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Introducing “Shakespeare’s Local” – my next book!

The George Inn, Southwark, Late nineteenth century

So, at the end of last week, my agent shook hands on a very nice offer from the wonderful Pan Macmillan for my follow-up to the Beer Trilogy!

It’s been four years now since I signed the deal on my last book, Hops & Glory. That’s so long ago, I had only written three entries on this blog at the time, and most current UK beer blogs were still twinkles in a beer geek’s eye.

For the past two years I’ve been trying to develop ideas that move on a little from beer. After three books that look at history, travel and complete obsession, I’ve done all I can in book form for the time being – or at least, the kind of books I write.

I have no intention of stopping or even slowing down in beer journalism and blogging, and there may also be other books – more conventional style drinks books – in the offing. But all the ideas I’ve had for narrative, story-driven, personal journey type books in beer feel like they subscribe to the law of diminishing returns. If I ever reach the stage where tens of thousands of people are prepared to buy a book just because it has my name on the cover, I’ll definitely revisit various ideas for more epic beer journeys, but at the moment there’s simply not a big enough market to justify the expense and time commitment they require.

So after the epic travel of the last two books, I wanted to do something that would keep me closer to home – but that’s still grand in scope in its own way. I’d also like to do a book where I don’t spend the entire advance – and more – on plane tickets and boat voyages. And finally, I wanted to do something that could extend my growing interest in social history beyond beer, but still keep one foot firmly in the pub.

To tick all these boxes, my editor has been urging me for months to write a very detailed social history of one pub, through the ages, and everyone who drank in it, everything that’s happened to it. Fine, but what pub?

The answer hit us just before Christmas – and has been taking shape since then.

The George Inn in Southwark, south London, is London’s last remaining galleried coaching inn – one of the few left in the country. The current building has stood there since 1686, when it was rebuilt after fire. The inn dates back before then at least to 1452, and probably earlier. Its vast network was once home to the hop trade from Kent up to London.

For centuries, when London Bridge was the only river crossing into the city, the gates were locked at night, so travellers to and from the south would set off from and arrive at Southwark.  By Hewnry VIII’s time Borough High Street was one long line of inns. The Tabard – Chaucer’s start point for the Canterbury Tales – was right next door. Neighbouring on the other side was the White Hart, mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry VI, and featuring heavily in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Dickens was also a regular at the George, and mentions it by name in Little Dorritt. And Shakespeare – who lived just down the road for a few years – almost certainly performed plays in the inn-yard before the Globe was built.

So you have the three great cornerstones of the English literary canon in or near the pub. But more than that, the constancy of the George as everything around it has changed (none of the other twenty-odd Southwark inns now survives) makes it the perfect vehicle to look at six centuries of social history. As you stand on the ancient wooden balconies now, you can see London’s latest phallus, the Shard, rising up in front if you. And that kind of freaks me out. When Dickens wrote about this place 175 years ago this year, he was already being nostalgic about it. Imagine that!

Imagine all the people who have drunk here – not just Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Dwight D Eisenhower, Princess Margaret, Gary Cooper and other Hollywood stars who made a special pilgrimage, not just the long gone society of London ale conners who used to bless the new season’s ale here, not just the Thespians who staged Shakespeare plays in the inn-yard all the way up to the 1970s, or the ghost of the old landlady who haunts the upper floors. Imagine all the ordinary market traders, hop merchants, bear baiters, prostitutes from the nearby Southwark ‘stews’, clergymen, highwaymen, theatre goers, waggoners, gentlemen and rogues who’ve passed their time in this building. What did they eat? Drink? Wear? Talk about?

That’s the pitch.

I’m writing it intensively through the rest of 2011, hoping for a release in 2012, in time for the Olympics.

And hopefully, it won’t be the only book I’ll be working on! But more on that later, if my other project, in collaboration with a very talented photographer, also comes off.

Anyway, if the blogging slips, that’s why. If you want me, I’ll probably be in the Southwark Local History library.

25 Comments

25 Comments

Mark

Sounds like a great story and I love the idea. In Rome last week I was struck over and over with the awesome sense of history, of story, of people and place with the ghosts of what's gone on and how it's changed and evolved over time. It's endlessly fascinating and the sort of place that drives you to the pub because you need a pint or two to let it all sink in.

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Chris Schryer

Nice one Pete,I'll have to get a friend to send one over when it's released. Sounds like my kind of book.

Incidentally, "Gentlemen and Rogues…"; Stella really gets it claws deep.

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Motor

I'll be prepared to buy the book when it comes out. Maybe I'll even plan a trip that passes though London to pick up a copy at a real bookstore without the wait for it to hit bookstores here in San Francisco. Thanks for all the great words, on paper and on screen.

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Jordan

I always saw that pub waiting for the bus to Camberwell. Makes me think I should have stopped in, but the garden looked really modern.

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Barm

Sounds fascinating and I look forward to reading it. I was in the George for the first time just a few weeks ago and it was amazing to see a museum piece of a pub (pub? it pre-dates the word! – inn, rather) still in use and as popular as ever. It was absolutely rammed. What a shame the beer isn't up to much these days.

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Boathouse

That is a GREAT idea for a book. Good luck, and I look forward to the results. I was in the George a few years ago on a solo pub crawl of historic central London pubs, and it is a gem.

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Northern Snippet

I love the idea,Antiques roadshow goes to the pub.
Always thought a great idea for a book would be to hire an RV and do a mammoth tour of the coaching inns in Britain.

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scott murray

Cant wait to read these next books coming up just finished your second book and cant wait to get into the last one, keep them coming.

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Mark

Sounds like a great idea! Got to agree with Barm though, London Bridge is my stomping ground and the George doesn't really even register on the radar any more, always packed with tourists and poor beer.

Hopefully this will be the start of it turning around! 🙂

BeerBirraBier.

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Des de Moor

Fabulous news, Pete, and best of luck. Researching my London book I've been pondering beer and pub history in London and the way it relates to the more general history of the capital, and of course there's been a lot of focus on Southwark for both historic and contemporary reasons. The George is of course included in the selection of recommended pubs — indeed I think it's probably the only GK house that is. You are just the man to write this book and I can hardly wait to read what you unearth!

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Fargher

Great idea for a book. I can't wait to read some of the interesting facts and historical stories about this pub!

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Eigon

Wonderful! My boyfriend took me there for the first time a couple of years ago (we had Adnams, I think), and pointed out where the stagecoach drivers used to sit.
Gosh, the research will be fun!

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P.

I can't wait to read this book. My wife and I had a pint at the George Inn about 15 years ago. We were in town for the GBBF so beer and the places that dispensed it were high on the list of our holiday priorities.

Good luck!

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Alastair

The pitch for your latest book sounds great ! The idea of hearing about all the famous people that have passed through this pub and all the dramatic events that have happened over over hundreds of years to this one pub is inspired. I am really looking forward to reading it.

P.S. I also enjoyed the trilogy !

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Shane Walters

I read your trilogy, Pete, and I must say I'm looking forward to this book; it's a fitting idea, indeed, to go from the macro to the micro. I've also read about the George in many books, including and most lately in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien.

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Mark McGlynn

Good Morning, Pete. I've come to your blog late after a very nice reading on Radio 4. Have you heard of The Spotted Dog at Plaistow which dates from about C15? I ask because I'm campaigning to resurrect it. A long job, I know. Could you possibly give us a quote for our blog? It's at savethespotteddog.org. We need all the help we can get!

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