Beer Books: Shakespeare’s Local

The George Inn, Southwark.
Illustration from Walks In London Vol. 1, c.1896.

Talking to publishers about beer books, you quickly learn that there’s one writer they think has really nailed it in commercial terms: Pete Brown. They like his ‘high concept’, ‘pitchable’ approach; they like his titles; and most of all, they love the fact that his books appeal to ‘normals’ as much as they do to beer geeks.

Shakespeare’s Local is yet another step towards the mainstreaming of both Brown and beer, though, in fact, beer is hardly mentioned at all and even the pub of the title isn’t always centre-stage so much as it’s used as a lens through which to view London at various periods in its history.

It tells the story of the George Inn, Southwark — these days a tourist attraction, tourist trap, after work City hangout and chain pub, but long associated with Olde London, Shakespeare and Dickens.

The opening is reminiscent of — bear with us — a ‘history episode’ of Hartnell-era Doctor Who; a Powell and Pressburger film; one of those nostalgic shorts from Roll Out the Barrel; and a nineteen-eighties text adventure we really want to play: “April the nineteenth in the Year of Our Lord 1737… You quickly scan the front page news of shipping list on its way to the colonies and elsewhere…”

> TAKE TANKARD
> DRINK BEER
> GO EAST

The portrayal of the relationship between Southwark and the City of London is excellent and, throughout, there’s a sense of virtual reality — of being there, in the time and place described with carefully chosen details in 3D, surround-sound, smell-o-vision. We came away with a list of places to visit, things to see and things to look out for.

It made us laugh out loud here and there, too — a quality not to be undervalued.

It’s not perfect. With our mortarboards and scholarly gowns on, we regret the lack of footnotes, and wouldn’t cite it as a source in a Phd paper; but, on the other hand, in holiday reading mode, we found a few passages where Brown has, in publishing parlance, ‘been too generous to his research’, and so caught ourselves skimming. (Yes, that’s right — he can’t win.)

On the whole, though, it is a great read and (with a few shopping days to go…) the perfect gift for anyone in your family with a passing interest in London, history, pubs, architecture, the heritage industry, highwaymen, public transport or lewd poetry.

The single pub micro-history could become an interesting sub-genre: here’s a nice piece on a pub in Croydon by Kake.

8 thoughts on “Beer Books: Shakespeare’s Local”

  1. Thank so much! And way to go on finding that beautiful illustration – I’ve never seen that one before in all my research, shambolic amateur that I am. Mind if I pinch it for my talks?

  2. I’ve an idea that this book is in my Christmas stocking. I hope so. Listening to the radio my first thoughts were that Pete Brown is much more than a beer writer. Social historian maybe?

    Looking forward to it.

  3. Thank you for the link to my piece! I have wondered about publishing a little pamphlet of some kind, including the material I didn’t have space for in the article (and more I’ve discovered since). That will have to wait until 2014 if it happens at all, though, as 2013 is my Year Of No New Projects.

  4. The real shame about the George is that it’s now just a rather dreary tourist haunt masquerading as Ye Olde English Boozer.
    I took some American chums there last year and even they, gullible as American tourists can be, thought the whole experience dispiriting.
    I took ’em to the Market Porter instead and they had a jolly good time in a living pub rather than a museum piece.
    Looking forward to reading Mr Bown’s book however.

  5. Not picked it up yet but, like others, it’s on the list! I totally agree with your pub micro-history thinking though, I’ve been trying to put something together for years about Leeds pubs but I found it hard to find decent anecdotal sources to supplement research. Still on my mind though. Have you found similar with your research?

    1. What we’ve noticed — and someone needs to get on the case! — is that there are millions of books about London history/walks/architecture; and that even supposedly national early beer books and pub guides are very London-centric.

      Local CAMRA newsletters (often archived online, but not sure about Leeds) are good source of info; and Ron Pattinson used to drink in Leeds in the 1970s, of course…

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