The current buildings which comprise the George are a confused mixture of elements which have evolved over more than 800 years. They are usefully and succinctly described in the Historic England listing:
Front elevation of mid C18. Dated 1728 on rain-water-head). 3 storeys in ashlar, Moulded stone cornice and panelled parapet, centre containing cartouche with arms of Earl of Exeter. Stone plinth, probably earlier, 5 windows in moulded stone surrounds with triple keystones. Central round-headed arch with triple keystone over modern door C19 wood sign extending across the road, Remains of C17 buildings on North and to rear. Court to rear is mid C13. 3 storeys, 2 canted bay. The building stands on the site of 1 originally belonging to the Knights Hospitallers, and is a large and rambling mixture of many dates. The North elevation contains remains of 2 gables and several mullioned windows. Interior:- has been much altered, 1 C18 stone chimney-piece. Remains of a mediaeval hall, probably C14, including the chamfered fireplace arch and part of the screens are to be found in the gentlemen’s lavatory. Includes rear premises, former stables, mainly garaging. Early C19. 2 storey in brick.
It is a tribute to the innkeepers over the centuries that despite this mixed heritage the hotel today, and especially its courtyard, exude coherence, comfort, and character. It is claimed that remains of the ancient hospital, partly destroyed by a Lancastrian army in 1461 during the Wars of the Roses, can be seen in the crypt under what is now the Champagne bar. Trefoil motifs are visible on a gable end and over two medieval gateways in the garden. Also in the garden is a gnarled old mulberry bush dating from the reign of James I – or possibly earlier.
During the coaching era The George was the pre-eminent Stamford inn and boasted extensive facilities. There was stabling for 86 horses, it had its own brew house and farm, and even a separate tap for working class drinkers.
The George’s association with the Great North Road and its proximity to the powerful Burghley estate have brought famous visitors over the centuries.
- King Charles I stayed the night in March 1641, when travelling to Grantham, and again in August 1645 en route from Newark to Huntingdon.
- William III stayed in 1696 and the king of Denmark in 1768.
- The Duke of Cumberland (son of George II) stayed in 1746 on his way back from victory at Culloden.
- Sir Walter Scott was a frequent visitor describing Stamford as “the finest stone town in England”.
As well as hosting north and south bound travellers, the George has been popular with sports enthusiasts over the centuries. Attractions included the Stamford races first held in 1619, and at a new racecourse near Easton on the Hill from 1717 to 1873. In the 18th century there was cock fighting at the George: the 40 foot diameter stone built cock pit is claimed to have held 500 people. Since 1961 it has been the 3 day eventing Burghley Horse Trials held each September which have tested the capacity of the George and other Stamford hotels.
Writing in 1906 Charles Harper captures the changing character of the George at Stamford:
In 1776 the Reverend Thomas Twining wrote of the “distracting bustle of the ‘George,’ which exceeded anything I ever saw or heard.” All that has long since given place to the gravity and sobriety already described, and the great central entrance for the coaches has for many years past been covered over and converted into halls and reception-rooms; but there may yet be seen an ivied courtyard and ancient staircase.
Even as I write, a great change is coming upon the fortunes of the “George.” The motorists who, with the neighbouring huntsmen, have during these last few years been its chief support, have now wholly taken it over. That is to say, the Road Club, establishing club quarters along the Great North Road, as nearly as may be fifty miles apart, has procured a long lease of the house from the Marquis of Exeter, and has remodelled the interior and furnished it with billiard-rooms up-to-date, a library of road literature, and other essentials of the automobile tourist. While especially devoted to these interests, the “George” will still welcome the huntsman fresh from the fallows, and hopes to interest him in the scent of the petrol as much as in that of the fox.
The Stamford Mercury, 14th February 1734
Stamford Mercury – Friday 23 November 1821