Beer & Dickens London – Day 4

  1. Preface
  2. The Bear & Staff
  3. Simpson’s Tavern
  4. George & Vulture
  5. Monument to the Great Fire of 1666
  6. Tower of London
  7. The Artful Dodger
  8. Jack the Ripper Side Visits
    1. Jack the Ripper Museum
    2. The Brown Bear
  9. The Tower Bridge
  10. Jacob’s Island / Folly Ditch
  11. Oliver Twist Blue Plaque / St. Saviour’s Church
  12. The Anchor Bankside
  13. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
  14. Closing Words Day 4
  15. Map of Day 4
  16. References

it is becoming a pleasant hobby, notably in the case of the Americans, to diligently follow in the footsteps of Dickens, and visit and identify all the scenes he placed in his novels. Year by year these are disappearing. Numerous pleasant articles have appeared in American magazines, with pretty illustrations, and carried out in a very fond and tender spirit. Indeed, this culte of Dickens is growing every day…

Percy Fitzgerald. “Picturesque London.” 1890

Preface

For those that steadfastly endured my recounting of Day 3, first of all, I thank you. Second, it was an epic day of Dickensian proportions. And third, it bears giving some context related to the actual experiences compared to the re-telling of these experiences to assure readers that my blog posts are not the equivalent of a filtered Instagram picture, doctored up to make the scenes more elegant than they really were. If I were to write truthfully and literally of each pub experience without the historical anecdotes, each account would consist more or less of the following; ordered beer, took photo, sat quietly with my book, looked around the room soaking it in, drank the beer, walked to the next one. The actual experiences were quite introspective. All of the significance and historical background which I have added came later. When I took a photo of the George IV pub, I had no idea it had a Dickens link. It wasn’t like I turned to a stranger and said Hey, that there was the inspiration for the Magpie and Stump in Pickwick! And Ye Olde Mitre wasn’t even on my original map. I only added it because the kitchen at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was closed and Mitre was close-by and looked interesting. By this point, I had no idea what most of Dickens’ novels were even about. Pickwick Papers, in particular, would only start to take shape on Day 5. What each post is to me is the continuation of a journey. The actual trip… the physical part… lasted only five days, but I am still living and discovering it months later…

On to Day 4.

Day 4 began with a visit to the National Gallery to research my Drunken Masterpieces – National Gallery post followed by a stroll around Leicester Square and Chinatown, hardly Dickens territory. But then I kicked off my Dickensian pub crawl at a pub which has nothing to do with Dickens but whose name sparked my interest.

The Bear & Staff

Reminiscent of my logo, the emblem of The Bear & Staff is the official flag of the county of Warwickshire and the Earls of Warwick going back to the infamous “Kingmaker” Richard Neville, who used it as his signature on official documents3. It is possible that the original meaning of the two icons is lost to history. So on Day 4, I appropriated it as symbolic of the adventure that awaited me. If only there had been a blue butterfly.

A Nicholson Pale Ale at The Bear and Staff

Simpson’s Tavern

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s book, went home to bed.

Charles Dickens. “A Christmas Carol.”

One area of London linked to A Christmas Carol is a maze of small alleys and hidden courtyards in Cornhill. This is where Scrooge’s counting house would have been located. It is reasonable to assume that miserly old Scrooge’s commute was not going to require much effort, and thus his home and “usual melancholy tavern” would also have been situated nearby. To the chagrin of modern pub crawlers, the tavern is never named, but this tucked-away part of Cornhill has a couple of tantalizing and historical candidates.

Take tiny Ball Court to Simpson’s Tavern

Perhaps the most likely is Simpson’s Tavern4. This is one of the oldest chop houses in London, opening in 1757. Yet for some inexplicable reason, it is never mentioned in any of the old texts that I have consulted. Perhaps, it gets overshadowed by it’s more famous neighbor just around the corner, The George & Vulture (see below), which is another of the candidates.

Simpson’s has a little bar area which is an offshoot opposite the normal restaurant area. In the early afternoon, they were preparing to close for an afternoon break. I sat alone drinking the house ale, and I have to admit, it was quite melancholic. It gets my vote.

Simpson’s Chop House Ale
Scrooge’s viewpoint?

George & Vulture

Tucked away in the heart of the busiest part of the roaring city, overshadowed by tall, hard-looking, modern banking and insurance buildings and all but a thin strip of it hidden from view, is a veritable piece of old London.

This is the “George and Vulture,” known throughout the world as the tavern that Mr. Pickwick and his friends made their favourite city headquarters.

Bertram Waldrom Matz. “The Inns and Taverns of “Pickwick” 1921
George & Vulture

There are at least twenty-two inns mentioned in the novel Pickwick Papers2 and “many of the chief scenes are enacted within their walls.”5 The book is a collection of adventures by the Pickwick Club, four guys who would travel to and from London and recount their adventures to each other.

The very term Pickwickian Inns inspires rumination and imagination to a high degree. Remembrance is all very well, but there is a sturdy reality about most of the inns of which Dickens wrote. Thus the enthusiast may, if he so wish, in some cases, become a partaker of the same sort of comfort as did Dickens in his own time…

Francis Miltoun. “Dickens’ London” 1903

Without any evidence to back it up, it is fun to imagine that perhaps Dickens, and Pickwick Papers especially, inspired what in the future would be dubbed the pub crawl. Of course in Pickwick Papers, many of these establishments were roadside inns and therefore visited independently rather than in clusters. Nevertheless, the Pickwickian travel writing genre was launched, creating the terms Pickwickian Inns and its broader categorization Dickensian Inns with a handy list of these pub names. It is not difficult to comprehend the evolution that would morph into today’s pub crawl.

Many of them, of course, existed only in the novelist’s fertile imagination; but most of them had foundation in reality, and most of them, particularly in Pickwick, are mentioned by name and have become immortal in consequence; and were it not for the popularity of his writings, their fame in many instances would have deserted them and their glory have departed.

Bertram Waldrom Matz. “The Inns and Taverns of “Pickwick” 1921

I don’t think it is a stretch to state that Inns are as much a beloved character in a Dickens story as any human. George & Vulture has the honor of possibly being the most beloved or at least the most Dickensian of Dickensian pubs in London. It’s “immortal” status perhaps also makes it more exclusive, only being open to the public until 2:30pm. I arrived a little late, but fortunately the hostess was quite sympathetic and friendly and allowed me to take a quick tour of the main dining room taking pictures (as long as they didn’t include the guests who were still eating their lunch). Amongst other Dickensiana, there is a copy of Dickens’ life insurance policy and a Dickens bust on display.

Dickens’ life insurance policy
The famous Dickens bust
Part of the charming Victorian interior

A short walk from Cornhill later…

Monument to the Great Fire of 1666

…my favourite lounging-place in the interval was old London Bridge, where I was wont to sit in one of the stone recesses, watching the people going by, or to look over the balustrades at the sun shining in the water, and lighting up the golden flame on the top of the Monument.

Charles Dickens. “David Copperfield.” Chapter 11
The Monument to the Great Fire of London

Tower of London

We varied the legal character of these proceedings by going to see some perspiring Wax-work, in Fleet Street (melted, I should hope, these twenty years); and by visiting Miss Linwood’s Exhibition, which I remember as a Mausoleum of needlework, favourable to self-examination and repentance; and by inspecting the Tower of London; and going to the top of St. Paul’s. All these wonders afforded Peggotty as much pleasure as she was able to enjoy…

Charles Dickens. “David Copperfield.” Chapter 33

Peggotty is the beloved ex-maid of David’s late mother, who David finds himself able to help later in his life with a legal matter. If there is one site in London to show someone, I would agree that the Tower of London would be high on the list. I have toured the interior of it three times and it never ceases to impress me.

Tower of London from the south bank of the Thames

And yes there is a Tower of London beer.

Continuing on past the Tower of London, I came to Whitechapel.

The Artful Dodger

…he had a rather flightly and dissolute mode of conversing, and furthermore avowed that among his intimate friends he was better known by the sobriquet of ‘The Artful Dodger,’…

Charles Dickens. “Oliver Twist.” Chapter VIII

Jack Hawkins, known as The Artful Dodger, was the leader of a gang of child criminals in Oliver Twist. The pub which bears the name is a bare bones pub for locals. There is nothing of value here for the Dickens or beer tourist, not even a special beer to at least make it tempting. I am sure it is a fine establishment otherwise. Looking at the outside, it is not hard to imagine that the pub had its day in the sun many years ago. Thanks to the name, I don’t have the heart to exclude it.

The Artful Dodger (and reflection of yours truly)

Jack the Ripper Side Visits

You can’t think of the name Whitechapel and not think of Jack the Ripper. The Ripper killings happened in 1888, eighteen years after Dickens’ death, so there is no link there. But if you made it this far, you might as well have a stop at two nearby Ripper-related sites.

Jack the Ripper Museum

When I first saw this building, I thought for sure that this was a low brow establishment trying to cash in on the Jack the Ripper lore. However, after having read about it later, in retrospect I was wrong. At the time, I should have known the two historical blue plaque markers made it a bit more legitimate.

Jack the Ripper Museum

The Brown Bear

Another pub name which caught my attention randomly; this was not on my original map. I stopped in for a quick look, but didn’t stay. As it turns out, this pub was featured in one of my favorite Victorian Era TV series’ called Ripper Street6. If I had known that then, there would be a beer picture following this paragraph.

The Brown Bear

After the stint in Whitechapel, I crossed over the Thames on the Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. It is included here because of its fame and the oddity that it is a landmark that you would assume is old enough to have existed during Dickens’ life, but it did not. Alas, Jack the Ripper would have gotten a look at it though.

Tower Bridge

Jacob’s Island / Folly Ditch

In such a neighborhood, beyond Dockhead in the Borough of Southwark, stands Jacob’s Island, surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep and fifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known in the days of this story as Folly Ditch. It is a creek or inlet from the Thames…

Crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud, and threatening to fall into it—as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations; every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage; all these ornament the banks of Folly Ditch.

Charles Dickens. “Oliver Twist.” Chapter L

Jacob’s Island was a neighborhood of slums which existed in Dickens’ day. It was featured in Oliver Twist and was where the character and villain Bill Sikes died. Today it is comprised of trendy apartments and businesses. Fortunately for Oliver Twist fans, the mud and slime still exist.

Folly Ditch
Trendy apartments now exist on Jacob’s Island

Oliver Twist Blue Plaque / St. Saviour’s Church

The steps to which the girl had pointed, were those which, on the Surrey bank, and on the same side of the bridge as Saint Saviour’s Church, form a landing-stairs from the river. To this spot, the man bearing the appearance of a countryman, hastened unobserved; and after a moment’s survey of the place, he began to descend.

Charles Dickens. “Oliver Twist.” Chapter XLVI

The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom; but the forest of shipping below bridge, and the thickly scattered spires of churches above, were nearly all hidden from sight.

Charles Dickens. “Oliver Twist.” Chapter XLVI
St. Saviour’s Church (from the Nancy death scene in Oliver Twist)

The Anchor Bankside

Dickens was not noted to have visited The Anchor, but the Anchor in its various permutations has been around for about 800 years. Being on the south side of the Thames, it survived the Great Fire of London in 16667. It’s location also associates it with Shakespeare and The Globe Theater as it would have been a popular pub in those times. The pub is right along the Thames and has views of Cannon St. Bridge and Southwark Bridge as well as the dome of St. Paul. This was the best pub of the day, hands down.

The Anchor, Bankside
A tasty Ice Breaker Pale Ale while checking out the views from The Anchor

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

Before there was Dickens, there was Shakespeare. The Beer & literary figure possibilities seem endless in London.

Following the Globe, I continued my walk across the Millenium Bridge and eventually to Blackfriars station bringing my Dickensian day to a close.

Closing Words Day 4

What is it that has absorbed me into this Dickensiana? Why did something that lay previously in the distant periphery of my soul suddenly awaken as I have described these experiences. What made me choose Dickens in the first place? Maybe I am coming under the influence of this culte of Dickens that sprung up following his death in 1870. Perhaps there is some inherent weakness in an American’s cultural genetics that makes us more susceptible to its lure. At least that’s what books hint at. Books which remark that Americans at Dickens sites “constitute by far the majority of visitors.”1 or what appear to be subtle insults like this one about Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where “all good Americans repair to sit, if possible, in the chair which was once graced (?) by the presence of the garrulous doctor (Dr. Samuel Johnson), or to buy alleged pewter tankards”2. In other words, “good” Americans are the corny, over-enthusiastic tourist buying cheap trinkets.

Famous Dickens critic G.K. Chesterton once remarked about Dickens’ writing as this “gigantesque scale of literary architecture, huge and yet curiously cosy, is characteristic of his spirit, fond of size and yet fond of comfort.”8 Chesterton later says “This ideal of comfort belongs peculiarly to England; it belongs peculiarly to Christmas; above all it belongs pre-eminently to Dickens.” Whether you are reading about the plight of an orphan, the awakening of a heartless old miser, or the frailties of London society, that enjoyment, in my opinion, is not necessarily only because of memorable characters, plots and good writing (although they exist). Imagine that feeling you get when you think of the coziest of cosy pubs, the warm friendly quirky interior, the wooden tables, maybe a fireplace, a colorful row of taps, perhaps the lilt of local music in the air, choose whatever rustic or vintage decor in whatever country you want. That little unexplainable and intangible comfort that wells up inside you is the fundamental essence of Dickens.

Map of Day 4

Map Key:

  • Yellow: A site or pub with a Dickens link or a strong anecdotal link
  • Black: A site or pub which does not have a Dickens link
  • Purple: A highly recommended pub which does not have a Dickens link
  • Red: A site or pub with a Dickens link which I missed and would like to have included.

References

  1. “A Week’s Tramp in Dickens-Land” William R. Hughes (1891)
  2. “Dickens’ London” Francis Miltoun (1903)
  3. Flag of Warwickshire Wikipedia
  4. https://www.historyhit.com/locations/simpsons-tavern/
  5. “Inns and Taverns of Pickwick” B.W. Matz (1921)
  6. The Brown Bear pub website
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anchor,_Bankside
  8. G. K. Chesterton. “Charles Dickens: A critical study.”
M.G.G.P.

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