The centuries-long story of the George Inn, which may not have been Shakespeare’s local, but proves fascinating nonetheless.
Brown (Man Walks into a Pub, 2004) admits that there’s no proof the Bard of Avon ever set foot in the George Inn, but it’s the logical place on which to center this book, as it’s the only inn that survived fires, the railroads, the Blitz and modernization. The surviving section of the 16th-century pub is a perfectly preserved example of the coaching inns of the past. The author’s vast research shows the centrality of these inns to everyday life and commerce. This is actually a history of Southwark, for so many years—nay centuries—the dumping ground for people, businesses and severed heads that the city across the Thames didn’t want to deal with. Just as often referred to as “the borough,” Southwark sits at the bottom of London Bridge, which until the middle of the 18th century was the only bridge across the Thames. With goods, and especially hops, arriving from the southeast, Southwark became the logistical distribution center of London. As such, inns required large yards for the wagons, coaches and their propulsion units: horses. The inn yards then evolved into the theaters of the area, supporting the plays of Shakespeare, enjoyed from the galleries for those who could afford a penny. The Canterbury Tales, as well as Piers Ploughman, showed the beginnings of the inn as a community gathering place, but Dickens’ Mr. Pickwick made the George’s name as tourists trolled for links to that most popular author.
Brown’s wit and extensive research make this a solid book of history, sociology and literature, as well as a great travel guide.