The latest addition to our collection of dusty old walking guides is Our Rambles in London by E.S. Machell Smith, from 1895.
It’s a fairly bland book altogether, and nor are its illustrations (as you can see from the above) especially exciting. It does, however, contain an account of a visit to the George Inn which acts an interesting footnote to Chapter Twelve of Pete Brown’s Shakespeare’s Local, concerning Mrs Amelia Murray, her daughter Agnes, and Joey the parrot:
[We] turned in under an archway over which was written The George Inn, where we were greatly cheered by the sight of a double tier of bedroom galleries, with old wooden balustrades ornamented by flower-pots.
After consulting a policeman standing at the entrance as to whether he thought it was a place ladies could lunch at, and receiving an answer in the affirmative, we walked in, and were met by a fair slim woman, who, in reply to our request for refreshment, said ‘she was afraid she could do nothing for us just then, as all her gentlemen were lunching, but if we cared to walk upstairs and look round we were heartily welcome.’
Gladly availing ourselves of this permission, we went up some low wooden steps and found ourselves on the first balcony, on to which all the rooms open, their occupants’ only mode of exit and entrance being by this way.
More stairs brought us to the next floor; we peeped into some of the rooms, whose windows and doors also opened on to a picturesque wooden gallery, which, like the first, overlooked the yard below, and must, therefore, have been very convenient for watching the plays that used to be acted in the yards of the old Borough hostelries. The bedrooms, though dark, were far from uncomfortable, and contained some nice pieces of old furniture.
It was altogether very fascinating, and we imagined ourselves staying there, and wondered if any one would ever think of searching for us in such a retreat.
As we came downstairs and were about to thank our hostess, she came forward and said that, if we didn’t mind waiting in her room (where she was dispensing cigars and sodas to some of her gentlemen friends), she would have a lunch laid for us in her own back parlour. Accordingly we seated ourselves, keeping our eyes discreetly fixed upon our guide-books, in which, on all occasions and in all places, we find quite as much protection as Unda ever did in her lion.
Meanwhile our fair friend held her little court, and it was charming to see the deference and respect with which she was treated, as she graciously inquired after the health of this one, how the other was getting on with his work, where So-and-so thought of going for Christmas, &c., &c.
Soon and elderly lady (presumably the landlady) announced that our repast was ready, and were conducted into a tiny little sanctum, rather dark, but very snug and warm, with a fat retriever asleep under the table, and a green parrot close to the fire.
And a footnote to a footnote: we think E.S. Machell Smith (or Machell-Smith…) was Christopher Isherwood’s grandmother, Emily, and this passage was probably written by his mother, Kathleen.