For fun and wonder today, the science we're exploring is... the history of London's oldest Pub! Um. Pubs don't sound very scientific. (For those who haven't heard the word, a pub is a British or Canadian bar that's one genteel step nicer than an ordinary bar.) History might not seem very scientific to those who are thinking of rocket ships or particle physics or chemistry. Where are the lasers, the chalkboards covered with equations, the vats of bubbling chemicals? Well, at least the bubbling vats are part of the story. For most of this pub's story, beer was brewed right on site.
And the history of this particular pub from 1476 to the present was investigated thoroughly in archives of records, in old maps, and in old books of fiction and non-fiction. That kind of investigation involves the serious use of library science by an expert. So, instead of a mad scientist peering into telescopes or zapping electric sparks, the expert telling our story is... Pete Brown. A writer. So dedicated to his research that he spent hour after hour in pubs and libraries all over London. And Brown really is an expert on writing about pubs, based on his earlier books titled Hops And Glory, Three Sheets To The Wind, and Man Walks Into A Pub: A Sociable History of Beer. That kind of experience makes Brown well-suited to write Shakespeare's Pub: A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub – The George Inn.
|This photo of the George's innyard appeared at a British website's review of the book.|
Putting aside any joking about beer, this book is actually an interesting read. Brown shows us the architecture of the George's old building changing through the centuries of fires and rebuilding. His sociological description of the Inn's location at one end of London Bridge has the reader seeing the heads of traitors impaled on spikes, and a steady traffic of small boats crossing the Thames river loaded with goods and people. And the people are the real story: fascinating people who owned and managed the George Inn or popped round for a pint of beer and a bite to eat, and the highwaymen who robbed them. “So before we get to the pistols, paintwork and heaving bosoms, I need to attempt something I don't think anyone has done before,” writes Brown on page 182. “I need to try to make the history of road transport sound interesting to a mainstream, balanced audience.”
If highwaymen and publicans aren't to your taste, you might not read this book from cover to cover as I did, including the Timeline and Bibliography. I found it a rollicking good read! The photographs and illustrations are appealing, with useful captions. Anyone writing a history paper on London would do well to read a chapter or two of Shakespeare's Pub – or if you're writing about English pubs or British history or the writers Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and of course, William Shakespeare.
A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub – The George Inn
St Martin's Press, New York 2013