Dorset Public Inns With a Literary Connection showcases a number of inns with connections to John Cowper Powys, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Fowles. Constance Hill, author of Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, identifies the lodging in Persuasion as the Royal Lion Inn:
Now the inn to which they were bound we fully believe to have been the “Royal Lion,” which stands on the right-hand side about half way up the main street. The circumstances of the story all suggest it rather than the old “Three Cups,” the only other inn of importance in Miss Austen’s day. From the quaint projecting windows of the “Royal Lion” the ladies would be able to see Mr. Elliot’s “curricle coming round from the stable yard to the front door,” and could “all kindly watch” its owner as he drove up the steep hill. This would have been impossible from the windows of the “Three Cups,” which stood at the bottom of the main street and turned slightly away from it. The “Three Cups” was burnt down in 1844, but we have seen its site and have looked at an old print showing the building and its surroundings.
Update: Natalie Manifold, who runs the Jane Austen tours in Lyme Regis, wrote to say that Constance Hill’s information is wrong. The Royal Lion Inn is not the inn described in Persuasion. She has done extensive research on this topic, examining all the town’s old maps and records, and found that the front section of the hotel was a “privately owned cottage up until 1844 when it was scorched in a fire. Subsequently, it was sold and bought by the owner of the inn, which up until that point had been situated right at the back of the hotel’s car park near the river. The bay window is also Victorian as it was added when the front structure was included as part of the hotel.” Natalie concludes: “There is no way that the party would have been able to see up the hill from the hotel’s situation during the Regency period, leaving the old Three Cups as the most likely place of their stay.”
Agreeing with Natalie’s assessment are: John Fowles – the town’s most noted historian and author, Diana Shervington – relation of Austen, and Francis Turner Palgrave – Anthologist. (Thank you for the update, Natalie, which I very much appreciate.)
Chances are that Jane Austen was familiar with the Inn. In 1804 Jane Austen and her family traveled to Lyme and stayed there in the summer. The Royal Lion Inn, or the Lion as it was known, was built as a coaching inn in 1601. More information about the inn can be found in Dorset Public Inns With a Literary Connection. Over a century later, author and traveler, F. J. Harvey Darton wrote about the two inns:
Nothing could be better than the confrontation of the two chief hotels, the Royal Lion and the Three Cups. The Cups is the older house, and seems to go back to at least Stuart times in name and site. But they are both models of what a country inn of the better sort should appear to be. – The Soul of Dorset, F. J. Harvey Darton , 1922
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