What is Rugby’s connection to Valentine’s Day? Well, it is a bit of a stretch to connect the original Rugby Colony to a holiday that now represents romantic love, but let’s give it a try!
The origins of Valentine’s Day are cloaked in the mists of history. But, by the Middle Ages in England and France, the tradition of choosing a romantic partner on this particular saint’s day, February 14th, was firmly in place as it was believed that birds began mating on that day. *
Sometime in the 1380’s Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English literature, wrote a poem called Parliament of Foules. It appears to contain the first known reference to ‘Saint Valentine’s Day’ as an occasion for romance. It reads, in part: **
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
Towards the end of the 1300’s Chaucer wrote his most famous work “The Canterbury Tales”. This collection of over twenty stories are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. ***
The inn is described in the first few lines of Chaucer’s work as the location where the pilgrims first meet on their journey to Canterbury in the 1380s:
Bifel that in that season on a day
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And well we weren esed atte beste;
The Tabard Inn in Canterbury Tales really existed perhaps even having been established as early as 1307 as a hostelry for the pilgrims. One account says it was destroyed in a major fire in 1669. It was quickly rebuilt, but with a different name: The Talbot.
Centuries later, in 1880, the three-story Tabard Inn, named after the hostelry in Canterbury Tales, was built in the new Rugby Colony to lodge potential colonists and visitors. Some of the balusters from the original 1383 hostelry were brought to decorate the new building.*^ The Tabard Inn quickly became the social center of the colony. But, a devastating fire in 1884 soon destroyed it. Amazingly, the original balusters from the 1383 hostelry were saved by the Inn’s manager in a courageous act.
A second Tabard Inn was built later on but, sadly, met the same fate as the first one and succumbed to fire in April of 1900. It appears that at least one of the balusters from the 1383 hostelry escaped being consumed in that fire, as well.
So what is the connection between the Rugby Colony and Valentine’s Day? Geoffrey Chaucer!
Well, we did say that it might be a bit of a stretch to make this connection, but let’s review: it is thought that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the first reference to St. Valentine’s Day as the romantic holiday we know today. Chaucer also wrote about the Tabard Inn in his famous Canterbury Tales, and the Rugby Colony built at least two Tabard Inns that housed original balusters from the 1383 hostelry. That’s a connection of some sort-right? And, a great story at that!
Sadly, we don’t have a Tabard Inn in Rugby now where you can spend a special Valentine’s Day, but we do have great lodging in a historic bed and breakfast and a fabulous dinner planned at the Harrow Road Cafe! Check out our offerings at Valentine’s Day in Rugby! Happy Valentine’s Day!
The photo above shows Anna Joyce Walton donating the baluster to Historic Rugby, represented by Barbara Stagg. The occasion was the 125th anniversary of the founding of Rugby (October 5, 2005) and the ceremony was in a tent erected on the Tabard site.
Photo by: Jim McBrayer
A woodcut from William Caxton’s second edition of The Canterbury Tales printed in 1483
* ©1999-2012 Amanda Mabillard.
** Happy Valentine’s from Geoffrey Chaucer by CARL PYRDUM on FEBRUARY 14, 2009
*** The Canterbury Tales
:^ Southwark: Famous inns, Old and New London: Volume 6 (1878), pp. 76–89, accessed: 16 June 2008
**** The Tabard
*^ Rugby- The Tennessee State LIbrary and Archives