The Pubs Of Charles Dickens

M@
By M@
The Pubs Of Charles Dickens

The novels of Charles Dickens are steeped in booze. Pubs and inns are everywhere. In the early pages of Oliver Twist, we learn that 'every other house' in Barnet is a pub of some kind. The Pickwick Papers, meanwhile, is one magnificent pub crawl masquerading as literature.

But which pubs should you visit to best channel the great author?

Pubs mentioned by Dickens

Yup, these are Czech beers, but nobody will notice. Except you. Damn you.
Image Shutterstock

Dickens was a discerning fellow when it came to his settings. Not once, in any of his novels, does he mention a London train station by name. Buckingham Palace gets no acknowledgement. None of his characters visit the South Bank or Bankside. Most of them do visit the pub at some point.

Mr Pickwick and his friends are seldom out of their cups. Many of the hostelries are outside London. Others, such as the Golden Cross in Charing Cross or the White Hart in Borough are long gone. One place you can still visit, however, is the George and Vulture (3 Castle Court, EC3V 9DL) — or the George and Wulture, as the Wellers call it. This ancient City pub, now a chop room, has origins in the 13th century, and was a favourite of Dickens. Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller stayed in rooms above the pub throughout much of the second half of the novel.

The Pickwickians also pay a visit to the Spaniard's Inn, (Spaniards Road London NW3 7JJ) north of Hampstead. This historic pub, with a spurious connection to Dick Turpin, still harbours one of London's finest beer gardens, though be prepared for a bit of a trek from Hampstead tube.

Spaniards_inn
Image Mike Quinn, creative commons licence

The best known pub in Dickens is perhaps The Grapes in Limehouse (76 Narrow Street, E14 8BP). Large sections of Our Mutual Friend take place at this riverside pub, thinly disguised as the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. The place retains its olde worlde feel. The long, narrow bar with almost zero natural lighting can feel like a time machine in the depths of winter.

The Boot (116 Cromer Street, WC1H 8BS) south of King's Cross is the chief assembly point for the anti-Catholic Gordon rioters in Barnaby Rudge. Dickens describes the agitators waking up in the fields around the pub with killer hangovers. It still trades as The Boot today, and is a characterful Irish bar.

The Boot pub
The Boot.

Finally, the George Inn in Borough is affectionately known as Shakespeare's local, but it also has Dickensian connections. The famed coaching inn gets a brief mention in Little Dorrit, when Mr Tip pops in to write a begging letter. The pub today is a fine old congeries of wonky rooms, though its inclusion in every tourist guidebook can make for a cramped experience.

Pubs inspired by Dickens

Dickens Inn, St Katharine Docks

Until recently, London had two pubs named directly after the master. The rather good Charles Dickens pub on Union Street, Southwark is now a nouveau-Irish bar, leaving just the Dickens Inn at St Katharine Docks (Marble Quay, E1W 1UH). This unique wood-framed boozer looks like it's been serving pints for centuries. While the building is 18th century, it's a modern conversion. Dickens would not have drank here unless he'd broken into a warehouse with a hip flask.

A handful of pubs have appropriated the names of Dickens characters. We're rather fond of the Betsey Trotwood (56 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3BL). This live music venue, named after David Copperfield's great aunt, has a cosy, intimate feel to it. We have no idea why it adopted this name; the redoubtable Ms Trotwood has no links to the area.

The Artful Dodger (47 Royal Mint Street, E1 8LG) is a proper East End boozer, with impressive bay windows and a traditional carpeted interior. The famous pickpocket from Oliver Twist never visits the area, though the tragic Nancy had lodgings in nearby Ratcliffe. The pub name would better suit the One Tun on Saffron Hill, on the site of Fagin's den.

Finally, head to Stroud Green for a pint at the Nicholas Nickleby (6-8 Ferme Park Road, N4 4ED), which Google Maps describes as 'enduring old-school local pub with darts'.

Please Sir, I want some more...

Dickens and booze are intimately linked. Every hoary pub in central London claims his custom, and who could prove them wrong? He certainly supped at the George, and the George and Vulture. Several other pubs have strong claims. Strung together, they would make a very handsome pub crawl.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Image Shutterstock

The most 'Dickensian' of all pubs is surely Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU). This warren of a building is so well known as hardly need an introduction. Expect panelled rooms, roaring fires, traditional English fare and a complete dearth of natural light.

Another charming pub, habitually described as 'Dickensian' though Elizabethan in origin, is Ye Olde Mitre (1 Ely Court, EC1N 6SJ). Guide books well tell you that this is the most difficult-to-find pub in London — it lurks down an alley through a narrow arch. In reality, it's well signposted and well frequented.

Bloomsbury's The Lamb (94 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LZ) has a classic Victorian interior of dark wood and etched-glass panels. A recent refurbishment has perhaps erased a little of the old-world charm, but not fatally so. Dickens would most likely have visited while living round the corner on Doughty Street.

Lamb and Flag interior

Dickens is claimed by another ovine pub, the Lamb and Flag (33 Rose Street, WC2E 9EB) in Covent Garden. The author cut his teeth as a journalist working nearby. Much of the Victorian interior survives, enlivened by some rather strange modern murals on the stairs.

Images by M@ unless otherwise stated. Unwitting hand and nose model in the crappy Photoshop at the top: Dave Haste.

Last Updated 07 February 2019

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