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‘Shakespeare’s Local’ and the Austrian Tyrant – preview and extended scene from my new book.

It’s just two and a half weeks now till my new book, Shakespeare’s Local, hits the shelves.

Officially out on 8 November, you might get it a few days earlier if you pre-order on Amazon.

It came back from the printers yesterday and I’m very excited.  Whatever you think of the writing, it’s a beautiful object, with wonderfully reproduced maps and plans, some of which I’ll post here soon.

I’m also overwhelmed that BBC Radio 4 has chosen the book to be Book of the Week for week commencing 17th December.  The week before Christmas, there’ll be an abridged 15-minute reading from the book each day of the week.  For a book that we all hope will make a nice gift, it couldn’t be better timing.  I’m waiting to hear who will be doing the reading!

I’m lining up more dates when I’ll be reading it at various events around the UK.  Additional ones will be announced shortly.  In Ilkley a couple of weeks ago I debuted an illustrated, scripted hour-long talk about the pub and the book, which seemed to go down very well, and I’m looking forward to polishing and refining this over the next few weeks.

The only problem with the talk is I need it to be 45 minutes long and I got cut off, nowhere near the end, after an hour.  This is a common problem for me: I overwrite.  My two previous books were 50% too long.  The first time I tried to cut words out of Hops & Glory, I actually managed to increase the word count by 5000.

I wasn’t nearly as bad with Shakespeare’s Local – five opinion columns a month for the last couple of years has taught me to write to length much better, but there were still a few flabby bits.  And while this is a book that is based on the principle of pub-style conversational digression, some of these digression, while interesting, were taking us too far away from the main thread for too long.

To whet your appetite for the book, I wanted to post one of those here.  The George Inn, the subject of Shakespeare’s Local, was for much of its existence within spitting distance of the famous Anchor Brewery, and in my first draft I ended up writing a detailed history of that brewery, most of which has rightly been edited out of the finished book.

My favourite story from this history is about what happened when a murderous authoritarian bastard turned up for a brewery tour and got more than he bargained for from the good people of Southwark.  This story is still in the book, but it was originally about twice the length, so in the hopes of whetting your appetite, here’s the full length version.

A bit of background: the Anchor brewery, now better known as Barclay Perkins, was so vast and successful that it had become one of the most famous breweries in the world.  It was a tourist attraction regularly visited by heads of state – among others…

By 1810 the Anchor Brewery was churning
out a whopping 235,000 barrels a year.  Victorian
authors couldn’t resist pouring the brewery’s celebrated porter into their
books. There are many references to Barclay’s beer in the novels of Charles
Dickens, for example: In The Old
Curiosity Shop
Dick Swiveller claimed that there was ‘a spell in every drop
against the ills of mortality’, and in David Copperfield Mr Micawber had a job
at the brewery in mind when he was ‘waiting for something to turn up.’
Although heavily damaged by fire in
1832, the brewery was impressively rebuilt and thereafter became a notable
London tourist attraction.  Dr William Rendle
commented: ‘Except perhaps the very centres of government and trade, no spot in
London might so worthily excite feelings of curiosity and wonder as these few
acres.’  Nineteenth century visitors included
the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), Napoleon III, and Otto von
Bismarck.  But in 1850, one visitor was
given a reception that fell somewhat short of traditional British
In 1848, political revolution swept
through Europe as people started demanding troublesome things like democracy, basic
human rights, and freedom from tyranny. 
One such revolution happened in Hungary, where the populace rose up and
demanded independence from Austrian rule. 
They almost achieved it until Austria called in Russia’s help, quashed
the uprising and received the formal surrender of Hungary’s thirteen top
generals, who were then executed by the Austrian Marshal Haynau.[1]  Haynau hated the revolutionary cause, so he
had no problem with overriding the conventions of war and butchering officers
who had surrendered in good faith.  He
went on to hang well over a hundred people, despite orders to show leniency from
his superiors and outrage from the international community. Neither did Haynau
have a problem with flogging women: he brutally put down an uprising in the
Lombard city of Brescia, leaving maimed and wounded men lying in the
streets.  He ordered that any women going
to the aid of the wounded should be whipped. 
Even his own army hated him.  A
former commander of his wrote that Haynau ‘knows the rules of military service
but seeks glory in sharpening those rules so that he could proceed against men
he doesn’t like.  These men he torments
with calculating hatred… Because of his moral failings everybody in contact
with him wishes to see him go, for no one likes to be in his company on
military service.’
When the army finally succeeded in
getting rid of Haynau, he decided to do a bit of travelling.  This was to prove a bad idea for possibly the
most hated man in Europe.  After narrowly
avoiding being lynched when he was recognised in Brussels, he came to England
and on 4th September 1850, paid a visit to Barclay Perkins with an
aide de camp and a translator. 
Accounts about what exactly
happened next are mixed and conflicting. 
An eyewitness account in the London
Daily News
the next morning said that ‘a rather unusual crowd’ had gathered
outside the brewery gates, because word had spread that Haynau was inside.  When he emerged, after being ‘entertained
with surprising forbearance by those who task it was to receive his visit’, he
was greeted by a chorus of boos and hisses from the assembled crowd.  ‘The gallant woman flogger looked about him
in evident surprise,’ writes our correspondent, ‘forgetting probably that he is
now in a land which, with all its faults, bestows on its citizens the privilege
of free thoughts and speech, and teaches them to denounce the tyrannies of a
butcher like Haynau.’  When the writer
left the scene, the marshal was being followed down the street by the mob and
he eventually took refuge in a stable yard.   
But directly below this is another
account ‘from other sources’, which is far more sensationalist and
dramatic.  Perhaps inevitably, it is this
unattributed account that was picked up and repeated word for word by
newspapers across the country the following day.
According to this source, the three
visitors arrived, one of them sporting very long moustaches, and signed the
visitors’ book before being escorted across the yard for the start of the
tour.  The brewery clerks looked at the
book, and saw that the fellow with the long ‘tache was none other than Marshal
Haynau.  Word spread around the brewery
in less than two minutes, and ‘before the general and his companions had
crossed the yard nearly all the labourers and draymen ran out with brooms and
dirt, shouting out “Down with the Austrian butcher,” and other epithets of
rather an alarming nature to the marshal.’ 
The men gathered around him as he was inspecting the mash tun,
continuing to hurl abuse.  And when one
man dropped a bale of straw on his head, this acted as a signal for a more
physical attack.  Haynau was flogged with
brooms so hard that one broke across his back. 
His clothes were torn from him. 
His companions ‘defended themselves manfully’, but the brave marshal
fled, only to find that the aforementioned mob had gathered in the street
outside.  They surrounded him and dragged
him down the street by the moustache.  A
woman threw a pair of scissors out a window to cut off his famous whiskers.  He tried hiding in a dustbin, but was dragged
out of it by the beard.  He was pelted
and struck ‘with every available missile’. 
And worst of all, some cad ‘struck his hat over his eyes’.  Finally, he managed to run and hide… in the
Imagine my surprise and delight,
dear reader, upon discovering that the George Inn had a starring role in this
caper.  Imagine my incredulity that no
previous chronicler of the old inn had placed this account front and centre in
their work.  And imagine my inconsolable
grief when I read: ‘He ran in a frantic manner along Bankside until he came to
the George public-house where finding the doors open he rushed in and proceeded
upstairs into one of the bedrooms, to the utter astonishment of Mrs Benfield,
the landlady’. 
The George Inn isn’t on Bankside
(though if you Google ‘George Inn Bankside’ you do get our George).  And the George Inn never had a landlady
called Mrs Benfield.  But census data
from 1851 shows Mr and Mrs Benfield running the George public house on Bankside. 
There was another George in Borough.  Right next to the Anchor on Bankside. 
And it was in this George that the
‘Hyena of Brescia’, the ‘Hangman of Arad’, frightened Mrs Benfield (“I thought
he was a madman”), asked Mr Benfield for a brandy via his translator (“I’ll be
damned if he have any brandy here!”) and cowered in a bedroom until Inspector
Squires of the Southwark police came to rescue him, borrowed one of Mr
Benfield’s old hats in a lame attempt to disguise him, and rowed him across the
Thames in a police boat to the safety of Somerset House, jeered by the crowds
on Bankside.
How the Illustrated London News covered the brave Marshal’s retreat.
The public flogging of the Austrian
Butcher instantly became both an international incident and a touchstone for
the emerging class warfare of the Victorian era.  The Austrian ambassador demanded an apology.  The Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston,
refused, defending the brewery men whom he felt ‘were just expressing their
feelings at what they considered inhuman conduct by a man who was looked upon
as a great moral criminal.’  Only after the
intervention of a furious Queen Victoria was a more conciliatory letter sent,
but the Austrians remained so offended that they sent no representative to the
Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852.
The day after breaking the story,
the editorial in the Daily News read:
We rejoice that he escaped without
serious injury, but we do also sincerely rejoice that such a manifestation of
British feeling, so honest, so popular, and so spontaneous, as well as so
energetic, goes forth to the world of Europe to mark in what estimation the
deeds of Austria in Hungary are regarded by the intelligent of our industrious
The Morning Post, however, took another view.  ‘There can be but one feeling in the breast
of every Englishman worthy the name, as to the outrage perpetrated on the Baron
the other day at the brewery of Messrs Barclay and Perkins,’ it thundered.  The mob that accosted him on the street was
‘reinforced by the all the choicest specimens of the rascalry of the Borough’,
who shouted things to the poor man ‘which are wont to garnish the conversation
of low Liberals.’  Yes, the whole thing
was a left-wing plot, because ‘British Liberalism is determined, as far as it
can, to divest Great Britain of its long-standing reputation for hospitality.’  The paper expressed its hope that that nice
Mr Haynau wouldn’t judge us all by the standards of those ‘dastardly ruffians
who assaulted him in the Borough’.
also expressed the view that the whole thing must have been a leftist
conspiracy.  Why, we were talking about
stupid brewery workers, the thick working classes.  Ignoring the steady rise of both the international
workers’ movement and the tales of woe told by terrorised Hungarian refugees
who, like all refugees, had settled safely in Southwark, the Times believed that these people were
too stupid and ignorant to have even known who the Marshal was without the
sinister organising influence of ‘foreigners’ – a euphemism at the time for
The Standard pointed out that Haynau’s greatest injury was to his
pride.  He escaped the flogging with no
serious physical injuries, despite being dragged through the street.  If the crowd had meant him serious harm, as
the right-wing press claimed, they ‘had the opportunity of inflicting serious
injury, and they that they did not inflict any such injury, is proof that they
designed none.’
A week later, a public meeting of
the ‘National Democrats’ was held at Farringdon Hall, for the purpose of
celebrating ‘the noble conduct of the workmen employed at Barclay and Perkins
brewery, in having given expression to the feeling of detestation felt towards
the assassin and woman-flogger, Haynau, by all true Englishmen’.
Hundreds were turned away because
the room was so crowded, and there were even ‘a sprinkling of women present’.
The Italian Marsellaise was sung by
some Hungarian refugees. Messages of solidarity were received from as far
afield as Paris and New York.  At one
point, the crowd was addressed by Friedrich ‘Citizen’ Engels, a man
delightfully described in the report of the meeting as ‘one who has fought for
freedom in many lands, and wore a long beard’.
Fourteen years later, when the
Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi visited England, he insisted on going
to Barclay Perkins to thank personally ‘the men who flogged Haynau’. 
Even the lovely Dr William Rendle,
a man so kind-hearted he hardly killed anyone in all his years as a surgeon, remember,
said it was ‘a cruel punishment no doubt,’ but that it was also the perfect
example of the term vox Populi, vox Dei.  ‘Moral homeopathy’, the ‘cure of cruelty by
cruelty, or more mildly, that which is know as poetical justice, administered
by a mob’. 

A plaque marking the incident stands in Park Street on the site of the Anchor Brewery.

[1] If you’re ever drinking in Hungary (which I can
heartily recommend) never try to clink glasses with the locals – it’s a social
faux pas.  As the Hungarian generals were
being murdered on Haynau’s orders, the Austrian officers were allegedly
drinking beer and toasting each other by clinking their mugs together.  Hungarians declared that they would therefore
never clink their own glasses together again.  




Ooh, thanks for that, Martyn!

I did get kind of lost in contemporary accounts, which is why I had to cut a lot of this back for the book itself, but I didn't find this one.


I finished my preview copy a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it a lot. Review to come soon. We also enjoyed a pint in the George last night.

I grew up in Sherborne and occasionally drunk in the Antelope, it was great to read about it's earlier history


What a wonderful story, and what a shame it wasn't the right George!

Martyn – great find. Can you make out what the barrel-bodied brewery worker is saying? The first word defeats me.

The first time I tried to cut words out of Hops & Glory, I actually managed to increase the word count by 5000.

When I write to length – usually for a book review – I almost always go through a process like this:

1. Finish writing and check word count; it's approximately 40% over length.
2. Cut everything I can find to cut. Check word count; it's now approximately 30% over length.
3. Go to bed (the second stage usually concludes at midnight or so). Resume the following morning.
4. Re-read the 'finished' article and discover that (a) it's incredibly slackly written and can easily be pruned; and (b) I've left out some vitally important aspects of the topic, which urgently need to be added.
5. Check word count. It's still approximately 30% over length.

I then repeat stages 4. and 5. until a miracle happens and the cuts start to outweigh the vital new material. This will take at least as long as it took to write the review in the first place.

Fun, though.

Martyn Cornell

Strangely, I've known about that cartoon for more than 40 years: it was reproduced in the history textbook my school used for O-level English history.

The point about the draymen, of course, which contemporaries would have known, was that they were all BIG guys – “picked men of great stature and strength, who move the great butts and barrels about as if they were toys.” So you wouldn't want to mess with them. They also drank a lot of beer: one B&P draymen reckoned he downed three gallons a day …

The Haynau story IS a great one, which certainly deserves to be more widely known, and I'm greatly looking forward to reading Shakespeare's Local.

Martyn Cornell

Phil – the drayman is saying: "Suspend me indeed. Gammon!!!", the response to a call for the draymen to be suspended from work over the assault on Haynau. "Gammon" was a mid-Victorian ejaculation meaning "Rubbish!".


Martyn – right, that is what I thought it said, I just couldn't make sense of 'suspend'.

Ed – I give you the Italian Marseillaise. Presumably they knew enough Italian to learn it in translation, but not enough French to learn it in the original.

Paul Ashby

The book has just arrived and I wanted to say what a beautiful thing it is. I'm glad I ordered the hardback version just on the basis of the lovely presentation.
I'll be settling down for a proper exmination tonight.. Cheers!


I don't seem to able to buy the Kindle version of Shakespeare's Local. Pan Macmillan were no help at all. Is it actually available?


Kindle edition is available on amazon.co.uk – afraid I don't known about other markets and it would be outside Pan Mac's jurisdiction in most parts of the world. Whereabouts are you?


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