Famed for its mention in Geoffrey Chaucer’s iconic 14th century work, The Canterbury Tales, The Tabard Inn once stood on Borough High Street in Southwark.

The inn was apparently first built for the Abbot of Hyde in 1307 as a place where he and his brethren could stay when they came to London and stood on what had been the main Roman thoroughfare between London and Canterbury.

Blue_plaque,_Tabard_InnIt became a popular hostelry for pilgrims making their way from the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket on London Bridge to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral and was one of a number of inns which eventually came to be built in Southwark at the London end of the pilgrim route.

It’s in this context that it earns a mention in Chaucer’s 14th century work as the pilgrims set off on their journey.

The inn passed into private hands following the Dissolution and in 1676, 1o years after the Great Fire of London, burned down in a fire which devastated much of Southwark (the back part of it had been damaged by fire a few years earlier). Earlier patrons may have, it’s been suggested, included the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

It was subsequently rebuilt as a galleried coaching inn and came to be renamed The Talbot (it’s been suggested this was due to a spelling mistake by the signwriter). Its neighbour, the George Inn, still stands in Talbot Yard (it was also apparently burnt down and rebuilt after the 1676 fire).

Business for the coaching inns dropped away, however, with the coming of the railways and the building was converted into stores before eventually being demolished in 1874.

A plaque to the inn can be seen in Talbot Yard (named for the inn’s later incarnation) – it was unveiled by Terry Jones in 2003.

PICTURE: BH2008/Wikimedia.

Advertisements

Famed for its market, the area around the southern end of London Bridge is generally simply known as Borough. But that’s just an abbreviation – Borough is actually a contracted version of Borough of Southwark.

Borough-StationThe origins of the word borough come from the Old English burh, a word which originally simply referred to a ‘fortified place’ and, in this case, referred to the settlement which, since Roman times, had grown up outside the city walls around the southern approaches to London Bridge.

It later came to mean a town with its own locally-based government and, according to Cyril M Harris in What’s In A Name?, Southwark was, in the later Middle Ages, the only London borough outside the City Wall which had its own MP.

The fact that the borough was outside City jurisdiction meant it become a popular place for inns, theatres and other forms of entertainment including the infamous Southwark Fair.

Although ‘Borough’ can still be used as an alternative word for the entire Borough of Southwark, these days when people refer to ‘The Borough’, they’re often referring to just a small district of the much larger borough.

While it’s hard to get a fix on exactly where the boundaries of this district are, at the heart of this area is Borough High Street and landmarks particularly associated with it include the Borough Market (see our earlier post here) as well as Southwark Cathedral and the galleried George Inn as well as the Church of St George The Martyr (and, of course, its own Tube station, which opened in 1890).

Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…

George-InnThe George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.

Middle-Temple-HallMiddle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.

For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.

 

There hardly seems to be a pub in London which doesn’t claim some connection with the Victorian author but we thought we’d confine ourselves to five pubs with more well-established credentials…

• Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub is a Fleet Street institution with parts of the current building dating back to 1667 when it was rebuilt following the Great Fire. Dickens was among numerous literary figures who frequented the premises – the pub is perhaps most famously associated with the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (although there is apparently no recorded evidence he ever attended here); other literary figures who came here include Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and, according to a plaque in Wine Court, worked out of the pub for a period while producing his journal All The Year Round.

• The One Tun, Saffron Hill. Said to have been established as an ale house on its present site in 1759, the pub was rebuilt in the mid-Victorian era  and was apparently patronised by Dickens between 1833 and 1838. It’s also apparently the inspiration for the pub called The Three Cripples in Oliver Twist (The Three Cripples was actually a lodging house next door to the One Tun and didn’t sell ale). For more, see www.onetun.com

• The George Inn, Southwark. Dating from the 17th century, the George Inn in Borough High Street is the last galleried coaching inn left standing in London and is now cared for by the National Trust (and leased for use by a private company). Dickens is known to have come here when it was running as a coffee house and he mentions it in the book, Little Dorrit. For more, see     www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn/.

• George & Vulture, Castle Court (near Lombard Street). Established in the 18th century on the site of an older inn, this well-hidden pub was not only frequented by Dickens but is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers more than 20 times.

• The Grapes, Limehouse. Formerly known as The Bunch of Grapes, there has been a pub on the site for almost more than 430 years. Dickens was known to be a patron here (his godfather lived in Limehouse) and mentioned the pub – renamed The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters – appears in his novel Our Mutual Friend. For more, see www.thegrapes.co.uk.

• Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place. This pub dates from the mid 1500s by Bishop Goodrich of Ely to house his retainers and later rented out to Sir Christopher Hatton (it still houses the remains of a cherry tree which Sir Christopher is said to have danced around during a May Day celebration with none other than the future Queen Elizabeth I). Dickens (and the ubiquitous Dr Johnson) are both said to have drunk here.

• And lastly, The Dickens Inn in St Katharine Docks. It’s worth noting up front that Charles Dickens had nothing to do with this pub – dating back to at least 1800, it was once a warehouse and is thought to have been used to either house tea or play a role in a local brewing operation – but it was his great grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, who formally opened the pub in 1976, apparently declaring, “My great grandfather would have loved this inn”. For more, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

This list is by no means comprehensive – we’d love to hear from you if you know of any other pubs Dickens frequented…

There’s a number of contenders for this controversial title and a number of different ways of looking at the question. So, rather than take sides, we’ll just canvas a few of them.

Our initial contenders are:

• Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street, the City). Built in 1667 after the Great Fire of London, the current building replaced one previously on the site. The cellar is apparently 13th century and forms part of the remains of an old monastery on the site. Dr Samuel Johnson, who lived just around the corner while creating his famous dictionary, was a regular here and the pub is also said to have been frequented by writers Mark Twain, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

The Spaniards Inn (Spaniard’s Road, Hampstead). Located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, the Spaniard’s Inn dates from around 1585. The story goes that it was named after the Spanish ambassador to the court of James I who lived here for a time (another version says it was two Spanish brothers who first converted the building into a pub in the 1700s). Other historical figures associated with the inn include the highwayman Dick Turpin (some say he was born here while others say he used to wait here while watching for vulnerable coaches to pass by), the poets Byron and Keats and the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds – who apparently visited, and Charles Dickens who mentioned the inn in the Pickwick Papers (it also gets a mention in Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

• The Lamb and Flag (33 Rose Street, Covent Garden). The building has been occupied since Tudor times but it’s only been a licensed premises since 1623. The pub, certainly the oldest still standing in Covent Garden, was previously associated with prize fighting and was apparently once called the Bucket of Blood. The poet John Dryden is said to have been involved in a fight here.

The George Inn (77 Borough High Street, Borough). Located on the south side of London Bridge, the George Inn is a rare surviving galleried coaching inn. Now owned and leased by the National Trust, the current building dates from 1676 after the previous inn was destroyed by fire. The inn is mentioned in Dickens’ Little Dorrit and the author himself was apparently a regular visitor.

UPDATE: It seems we left one of the list which is certainly worth mentioning –  The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping (57 Wapping Wall). There’s been a tavern on this site on the bank of the Thames since 1520 and during its early days it became known the ‘Devil’s Tavern’ due to its rather dodgy clientele, alleged to have included smugglers, prostitutes and thieves as well as more famous people such as diarist Samuel Pepys, the notorious Judge Jeffreys, known as the ‘Hanging Judge’, and much later, Charles Dickens. Later destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt and given the new name, The Prospect of Whitby, after a ship that moored nearby. The building now incorporates a ship’s mast.