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…”


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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