The George is London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn. It stands on the south side of the River Thames near London Bridge, for centuries this was the only bridge across the river. The George was rebuilt in 1676, after a devastating fire swept Southwark. The George is tucked away in a cobbled courtyard just off Borough High Street. The ground floor is divided into several connecting bars. There’s a wealth of pretty lattice windows and oak beams. The Parliament Bar was the waiting room for coachmen and passengers and has a rare Parliament clock. The Middle Bar was the Coffee Room, a haunt of Charles Dickens. The bedchambers (now the restaurant) were in the galleried part. The gallery design provides both access and light, as the back walls would have been crammed against other buildings. The George Inn is one of London’s greatest treasures, how wonderful it would have been if it had survived intact.
It was one of many such inns in the area, perhaps the most famous being the Tabard, where Chaucer began his ‘Canterbury Tales’ in 1388. The Tabard too was rebuilt after the fire, but was demolished in the late 19th century, despite a public outcry. The George also narrowly avoided total destruction. Coaching inns declined as the railways advanced. The Great Northern Railway used the George as a depot and pulled down two of its fronts to build warehousing, leaving just the south face. It is now in the safe hands of the National Trust.