hotels in both the UK and the world, the Angel and Royal first traded as a hostelry in 1203 (known simply as the Angel), although its cellars and foundations are believed to go back even further, to the 9th century. It’s believed that King John of England stayed at the inn in 1213 and was the first of many royal visitors, including King Edward III and Queen Philippa of Hainault, King Richard III, Edward IV, Charles I and George IV.
In 1866, Edward VII – then Prince of Wales and heir to Queen Victoria’s throne – visited, and it was decided that the word ‘royal’ be added to the venue name to acknowledge this honour.
4. The Old Ferry Boat, Cambridgeshire
A serious contender for the title of ‘England’s oldest hotel’ (a claim made by many venues) is this Cambridgeshire pub, where records apparently show that alcohol was served as far back as 560 AD, which would make it one of the oldest pubs in England, and indeed Britain. It’s possible that the oldest parts of the building date back even further (perhaps even to 460 AD).
The pub also holds the grave of a young woman named Juliet Tewsley, who hanged herself in front of the pub in 1050 AD after finding out the man she loved, a local woodcutter, didn’t return her affections. Juliet’s ghost is reputed to return to the pub every 17 March, the anniversary of her death.
5. The Porch House, Gloucestershire
The Porch House, set in the picturesque Cotswolds town of Stow-on-the-Wold, claims to be England’s oldest hotel, apparently in existence since 947 AD. Carbon dating has indeed shown that some of the wooden beams within the pub are around 1,000 years old. As such, it has been crowned England’s oldest inn by the Guinness Book of Records.
Before it became an inn, part of the building was used as a hospice, built by a Saxon duke, Aethelmar. Another notable feature is the series of ‘witch marks’ that were found carved into the pub’s 16th-century fireplace, to keep out evil spirits.
6. Maids Head Hotel, Norwich
Yet another hotel vying for the title of ‘England’s oldest’ is this sprawling venue in central Norwich. The claim is based on the site (rather than the current building), which is where the palace of Norwich’s first bishop, Herbert de Losinga, was located in the 1090s. The oldest parts of the existing structure date back to the 15th century, when the venue was first used as an inn.
Since then, several famous historical figures have graced the Maids Head, including Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII’s first wife) in 1520 and Queen Elizabeth I, who visited Norwich in 1587. Both have suites named after them that are filled with period features, like a 16th-century headboard in the Elizabeth suite – perfect for feeling like royalty during your stay.
7. The Old Hall, Derbyshire
This grand venue also claims to be England’s oldest hotel and was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots during her 18-plus years under house arrest in England, ordered by Elizabeth I. When Mary was kept in Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, she was allowed to visit the spa town of Buxton and stayed in the Talbot Tower of the Old Hall multiple times during the 1570s and 1580s. One of the bedroom window panes still bears the words she scratched into it as a goodbye to the town: “Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance I shall visit thee no more – farewell.”
The building dates back to 1573, when it was built by the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury. The countess was widely known as Bess of Hardwick, an acclaimed and powerful figure in Elizabethan society and a good friend of Queen Elizabeth herself.
8. The Mermaid Inn, Sussex
The current structure that houses this charming pub-hotel was rebuilt in 1420 from an earlier inn, but the Mermaid’s cellars still date back to 1156. Since its rebuilding, the hotel has seen both famous and infamous faces pass through its doors. Elizabeth I stayed there in 1573, luckily almost 200 years before the Hawkhurst Gang, a prolific smuggling group operating along the English south coast, became regulars during the 1730s and 1740s. It’s believed that the gang used the Mermaid Inn as one of their bases during this time.
9. The Old Bell, Wiltshire
Yet another hotel claiming to be England’s oldest is The Old Bell, built on the ruins of Malmesbury Castle in 1220 as accommodation for visitors to Malmesbury Abbey. It remained as a guesthouse for the abbey until it was purchased in 1640 by Sir John Danvers, MP for Malmesbury and a signatory of Charles I’s death warrant.
A former Mayor of Malmesbury purchased the hotel in 1906, and is rumoured to have paid for a huge renovation of the property with riches found in a treasure chest hidden within the hotel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this romantic story has never been proven.
10. The Olde Bell, Berkshire
Having first been used as a guesthouse in 1135 (for those visiting the nearby Benedictine priory), The Olde Bell in the village of Hurley proclaims itself to be not just the UK’s oldest hotel, but also one of the oldest inns in the world. There is allegedly a secret subterranean tunnel connecting the hotel’s cellar to the priory, reputedly used by John Lovelace, who was part of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to overthrow the Catholic James II and replace him with a protestant ruler, William of Orange.
The hotel also hosted meetings between Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War Two, when covert United States military intelligence work took place in Hurley.