Anyone who lives and or works around London Bridge/Borough High Street or who has lived in London for a long time will have come across The George. A sixteenth century coaching inn ( although the buildings you see before you today were erected in 1677 ) which is both an ordinary pub, albeit it one owned by the National Trust, and something of a tourist attraction. The nearest tube is London Bridge, on the Northern and Jubilee lines, turn left out of station down Borough High Street and keep walking, (through the road works and building sites) The George is on your left.
The original inn yard still exists, though now bounded on three sides by the London School of Commerce, as does the original entrance from Borough High Street. Indeed, it’s possible, in the street map of Borough High Street to see the entrances and small side roads which were once inn yards just like this one, in Talbot Yard to the south, for example and The White Hart to the north. The Tabard Inn once occupied Talbot, formerly Tabard, Yard and was where Chaucer began the pilgrim’s journey in ‘The Canterbury Tales‘. This small area, where two Roman roads met, was the main embarkation point for travel southwards out of London from the 14th century onwards.
The George inn was, supposedly, a favoured haunt of Shakespeare and his fellow players. The theatres were all on the south bank of the Thames, along with other, less salubrious entertainments, like the bear-baiting rings and brothels. Indeed, many galleried inn yards (and this is the last remaining one in London) were used as impromptu or makeshift theatres themselves.
It also boasts Charles Dickens among its later clientele and The George appears in Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit‘. He frequented the Coffee House which is the middle section on the ground floor, now called the Middle Bar. The Parliament Bar was once a waiting room for passengers about to embark by coach and the bedrooms of the inn were upstairs, where there is now a restaurant. I haven’t eaten therein, nor in the Middle Bar downstairs, so I can’t vouch for the quality of the food.
If it is food you want then Borough Market is right opposite, with its plethora of produce and many stalls selling hot and cold food and a couple of formal restaurants. But prices are high. If you’re on a budget and fancy a walk to see some less well-known parts of historic London, turn right out of The George Inn Yard and walk up Borough High Street until you reach St Thomas’s Street. Turn right.
St Thomas Street has some interesting buildings, including, on the left, the 17th century St Thomas’ Church, the garret of which contains the old operating theatre and herbarium. This is one of the few surviving operating theatres from before the days of antiseptic and anaesthetics, when speed was of the essence in surgery and surgeons could amputate a leg in less than a minute. Entry costs £6.50 and it’s well worth a visit ( see virtual tour here ).
Pass just beyond St Thomas’ Church and, on the right you will see the gates to Guy’s Hospital campus, including the original outer courtyard and the fine, Georgian colonnade, built from 1738 onwards, and its quadrangles (on the right of the outer court ). There is an arch of Portland stone in the eastern quadrangle, now containing a statue of John Keats, who was an apothecary student here. The arch was part of the old London Bridge which was demolished in 1831. All of this elegant brick and marble complex is now overshadowed by the ultra-modern, 21st century, shimmering Shard, an interesting juxtaposition.
At the other end of the colonnade Guy’s campus buildings join those of Kings College London around a grassy area called ‘The Park’, which leads on to Snowfields and Weston Street. Here is where you often find a street market, selling organic produce and street food, the latter at student-focused prices. When I visited last week, there was paella, Thai curry and plenty more on offer which was considerably less expensive than the food at Borough Market. There is also a very reasonably priced cafeteria at one end of the colonnade ( fish and chips £3.50 ), but, visitors should note, you may be asked to produce your student card if you want to eat there.