No fewer than 40 pubs in Britain reference Shakespeare’s name; a badge of honour the Bard would probably have been proud of! With drinking references liberally scattered throughout his plays, I think we can safely assume that, like many of his contemporaries, Shakespeare enjoyed a drink or 2...
And would you believe you can still find places that he actually frequented! Raise a glass in these ancient watering holes, and you might just get a flash of inspiration like the Bard himself...
1. The George Inn, London
“Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety” – Henry V
Shakespeare lived in the southeast London borough of Southwark for 10 years so you can bet the next round that he stopped in at The George, which was also an Elizabethan inn-yard theatre, so there’s a good chance he played here too.
The George is London’s last remaining galleried inn, one of 8 rambling coaching inns that used to pack the east side of Borough High Street. The best description of galleried inns comes from another great wordsmith who was a regular at The George too – Charles Dickens: “Great, rambling, queer, old places, with galleries, and passages, and stair-cases, wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories” (The Pickwick Papers).
The original inn burned down in 1677 and was quickly rebuilt to the original plans. Nowadays The George is owned by the National Trust to protect its heritage, but both Shakespeare and Dickens (and Chaucer, Churchill and Princess Margaret) would still recognise it.
2. The Bell Inn, Welford on Avon, Warwickshire
“Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me” – Julius Caesar
Ignore the misleadingly named Shakespeare Inn in the south of this pretty village in a loop of the River Avon in the heart of England, and head to The Bell Inn. The 17th-century pub’s exposed beams, pocked flagstone floors and open fireplaces make it easy to picture Shakespeare drinking here with none other than fellow playwright Ben Jonson. Which he actually did before getting caught in a rainstorm on his way home, coming down with a fever and shuffling off this mortal coil (we can’t be sure that the drinking, the soaking and the illness are related).
It’s an unhappy tale, but the food here will help lift your spirits: The Bell was named the best dining pub in Warwickshire in the 2016 Good Pub Guide. Oh, and the village boasts England’s tallest maypole and one of Warwickshire’s most photographed streets: Boat Lane, home to what is reputedly the original ‘chocolate-box cottage’.
3. The Windmill, Stratford-upon-Avon
“Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people” - Henry VIIIhenry
A carved inscription on an oak beam inside The Windmill reads: "This house was built in 1599 and became an Ale House a year later." I can’t make any promises but that plus the fact that it’s a 2-minute walk from Shakespeare’s last home, New Place, is a reasonable indicator that Shakespeare drank here.
If you’ve any doubt about the pub’s Shakespeare credentials, check the plaque on its walls: “The Windmill says, Welcome friends! I've been an inn for more than 350 years. While Will Shakespeare was writing his immortal plays some of his fellow townsmen were enjoying their favourite drink here. They must have enjoyed his company, too, for he lived only a hundred yards away and the home of his daughter, Susanna Hall, was round the corner in Old Town. The Welcome at the Windmill is as cordial now as it was in the poet's day.” If only walls really could talk!
4. Shakespeare’s Tree, Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
“Why, sir, for my part I say the gentleman had drunk himself out of his five senses.” – The Merry Wives of Windsor
Follow Shakespeare’s example and mix a fine ale or 2 with the great outdoors. Once upon a time, Shakespeare and a merry band of Stratford locals tried to outdrink a Bidford drinking club. Well-oiled, the Bard fell asleep under a tree. When prevailed upon to rejoin the drinking session the next morning he refused in suitably dramatic fashion: “No I have drunk with Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston, Haunted Hillboro’, Hungry Grafton, Dodging Exhall, Papist Wixford, Beggarly Broom and Drunken Bidford and so, presumably, I will drink no more."
Find Shakespeare’s Tree, a descendant of the very crab apple tree that sheltered a severely hungover Shakespeare – be warned, it’s notoriously tricky to locate – and settle in for a picnic. I advise you not to follow the Bard’s example and go on a pub crawl to the other villages he’d already visited though…