inn, in Great Britain, any hotel, public house, tavern, or coffeehouse where lodging is provided. In American usage, the inn is generally a small rural lodging house for transients. Among the earliest public houses were empty huts placed at caravan stops in the Middle East for the shelter of traders and travelers. To pilgrims, temples and religious houses gave rest and refreshment—a custom that still lingers in some Alpine hospices. The Romans maintained post stations on their great highways for the use of messengers of state and those especially privileged. For the accommodation of ordinary transients, stabularia were kept for man and beast. In the Middle Ages hospitality was observed as one of the Christian duties by the establishment of hospices in cities and by the entertainment of travelers at monasteries. Inns kept for profit appeared in Europe about the 15th cent. and gained a reputable standing in England, often being named for the powerful family on whose holdings they were established. They were usually built around a courtyard, approached by a wide, covered entry. In America, colonial inns similar to the English hostelries sprang up along the great turnpikes.

See W. C. Firebaugh, Inns of the Middle Ages (1924); H. A. Monckton, A History of the English Public House (1969).

Inns are establishments where travellers can procure food, drink, and lodging.

History & Origins

Found in Europe, they possibly first sprang up when the Romans built their system of Roman roads two millennia ago. Some inns in Europe are several centuries old. In addition to providing for the needs of travellers, inns traditionally acted as community gathering places.

"Inn" in more recent times has often come to denote a business serving alcoholic beverages, especially in North America, where they are usually alcohol-serving restaurants that have never provided lodging or serviced the needs of travellers.

In Europe, it is the provision of accommodation, if anything, that now differentiates inns from taverns, alehouses and pubs. The latter tend only to supply alcohol (although in the UK the conditions of their licence sometimes require them to have a nominal supply of food and soft drinks). Inns tend to be grander and more long-lived establishments. Famous London examples include the George and the Tabard. There is however no longer a formal distinction between an inn and other kinds of establishment, and many pubs will use the name "inn", either simply because they are long established and maybe were once a Coaching inn, or to summon up a particular kind of image; however, originally an Inn had to provide not only food and lodging, but also stabling and fodder for the traveller's horse(s) and for fresh horses for the Mail coach.

The original functions of an inn are now usually split among separate establishments, such as hotels, lodges, and motels, all of which might provide the traditional functions of an inn but which focus more on lodging customers than on other services; pubs, which are primarily alcohol-serving establishments; and restaurants and taverns, which serve food and drink. (Hotels often contain restaurants and also often serve complimentary breakfast and meals, thus providing all of the functions of traditional inns.) In North America, the lodging aspect of the word "inn" lives on in hotel brand names like Holiday Inn, and in some state laws that refer to lodging operators as innkeepers.


The German words for "inn", "innkeeper", and "innkeeping" illustrate the historical importance of inns. An innkeeper is Wirt (a host), the inn itself is a Wirtshaus (a host's house), and innkeeping is Wirtschaft. The last word literally means hosting or hospitality, but is also used to mean economy and business in general. In the Greek language, the word for economy (oikos "house" + nomos "law") is actually identical to housekeeping.

Inns of Court

The Inns of Court were originally ordinary inns where lawyers met to do business, but have become institutions of the legal profession in London.

See also

External links

Search another word or see innon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature