The George Inn, a stone’s throw from the lapping edge of the Thames at London Bridge, is by far the oldest pub in London. Dickens drank here, and before him, there are records of the pub dating as far back as the 1500s. In a city rich with long-standing pubs with plenty of heritage, The George arguably stands alone. We headed down in pursuit of a pint and a little history last week and found both in abundance.
One of only two coaching inns to survive in Greater London, it is the only one with a gallery - a beautiful upstairs area skirting the main parts of the pub and offering views down into the courtyard below. It’s said that these galleried pubs were the precursors to theatres. At eye level with the performers below, would be the standing audience; in the galleries above were the punters paying a premium for a better view.
Sipping a pint, our elbows resting on the white fence of the gallery and a quiet mass of drinkers below us enjoying a crisp and bright autumn afternoon by the river, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that one or two more of these unusual pubs had survived.
The building itself is a Grade I listed National Trust property, and one of CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors too. The ground floor of the inn - it’s hard to call such an olde world place a ‘pub’ - is divided into a number of connected bars. The Parliament Bar used to be a waiting room for passengers on coaches.
The Middle Bar was the Coffee Room, frequented by Charles Dickens who enjoyed drinking here so much he even gave the pub a name check in Little Dorrit. There’s a restaurant upstairs with the gallery, in what were once the bedrooms of the inn.
It’s often the way with historic pubs that they can feel a little like living museums - places worth seeing but not with returning to. That’s not the case with The George. All year round, the place teems with people and conversation. The beers are good, the location exceptional and the atmosphere lively, from the ground floor to the galleries above. The history of the place is a part of the charm, but not the only charming thing about The George.
As it evidently always has been - how else does a pub endure for so long? It is first and foremost a fantastic place to grab a drink. See for yourself at the first opportunity.