The George Inn is the last surviving galleried coaching Inn in London, i.e., think a historic motel for people traveling around England by horse led coaches. These were places travelers could come and spend a night while waiting for a connecting coach to a different location, or just come for a drink.
[Also, as I discuss at the very end of this piece, don’t skip it… Shakespeare and Dickens both frequented this place, and it’s adjacent to a location important to Chaucer]
First established during the Medieval period in 1542, (making the business 480 years old) and then known as “George and Dragon”, after the legend of Saint George and the Dragon — but later becoming known as just The George — the inn had to be rebuilt in 1677 after Great Fire of London, this pub is now a National Trust building, and hence protected from modern re-development of the land.
While not as big as it once was (there’s no room for carriages to turn around anymore, or for horses to be housed), it’s still worthy of a visit.
As the sign above says, in the late 1800’s the north part of the complex was pulled down (what would have been to the opposite side of what is now the outdoor patio area) the building that remains still has its original exteriors, interiors and even a few gas lanterns … something that has almost entirely disappeared from London because well… fire hazard, and as I said it was already rebuilt once after the great fire, they don’t want to have to do it again).
Finding it was a bit of a challenge (I walked by it twice) as it’s hidden down what on first glance looked to just be yet another alley…
I actually stopped a local girl in her early 20’s asking her to take this picture for me. I’m standing by it’s front gate just off the street’s sidewalk, and yet she was a little shocked; she told me that she walks down that street multiple times a week and had no idea it was there nor its historic relevance.
After looking around the courtyard area I went into the building itself and walked around exploring the place and taking pictures. At the time I didn’t realize it was a National Trust building and was half expecting someone to give me shit for not buying food or a drink. But their behavior, kind of not taking any issue with my being there, is explained now that I know this. National trust buildings while they might double as businesses or even private homes, are first and foremost historic places owned by the government/Trust. that are open to the public and their structures kept ‘healthy’ by money from the trust.
That said, at a certain point I decided I was getting thirsty and decided to order my first Shandy of this trip to England
Shandy’s are my pub drink of choice; if you’ve never heard of it its British beer watered down with lemonade and it’s how local kids get turned into alcoholics… oops did I say that out-loud? … introduced to alcohol.
Because of covid I was initially going to drink it outside but then I realized the 2nd floor was accessible and I had not seen anyone going up there, and it was more than a bit chilly that day…
So I took my glass upstairs — not the easiest feat for me, I’m not great at stairs under the best of conditions and having to take a very full glass up them without spilling it was a challenge — to happily discover I was all alone up there.
After my drink I got ready to leave and spotted an elderly woman who came into the inn’s yard but with no apparent intention of staying… she was just there to see it and took a few pictures. First I asked her to take a picture for me (see below)
Then we got to talking and she confirmed my suspicions that she, like I, was a history buff. Then she told me her next stop was the recently discovered Roman floor mosaics that I had read about two weeks ago while still in the USA, so I asked if I could join her… and she said “of course.”
Lastly, a thing of note, for people with a literary bent…. it is known that both Shakespeare and Dickens frequented this Inn. Not only that, but Dickens, who had the misfortune to spend some of his life living in Marshalsea Prison, just a block or two away from this location… refers to the Inn in his novel Little Dorrit, a book about a girl born and raised at that same prison (one doesn’t tend to think about this, but most of the time places authors refer to in their novels, particularly ones set in what where then current times, include buildings that readers might recognize, and this was true in the works of Dickens).
Also, while it’s no longer there, just to the right of the George, off of the adjoining road called Talbot yard (see map below) there used to stand another establishment called The Tabard, that today is only memorialized with a single blue plaque (not much to see, it’s kind of sad)
That inn was established in 1307 (so 200 years OLDER than the George), and was also rebuilt after the Great fire of London, but was later torn down in 1873 — it had been there for FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX YEARS!!!!! While sadly the building no longer exists, its name should ring a bell for those of you familiar with the works of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He referred to it in his seminal work The Canterbury Tales because it famously was where people in the 1380’s, who were making the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, would first spend a night, and as such it is mentioned in his 14th-century literary work. The inn’s proprietor was a man named Harry Bailey
Bifel that in that season on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And well we weren esed atte beste;