Literary Pubs: Where writers and their characters prop up the bar

Many novelists, poets and playwrights enjoyed a pint after a day behind the typewriter and some of the pubs they visited are included here. Historians, philosophers, diarists and other authors of non-fiction literature also headed for the boozer after a hard working day. Writers also featured pubs in their works, sometimes under their real name, sometimes under a pseudonym.

Charles Dickens is possibly the most prolific literary visitor of pubs, and many of them featured in his novels. In London, the Seven Stars in Aldwych became the Magpie & Stump in Pickwick Papers and the George in Southwark featured in Little Dorrit. He visited the the Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street more than once and it gets a mention in A Tale of Two Cities. Outside London he used the Waggon and Horses in Beckhampton as the model for the inn in the Bagman’s Tale in The Pickwick Papers.

The Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of the oldest pubs in London has had quite a collection of visiting writers. They include Samuel Johnson who lived around the corner, diarist Samuel Pepys, actor and playwright David Garrick, the poet Alexander Pope, and novelists William Makepeace Thackeray and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Other London pubs with an impressive literary clientele are the Fitzroy in Fitzrovia which hosted George Orwell, Dylan Thomas and Lawrence Durrell (plus several other celebrities) and the Museum in Bloomsbury with J.B Priestley, Arthur Conan Doyle and Karl Marx. George Orwell also enjoyed the Dog & Duck in Soho and the upstairs room is named after him. He had an especially boozy night here when he celebrated Animal Farm being chosen as Book of the Month in an American literary magazine.

Some writers enjoyed a bit of travelling and often described the inns they stayed in. Daniel Defoe visited the Haycock in Wansbeck and the Bell in Stilton on his way up the Great North Road. He didn’t hold back in his reviews of the inns, much like an 18th century Trip Adviser. The Wordsworths were also wayfarers with William staying over at the Green Dragon in Hardraw on a visit to the famous waterfall, and Dorothy visiting the White Hart in Edinburgh. Dickens (again) and his pal Wilkie Collins went on a few research trips, including Devon where they stayed at the New Inn in Clovelly.

Crime writers are fond of pubs as locations for both boozy detectives and the villains they are chasing. Both writer Ian Rankin and his creation John Rebus are regulars at the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh. Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse was fond of his ale and several pubs in Oxford, like the Bear and the White Horse feature in his books.

Staying in Oxford, the Eagle and Child on St Giles is famous for being the meeting place of the Inklings, a group of writers who included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They met in the Rabbit Room, a private space at the back of the pub, from the 1930s right up until the early 1960s. 

Eagle and Child, Oxford: Small pub room
A room at the Eagle & Child, Oxford

The full range of pubs visited by famous writers can be found here: Literary Pubs

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