Tudor Inns were built not only to serve ale and food but also to provide rooms for travellers. The above picture of the White Hart Inn provides and illustration of what typical inns looked like, detailing the balconies, rooms and courtyard. The architecture of the inns often featured the black and white half-timbered style of the architecture of 15th and 16th century houses. During the 15th and 16th century the usual form of transport was on horseback, so all of the major inns had large cobblestone yards.
The overhanging windows in the upper storeys of the Tudor Inns, creating the balconies, were an important feature especially in the towns where space was at a premium. The building of such overhangs enabled additional floor and living space which was not subject to ground rent imposed during the Tudor period and more profit for the Tudor Inns.
Entertainment at Tudor Inns
The above picture of the White Hart Inn-yard illustrates a typical Tudor inn detailing the cobbled courtyard and the balconies and rooms. The number of travellers attracted to these 15th and 16th century inn lodgings increased substantially during the Tudor period due to the dissolution of the monasteries which had traditionally provided rooms, food and drink for travellers. There was gambling and there was even bear baiting in some of the Tudor Inns and travelling minstrels and troubadours provided entertainment in the inns, using the courtyards as the area to perform plays.
The Role of Tudor Inns in the emergence of the theatre
Acting troupes travelled the country and sought lodgings at inns or taverns and before long entrepreneurs, like James Burbage, started to produce plays in the courtyards of Tudor inns. The plays provided an exciting and inexpensive form of entertainment. Negotiations took place with the owner of the inn in order to stage a performance of a play. The plays attracted even more customers from the local area profits increased. A small fee was charged to playgoers as they entered the inn yard and an additional fee was added on if they wanted to go up to a balcony level to watch the performance. The Tudor Inns therefore became a fore-runner to the famous Elizabethan Theatres - such as the Globe Theatre. The courtyards of these inns were where the first plays in England were performed - and the name 'inn-yard' was born. The Tudor Inn yards provided ready built venues for the first Elizabethan commercial theatre and reached their peak between 1576 - 1594.
The very first purpose-built theatre was built by James Burbage and was appropriately named 'The Theatre'. The Tudor Inns had served their purpose providing venues for plays which proved to be an exciting and inexpensive form of entertainment attracting crowds of up to 500 people. The vast number of people included undesirables, including thieves, harlots and pickpockets and there were disturbances and fights which lead to complaints from local people, especially in London. In 1574 the City of London started regulating the Tudor Inn yard activities and in 1576 James Burbage built 'The Theatre' in Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London. It was designed in the style of a Roman open air theatre, with three tiers of galleries and a covered stage. The Tudor Inns reverted to their original purpose of providing lodgings to weary travellers.
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