George, Borough

77 Borough High Street
020 7407 2056

The George is a wonderful survivor, the last remaining galleried coaching left in London (photo 1). There has been a pub on the site since medieval times when it was called the Syrcote. By 1542 it appears on a map as the George and it first appears in print in John Stow’s Survey of London in 1598. Borough High Street at this time probably had more pubs than any other part of the UK and the George’s neighbours included the Tabard, the White Hart, the Belle Sauvage and the Golden Lion.

The George we see today was rebuilt in 1677 after a fire and was a copy of the previous three sided galleried building. It was much used by waggoners transporting freight and by the eighteenth century it was well established as a coaching inn. At its peak it was handling 80 coaches a week, servicing travellers between London and the south coast.

The rise of the railways and the building of the nearby London Bridge station gradually put an end to the coaching era, and indeed to most of the coaching inns in the area. The Tabard was demolished in 1875 and the others soon followed. The George survived by selling off two of its three sides to a railway company who replaced them with warehouses for goods and parcels.

Start your visit in the Parliament Bar beneath the galleries (balconies) nearest the entrance to the courtyard. This is the most interesting and the least altered part of the pub with very old, possibly original, wood panels and wooden settles (photo 2). The room contains a Parliamentary clock, so named because in 1797 parliament imposed a five shillings tax on timepieces. People got rid of their clocks and watches and made use of those in public buildings like the George. Also look out for an ancient cash register style beer engine, sadly not in use today. A corridor leads to the main bar which leads on to a series of rooms and spaces. This area has been modernised in recent years but there are still plenty of wood panelled walls and ceiling beams to give it the feel of the ancient pub that it is.

The pub unsurprisingly, is Grade I listed and owned by the National Trust. It is leased to Greene King and does food all day including sharing plates, pub classics, burgers and sandwiches. Cask beers are mostly from Greene King with one or two guest beers.

The pub is named after St George, slayer of the dragon and patron saint of England, rather than one of the many kings of that name. The inn signs show him fighting the dragon on horseback, one wearing black armour (photo 3) and one, in the style of leaded glass, wearing white armour (photo 4).

The George is often cited as a literary pub and it’s very likely that Shakespeare, Dickens and maybe even Chaucer drank here. Dickens was the only one to feature it in one of his novels, Little Dorrit.  Next door on one side, the White Hart was in Shakespeare’s Henry VI and also in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, and on the other side, the Tabard was of course was the starting place of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

If you’d like to find out more about the George I’d recommend pub and beer writer Pete Brown’s entertaining and lyrical history of the pub, Shakespeare’s Local: Seven Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub. As the blurb says, “all life is here, from murderers, highwaymen and ladies of the night to gossiping pedlars and hard-working clerks”.

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