Above: A modern view of the George Inn.
Today’s pub stands on the site of one of 12 inns for which some evidence remains today that once stood in Borough High Street. It is number 3 of the 12.
The earliest record of the existence of the George Inn is shown on the Map of Southwark, dated 1542 where the location of the inn is to be seen along with its name as ‘The George’. According to Lillywhite (‘London Signs’, n7031 p210), the first documented mention was in 1554 when it belonged to a Mr Colet who represented Southwark in Parliament. At that time it was known as St George and the Dragon, but the words ‘Saint’ and ‘Dragon’ both disappeared in Cromwellian times because the Puritans, although they tolerated taverns, abhorred saints as savouring of Popery.
John Taylor, in his ‘Carriers’ Cosmographie’ (1637) states – “Carriers of Guildford, Wannish, Goudhurst and Chiddington in Surrey; Battle, Sindrich and Hastings in Sussex; come every Thursday”. A few years later, the inn was destroyed by the Southwark Fire of 1676 and a new inn opened in 1677 on the same site. What little remains of the inn today dates from that time.
For the next 100 years, it was a noteworthy coaching inn. It was built around a courtyard, with only the south side now remaining. This structure is of three storeys and an attic with wood dormers in a tiled roof, the walls being partly of brick and partly timber-framed.
The western half has two ranges of galleries on the first and second floors, the lower one being supported on cantilever beams and the upper one and roof with weather-boarded parapet, on wooden Doric columns which divide each gallery into six bays. The wall behind the galleries is partly of brick and partly timber with pegged posts and a flush face. It has windows overlooking the galleries, and openings at the eastern end giving access to the staircase.
The eastern half of what remains of the buildings today is mainly of lime-washed brickwork with brick string-courses below and above the first-floor windows. The rear of the long building faces south. It is of brick and has a large projecting chimney stack with tiled weatherings to its diminishing stages. The base of the chimney is where the large fire in the kitchen would have been situated.
The George Inn is listed in the index to John Rocque’s large scale map (1746) under inns as well as the outline of the inn yard being clearly shown on the map. During the 18th century, horses, carriers’ carts and coaches used the inn as a London terminus. The schedule included four coaches each day bound for Maidstone; two per day for Canterbury and Dover; and one every day to Brighton and Hastings.
The ‘George Inn, Borough’ is mentioned in a guide book called ‘Leigh’s New Picture of London, published during the 1820s. It is a ‘List of the principal Inns at which Mail and Stage Coaches put up in London’.
An old advertising card from about 1830 states that coaches set out from the George Inn to — “Maidstone, Malling and Wrotham, four times a day. – Folkestone, Hythe and Ashford, 6 every morning; Mon., Wed., and Sat. evening. – Tenterden, Cranbrook and Staplehurst, Sun., Tues., and Thurs. mor [morning] – Wateringbury, Teston and Mereworth, daily. Brenchley, Matfield Green, and Peckham, Tue., Wed, and Sat afternoon – Deal, Dover, Margate, Ramsgate, and Canterbury, twice a day – Rochester, Chatham, and Gravesend, four times a day. Orpington, St. Mary Cray, Chiselhurst, and Eltham, Mon., Wed, Sat. afternoon – Hastings, Boxhill, Battle, Robertsbridge, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge, Sevenoaks, Worthing, Horsham, Dorking, Brighton, Cuckfield and Reigate, daily.”
John Tallis’s ‘London Views’ (1838) lists the inn between Nos 69 and 71 Borough High Street and shows an outline drawing of the entrance to the inn as seen from the street. In 1849 the premises were sold by the heirs of the last private owner of the George Inn to the Governors of Guy’s Hospital who resold it in 1874.
The George was also the depot for several goods wagons to the south-east of England. In the middle of the 19th century, the Great Eastern Railway Company opened an office in rooms on the north side of the inn yard. In 1855 a report on the condition of the premises shows that Messrs Beeman and Hotchkins who were hop merchants and also the Great Northern Railway Company occupied most of the buildings on the north side of the yard, Messrs Evans and Company, also hop merchants, had rooms at the east end of the south side, and the George Inn proper was at the west end of the south side. Most of the east end of the yard was then occupied by stabling.
In 1874 the President and Governors of Guy’s Hospital, having walled off the eastern portion of the yard for incorporation in the hospital premises, sold the remainder of the property to the Great Northern Railway Company who pulled down the buildings on the north side. Fortunately, those on the south side were preserved.
Above: A view of the George Inn, taken in 1896. In the distance, there is a low arch leading into a second yard. The large timber beam near the top of the view spanned the yard and was in use to support the galleried structure.
In 1937 the London and North Eastern Railway Company made a deed of gift of the old inn building to the National Trust. The address is 73-75 Borough High Street, SE1. It stands at George Inn Yard, on the east side of Borough High Street. What little of the original building was left, escaped the bombing. It is the last remaining galleried coaching inn still standing within the whole of Inner London.
During the 1950s and the 1960s, there was a large loading bay with a raised level surface to aid loading heavy goods onto the back of vans and lorries. The bay was on the west side of the courtyard. During the summer months, the bay was used as a makeshift stage and plays by Shakespeare were enjoyed by a large audience who mainly stood in the open air. That all came to a halt when the bay was removed and additional offices were built on the site. The George has a pub and restaurant which is as popular as ever with the tourists and also with the locals who, mainly on Friday and Saturday evenings, still flock to the venue.