THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
What the Dickens? – Part III (A Tale of a Couple of Cities)
We last left the young Cask Whisperer kipping on the beach at Broadstairs, plotting his escape from the Medway Towns.
University would certainly offer an opportunity to get well away from home and the ever-ominous optimistic presence of Charles Dickens, but where was safe?
Swansea and Edinburgh were the two top contenders, and it was an exploratory trip to the latter that sealed the deal.
Stepping off the train at Waverley Station, I was immediately blasted in the face by the pungent smell of brewing… Auld Reekie was going to be my home for the next three years.
It was an uneventful ten-minute walk to my lodgings at Drummond Place in Edinburgh’s New Town, and after settling in, I decided to scope out the local boozers and check out the nearest high-point at Calton Hill to get my bearings, blissfully unaware that I was walking by the birthplace (on Hart Street) and childhood home (in Albany Street) of Catherine Hogarth, wife of you-know-who.
Dickens had visited Drummond Place as well, in 1841 as the guest of his friend Patrick Robertson, the Advocate. Once again, we walked the same streets and alleyways.
I found plenty of pubs on my short walk, including the homely (in the English sense) Mather’s on nearby Broughton Street, which had several water engines (the Scots version of the handpump) on the bar, serving real ale in the form of Youngers IPA. Mathers would become my local hangout for the entire three years that I lived in Edinburgh, although not my only one.
There is no mention of any specific taverns that Dickens may have visited during his two-week trip, but I suspect that he would have at least checked out one, if not all, of the three historic pubs in the Grassmarket; The Last Drop, The Beehive and The White Hart.
Most of my classes were in the Heriot-Watt University computer science building which was right across the cobblestone street from all three, and I would inevitably venture over to one or the others for a lunchtime Scotch Pie, beans, and beer; Tennants usually, as there was no real ale in any of them at the time.
If I was just up for a pint, Bennets was close enough and served an excellent Belhaven 70/-.
Edinburgh is still one of my favorite cities, and top of my list for a revisit, should I ever cross back over the pond again. I went there as a real ale dabbler but returned down south as a full-on raving CAMRA nutjob advocate.
After three years of enjoying myself way too much, it was time to return to reality and get a real job, and London was where all the software houses were, in my case, Bloomsbury. So, I returned to Strood and began the daily commute to Charing Cross (or sometimes Waterloo or London Bridge).
Wouldn’t you know it; before even reaching the office on my first day of gainful employment, all signs in its neighborhood were pointing to the Dickens House Museum right around the corner on Doughty Street.
My first pint in Bloomsbury was a Courage Directors Ale in the Blue Lion on Grays Inn Road, which backed on to the Dickens House with just a small mews alleyway separating the two buildings.
My regular haunt however was the Lamb on Lambs Conduit Street, just a couple of blocks in the opposite direction: a traditional basic pub but with intricate carved glass snob screens on the bar, a substantial sausage sandwich, and superb pints of Youngs Ordinary and Special. There is no mention of Dickens using the pub, but it was there, and he was there, and it would have been exactly the sort of pub that he would have felt at home in.
He did frequent the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden though, as did I when walking back to Charing Cross.
He also seemed to spend a lot of time in the Cheshire Cheese just off of Fleet Street, as did I whenever I went to meet up with friends in the city or walk through to London Bridge station instead of Charing Cross. A very atmospheric place much larger than it first appears, and a Sam Smiths outlet these days, but a rare outpost for Marston’s Pedigree in my time. Dickens gives it a mention in Tale of Two Cities.
One other regular haunt that I shared with Dickens during those commuting days was the George Inn, the last of the old coaching inns on Borough High Street, close enough to London Bridge to make it an easy stumble. Greene King Abbot Ale and Whitbread (Marlow) aka Wethered’s IPA were the beers of choice for me, Dickens would have probably had a glass of wine or two before getting on the stagecoach to Rochester. It gets a passing mention in Little Dorrit.
Eventually, I got a little fed up with the commute and decided to move into London itself; it was up north in Stoke Newington, midway between the Arsenal and Spurs grounds, not a good place to be walking around wearing my West Ham scarf, and I didn’t.
Moving into the city gave me much more freedom to explore its pubs, and I took full advantage, crossing paths with Dickens haunts and mentions in my incessant search for real ale.
From Spaniards (Pickwick Papers) on Hampstead Heath in the northwest, to the Grapes in Limehouse and the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping to the east (both candidates for the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters in Our Mutual Friend), to the Cittie of Yorke (Barnaby Rudge) and the Olde Mitre (none, but it deserves an honorable mention) in the middle bit. Not to mention Dirty Dicks… we will not mention Dirty Dicks.
More happy times, but eventually London got too small for the Cask Whisperer, there was only one thing that could be done…
Please check back next week as our intrepid heroes head for the colonies.
Scorecard w/e 08/15/23
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:
- Barrier Simple: Lager @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Threes Tiny Montgomery Summer @ Jones Wood Foundry
And remembered the following casks:
- Youngers IPA @ Mathers
- Belhaven 70/- @ Bennets Bar
- Courage Directors Ale @ The Blue Lion
- Youngs Ordinary Bitter @ The Lamb
- Youngs Special Bitter @ The Lamb
- Marstons Pedigree @ Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
- Greene King Abbot Ale @ The George Inn
- Whitbread (Wethereds) IPA @ The George Inn
Upcoming Cask Festivals
09/09/2023: 8th Annual Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Fest
* I have my ticket for the 2:00pm session.