Shakespeare’s Pub – A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub – The George Inn

This amusing blend of history and anecdote traces not just the George, but all the coaching inns of Southwick, down through the centuries. Brown, who has made a career of writing about British beers and the people who brew, serve and consume them, has an obvious love of his subject and that translates into an enjoyable read, even with an iconoclastic glass of wine in one’s hand.

Has a decent eye also, for how individual history reflects that of the surrounding economy and culture. One of his revelations concerns the effects which the invention and rapid spread of railroad trains had on a wide range of industries, from the freight wagon trade, to passenger-carrying stagecoaches, stables and liveries, lodges/hotels, the hop trade, ports and the very patterns of settlement geography. Not gradual change either, but rapid and accelerating, able to wipe out an industry in one lifetime. That some of the trades displaced had done similar violence to other, earlier ones, suggests poetic justice when the trains themselves are later displaced by automobile and truck traffic (on roadways which necessarily evolved almost beyond recognition from the muddy and undisciplined things they had once been – ‘imagine, needing to make actual rules for which side of the road to drive on! Imagine!’).  Which reflects nicely on our current fearless leader’s proposal to preserve the coal trade. Really?

Touching on literature, cuisine, habit and morality, Brown suggests that the history of the George is only tenuously concerned with its physical manifestation, examining the existential question, if you replace only one small piece at a time, but eventually have replaced every piece of any object, is it still the original object? A question he answers in the affirmative – as he must, for the book’s topic to have merit…

My favorite bit though, is when a George-lover asserts that the ghost of Same Weller (of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers), has been seen around the place, allowing Brown a wonderful riff on the mental contortions required first to believe in ghosts, then in the ghost of a fictional character who never lived in the first place, and then that said ghost would haunt not the pub which the author named as his character’s locale but the one which some readers like to think the author may have had in mind when he created his fictional location, despite giving it the not-at-all fictional name of another actual pub down the street!

I like the way this author’s mind works, and will be seeking out his other beery books. Not to mention seeking out The George one again, as soon as we return to London-town.

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