Welcome to the George Inn near London Bridge; a cosy, wood-pannelled, galleried coaching house a few minutes’ walk from the Thames. Grab yourself a pint, listen to the chatter of the locals and lean back, resting your head against the wall. And then consider this: who else has rested their head against that wall, over the last 600 years?
Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims almost certainly drank in the George on their way out of London to Canterbury. It’s fair to say that Shakespeare will have popped in from the nearby Globe for a pint, and we know that Dickens certainly did. Mail carriers changed their horses here, before heading to all four corners of Britain, while sailors drank here before visiting all four corners of the world…
The pub, as Pete Brown points out, is the ‘primordial cell of British life’ and in the George he has found the perfect case study. All life is here, from murderers, highwaymen and ladies of the night to gossiping pedlars and hard-working clerks. So sit back and watch as buildings rise and fall over the centuries, and ‘the beer drinker’s Bill Bryson’ (TLS) takes us on an entertaining tour through six centuries of history, through the stories of everyone that ever drank in one pub.
Behind the Blurb
My fourth book with Macmillan, and a step to try to take my writing from beer to focus on the role of the pub more widely in social history. The George is an amazing place, and it’s so gratifying that I get so many tweets and messages from people saying they are reading the book in the pub.
The biggest negative I’ve had about this book is that there is no evidence Shakespeare actually drank there. There are two things I’d say about this.
Firstly, that’s because there’s very little evidence of Shakespeare having gone anywhere. There are no records of him ever having visited any specific pub. But we know he did. And we know he lived just around the corner from this one for ten years, at a time when it was one of the most famous pubs in London. We have to use deduction, and the circumstantial case that he drank there is far, far stronger than any attempt to prove that he did not.
Secondly, it’s quite clear from the subtitle that this book spans six fascinating centuries of London history. Even if we had documentary proof of Shakespeare having gone there, it would only be one page in the book. There’s so much more than that to the history of the place.
Book a group Shakespeare’s Local Southwark Walk here.
Shakespeare’s Local was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in December 2012