Friday, 3 January 2014

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown

I love Southwark. It's got the Borough Market under the railway viaducts, and Southwark Cathedral, and the Globe (I once went with my Young Man, to be a groundling when As You Like It was on, which was brilliant fun, but my back needed a day to recover from all the standing!) - and it has The George, the last coaching inn left standing along the Borough High Street.
When I next go to Southwark, I will be going with Shakespeare's Local in my hand. Pete Brown has been all over the world looking at different pub cultures, and taken a barrel of IPA from Burton-upon-Trent to India, but this time he's concentrated on one historic building in one small area, and brought out everything that's fascinating about it.
At the time when London Bridge was the only way into the city from that side of the river (apart from the watermen's boats - and the watermen successfully prevented another bridge being built for centuries) the George was only one of a whole row of inns. It wasn't the most famous, or the biggest, or the best, but it is the only one left standing. Originally it stood alongside inns such as The Tabard, where Chaucer's pilgrims gathered to start their journey to Canterbury, and The White Hart, immortalised by Dickens in the Pickwick Papers.
London Bridge was also the place where traitors' heads were displayed on spikes, on the gatehouse to the bridge (and is now the area where the Clink prison and the London Dungeon pull in the tourists).
The George itself seems to be quite a large pub at first glance, but in its glory days during the coaching era it was five times bigger. Not far away is Vinopolis, a huge wine merchants - I went in there with my Young Man once to gaze in amazement at the largest selection of whiskeys either of us had ever seen - and Vinopolis is on the site of the Anchor Brewery, which once covered 12 acres!
The George is now owned by the National Trust, and run by Greene King, and it's a wonderful place for a drink in an area which has several very fine pubs, especially on a fine summer day when you can sit outside in the inn yard. It doesn't take much imagination to see the galleried building that was once on the other side of the inn yard, and the stables beyond (and there were hop warehouses, too).
Pete Brown has written other beer related books before this: Man Walks Into a Pub, Three Sheets to the Wind and Hops and Glory. I very rarely buy new books, living as I do in a town full of second hand books, but I bought all of these, and I highly recommend them all.

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