History

First mentioned in the trade directories of the 1790’s as the George and Dragon; a very English and popular name commemorating Saint Georges’ victory over the legendary Dragon.

Whilst Christopher Columbus was discovering Jamaica, an agreement dated 1st March 1494 was signed and sealed whereby the rents of certain properties which he had in the district of Colchester were assigned to Thomas Jopson (Jobson), one of the representatives of the town of Colchester in payment of arrears due for his expenses, namely 6.14s. Amongst the charges specified was the sum of 3d, then a respectable amount, payable annually for the George. There was a further 4d per year for the standard for carrying the sign of the George, no doubt an encroachment on the path or highway. Thomas Jopson lived in St. Runwald’s parish not far from the George.

The central portion of the building is part of a 15th century house which was built some time before 1494. There are still parts of the original George which Thomas Jopson owned in 1494. On the second floor of the hotel there is an original hinge post with remarkable embattled capital which is now incorporated into a wall and can be partially seen at the top of the stairs towards the 300 and 400 bedrooms. This was part of the middle truss of the hall of the original house. On that same staircase there is also a section of the wattle and daub wall dating from the 14th century.

The extensive cellars are also medieval, probably dating from 1450. Some of the niches in the brickwork in these cellars are later, about 1520. Preserved behind a glass wall can be seen several layers of soil which show the old roman street level. One layer, darker than the others, is purported to be ashes left by the fires which raged in the town when Queen Boadecia/Boudicca, ransacked it in AD60.

In room 503 a corbel can be seen, carved in the form of a bearded head; this was once to be found in the original kitchens. In the roof there is an early 16th century beam carved with foliage and figures, and this is no later than the reign of Henry VIII. Many other features have probably been concealed by modernisation and in 1984 a very well preserved section of a wall painting was discovered and put on display near room 201. It is thought to be early 15th century.

The George was remodelled and enlarged during the reign of Charles 1st, and most of the timbers date from this period. The plain old fashioned front hides behind its centuries old traditions of true English Hospitality.

A century or more before the stage coaches began to link up one end of the country with the other, great clumsily built wagons had appeared on the highways of England for the transport of merchandise and those travellers who, by reason of infirmities could not ride, or through poverty could not afford to hire saddle horses. These vehicles, drawn by at least eight horses, made their way along roads in easy stages, stopping each night at such inns as the George until they reached their journeys end. Before the Year 1740 there is record of a wagon plying between Ipswich and Colchester once weekly, the huge vehicle lumbering into the inns yard through the great archway in George Street on Mondays and leaving the following day. A few years later, in addition to this service, a tilted carriage from Ipswich, owned by Thomas shave, stopped at the George every Friday on its way up to London, where it was due on Saturday; passengers being promised “very good and easy places, warm and dry at reasonable rates.” The old archway has since been bricked up but the original frame is still very much in evidence.

During the 1700’s, the George was kept by an innkeeper by the name of Abraham Moor.  An innkeeper was a man of position and influence in those days and was regarded as such by his fellow townsman. Abraham died in 1778 after a tenancy of more than thirty years and was succeeded by his wife, Sarah. Upon Sarah’s death three years after her husband, ‘that old good accustomed inn, known by the sign of the George’ was advertised to be let with immediate occupation and was taken by Mr George Smith. During his tenancy the inn was burgled with an assortment of plated tankards, tea pots, teaspoons, pepper boxes and salt taken. Mr Smith died a year later in 1785 and his widow eventually married Peter Bains. In 1823 following the death of Mr and Mrs Baines, the management of the George went to a member of an old local family, Abednig Bland  a former town councillor, who was in turn succeeded by John Smith the last of the landlords of the old coaching days.

When the railway reached Colchester in May 1843 it sounded a death knell for the stage-coaches and Mr Smith was quick to seize the opportunity placed before him; was among the first to supply horse-drawn omnibuses to meet the trains. He also ran a similar vehicle to Brightlingsea and one to Braintree called the Pilot. As Walton-on-the-Naze became more fashionable as a seaside resort, this was also served by coaches from the George during the summer months.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, the hotel was considered to be one of the ten superior inns and hotels in Colchester and several coaches inned there, amongst them: The Telegraph, a name first adopted by fast coaches and derived from the system of semaphore signalling of the same name, travelled between London and the sea ports and arrived every day at 1.45am on its journey from London to Yarmouth. At noon the Shannon, the famous Halesworth-London coach whose name recalled ‘Brave Broke’s’ gallant capture of the Chesapeake frigate in Boston harbour in June 1813, drew up on  its way to London.

A quaint character at the inn during the latter part of the 18th century was John-Lyon, the ostler,‘ a singularly honest and upright man’, known and respected by all travellers by his frugality and industry. He saved sufficiently to spend his last years in retirement and at his death, in August 1800, aged 64, he left various charitable bequests. He attended the Methodist meeting house dressed in ‘an old drab coat’, which he possessed for more than half a century, with large silver buttons of which he was very proud and a ‘full bottomed wig' which from long service had obtained a yellow hue.

Until 1862 Colchester’s livestock market was held in the high Street and the small bar adjacent to the George was called the Market Tavern. When the Market moved however it became known by the locals as the George Tavern. In 1872 it was owned by Parks, then in 1884by Parks & Glover, from 1894 by E.S Beard. Daniels purchased it in 1910 who sold it to Truman’s in 1959. In 1982 Queens Moat Hotels bought it and sold it on to Mr Michael Slagle in 1994. Truman’s were taken over by Grand Metropolitan who converted the ballroom into bedrooms and created a carvery in the cellar around 1979.

The George was refurbished in 1995 and is now one of the most attractive buildings in the high street. The old bar was taken out to enlarge the entrance area and was repositioned in the lounge. During the building work experts were able to study the medieval framed structure and were able to say that its ground floor showed evidence of shop fronts both facing the high street and George Street, with the owner, presumably living on the first floor. They further noted that the building was originally only two stories, the present day third storey having been added at a later date, together with its Georgian front. This would explain the large timbers showing through the wall on the main staircase landing. They were presumably part of the original ceiling. An interesting display of photographs and other artefacts can be seen near the staircase. During this refurbishment a snack bar that was all that remained of the original carvery and known as 16 down, closed.

In 1996 or thereabouts the hotel, although still owned by Mr Slagle came under the auspicious Best Western Group solely for marketing purposes. He sold the George in 2002 to the London and Edinburgh Inns Group.

In the late 1800’s the George was the headquarters of the cyclists touring group and the Colchester Football Club. Over the years many institutions and local societies have enjoyed the hotel’s welcoming hospitality, good food, fine wines and friendly atmosphere all combining to ensure that the George’s well earned reputation for excellence is still as deserved as it was all those centuries ago when weary travellers broke their journeys at ‘the sign of The George.’

Acknowledgments - Gerald O Rickword, Jess A Jephcott and local studies section, Colchester Library, Resource centre, Colchester Museum Referenced and Compiled by Janet Lelltiott 2004.

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