A LONG way from lumpy beds and greasy fry-ups, modern B&Bs offer sumptuous decor and superb food. As National B&B Day approaches, we look at this history of this great British institution

The Northern Echo:

B&Bs are a key feature of the Great British Holiday. The concept of a reliable, comfortable place to stay with a hearty breakfast to ‘see you on your way’ has been part of the British tourism scene for generations. From Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels to various historical and contemporary TV and film dramas, they have an iconic place in the nation’s cultural life.

National B&B Day takes place this month, as holidaymakers start to look ahead to the warmer weather and longer days. There are now an incredible 25,000 across the UK, which will all be offering their traditional welcome to the thousands of guests taking a staycation this year.

In the past decade, the B&B sector, which contributes £2 billion annually to the British economy, has experienced a true renaissance. Booking data from more than 6,000 British B&Bs compiled by eviivo.com saw a ten per cent increase in summer 2018 bookings, a testimony to the flourishing trade in bespoke local accommodation.

B&Bs have reinvented themselves, bringing new levels of comfort, service and cuisine that regularly outscore larger establishments. The variety of experiences is immense. A national awards programme for B&Bs run by eviivo.com awarded its first prize last year to Abbots Grange in Broadway, The Cotswolds, which offers luxurious accommodation and a convenient helipad for commuters, while Rosslyn House in Whitby, Low Mill Guesthouse in Leyburn, and Estbeck House in Sandsend were all shortlisted in the Hidden Gems category.

TripAdvisor data shows that B&Bs score better on average than hotel chains, rating an eight per cent premium on average, reflecting the care and attention that proud owners put into their offering to guests. Recently Edgar House in Chester won the TripAdvisor award for best B&B in the world, while the extraordinary £500,000 conversion of a Grade II-listed chapel in Harrogate helped it win the coveted Four in a Bed title from Channel Four and a Picture Perfect B&B award in the 2018 Vision Style Awards. (See feature on page ??).

These quintessentially British establishments have a long history. They evolved as the first roads opened and have also flourished in response to social trends. Generous Victorian and Edwardian housing proportions created surplus capacity in homes and during the Depression this became more pronounced as workers became itinerant. Households found that they had unexpected room capacity, so to make ends meet, homeowners let out rooms to travelling workers. In addition, the Georgians' interest in health gave way to the rise of spa towns across the UK, which attracted wealthy visitors each year, many requiring lodgings,.

The two wars of the 20th century also had an effect. Many large country homes were left without heirs and property prices, right up until the early Eighties, were relatively affordable for entrepreneurial buyers. Out of these difficulties and tragedies grew a thriving local, independently-owned accommodation sector.

The emergence of predictable leisure time also gave the sector a boost, as the Victorians introduced the Bank Holiday Act in 1871 which established the first bank holidays in the UK. The present-day concept of a two-day weekend also started to develop in the early part of the 19th century. With the emergence of free time, workers looked for places to spend their new-found holidays, giving rise to the UK’s Victorian seaside resorts and a huge growth of in the number of guest houses, lodgings and B&Bs. Increased car ownership meant travellers were freed from having to travel by rail and many took touring holidays, so a stay of a few nights at a B&B became the perfect interlude.

After World War II, rural and seaside destinations became popular locations for B&Bs, with the seaside acting as a magnet for holidaymakers in the summer months. Great snaking queues would form at London’s main railway stations on Bank Holidays as workers escaped the grime for some fresh air. The seaside towns catered for all needs with amusement arcades, concert and variety halls, beach attractions and piers.

By the Seventies, with the arrival of Freddie Laker and Skytrain, the low-cost airline option emerged and suddenly, British holidaymakers found that they could travel to Spain, the South of France and the Italian coast with relative ease and at low cost. We all started to pack our passports and head abroad, and for a few decades coastal towns over here found themselves in decline.

In recent decades, though, Brits seem to have rekindled their affection for the B&B. The explosion of home makeover programmes means many B&Bs have upped their games and now offer outstanding, tasteful accommodation with the latest amenities and fabulous breakfast, a far cry from the days of a lumpy bed and a greasy fry-up.

Since the Brexit vote, British tourism has also been boosted by the exchange rate, which has made Britain more appealing to tourists and encouraged British holidaymakers to take breaks closer to home. A recent online poll for eviivo found that 63 per cent of UK holidaymakers would be comfortable with a holiday less than 100 miles from home.

But while the beds might be more comfortable, the toiletries more luxurious, and the decor more appealing, the essence of the B&B remains the same: a great breakfast cooked to order, the hosts’ invaluable local knowledge and advice and a warm personalised welcome. That's the Great British B&B.


With some of the oldest pubs in Britain and haunted castles, the region is no stranger to ghosts and ghouls. The Manor House Hotel in Durham and The Schooner Hotel in Alnmouth, Northumberland, are among 13 of the most haunted B&Bs in the country, according to eviivo.

At The Manor House Hotel, Room 8 is reported to be the spookiest room in the building. Built in the 16th century and featured on the television programme Britain’s Most Haunted, the manor promises ghost-hunters a whole series of unexplained incidents. Knocking noises have reportedly emanated from inside empty cupboards and ‘ghostly orbs’ have been spotted floating in mid-air.