|Officially out on 8 November, you might get it a few days earlier if you pre-order on Amazon.|
I'm also overwhelmed that BBC Radio 4 has chosen the book to be Book of the Week for week commencing 17th December. The week before Christmas, there'll be an abridged 15-minute reading from the book each day of the week. For a book that we all hope will make a nice gift, it couldn't be better timing. I'm waiting to hear who will be doing the reading!
I'm lining up more dates when I'll be reading it at various events around the UK. Additional ones will be announced shortly. In Ilkley a couple of weeks ago I debuted an illustrated, scripted hour-long talk about the pub and the book, which seemed to go down very well, and I'm looking forward to polishing and refining this over the next few weeks.
The only problem with the talk is I need it to be 45 minutes long and I got cut off, nowhere near the end, after an hour. This is a common problem for me: I overwrite. My two previous books were 50% too long. The first time I tried to cut words out of Hops & Glory, I actually managed to increase the word count by 5000.
I wasn't nearly as bad with Shakespeare's Local - five opinion columns a month for the last couple of years has taught me to write to length much better, but there were still a few flabby bits. And while this is a book that is based on the principle of pub-style conversational digression, some of these digression, while interesting, were taking us too far away from the main thread for too long.
To whet your appetite for the book, I wanted to post one of those here. The George Inn, the subject of Shakespeare's Local, was for much of its existence within spitting distance of the famous Anchor Brewery, and in my first draft I ended up writing a detailed history of that brewery, most of which has rightly been edited out of the finished book.
My favourite story from this history is about what happened when a murderous authoritarian bastard turned up for a brewery tour and got more than he bargained for from the good people of Southwark. This story is still in the book, but it was originally about twice the length, so in the hopes of whetting your appetite, here's the full length version.
A bit of background: the Anchor brewery, now better known as Barclay Perkins, was so vast and successful that it had become one of the most famous breweries in the world. It was a tourist attraction regularly visited by heads of state - among others...
By 1810 the Anchor Brewery was churning out a whopping 235,000 barrels a year. Victorian authors couldn’t resist pouring the brewery’s celebrated porter into their books. There are many references to Barclay's beer in the novels of Charles Dickens, for example: In The Old Curiosity Shop Dick Swiveller claimed that there was ‘a spell in every drop against the ills of mortality’, and in David Copperfield Mr Micawber had a job at the brewery in mind when he was ‘waiting for something to turn up.’
Although heavily damaged by fire in 1832, the brewery was impressively rebuilt and thereafter became a notable London tourist attraction. Dr William Rendle commented: ‘Except perhaps the very centres of government and trade, no spot in London might so worthily excite feelings of curiosity and wonder as these few acres.’ Nineteenth century visitors included the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), Napoleon III, and Otto von Bismarck. But in 1850, one visitor was given a reception that fell somewhat short of traditional British hospitality.
In 1848, political revolution swept through Europe as people started demanding troublesome things like democracy, basic human rights, and freedom from tyranny. One such revolution happened in Hungary, where the populace rose up and demanded independence from Austrian rule. They almost achieved it until Austria called in Russia’s help, quashed the uprising and received the formal surrender of Hungary’s thirteen top generals, who were then executed by the Austrian Marshal Haynau. Haynau hated the revolutionary cause, so he had no problem with overriding the conventions of war and butchering officers who had surrendered in good faith. He went on to hang well over a hundred people, despite orders to show leniency from his superiors and outrage from the international community. Neither did Haynau have a problem with flogging women: he brutally put down an uprising in the Lombard city of Brescia, leaving maimed and wounded men lying in the streets. He ordered that any women going to the aid of the wounded should be whipped. Even his own army hated him. A former commander of his wrote that Haynau ‘knows the rules of military service but seeks glory in sharpening those rules so that he could proceed against men he doesn’t like. These men he torments with calculating hatred… Because of his moral failings everybody in contact with him wishes to see him go, for no one likes to be in his company on military service.’
When the army finally succeeded in getting rid of Haynau, he decided to do a bit of travelling. This was to prove a bad idea for possibly the most hated man in Europe. After narrowly avoiding being lynched when he was recognised in Brussels, he came to England and on 4th September 1850, paid a visit to Barclay Perkins with an aide de camp and a translator.
Accounts about what exactly happened next are mixed and conflicting. An eyewitness account in the London Daily News the next morning said that ‘a rather unusual crowd’ had gathered outside the brewery gates, because word had spread that Haynau was inside. When he emerged, after being ‘entertained with surprising forbearance by those who task it was to receive his visit’, he was greeted by a chorus of boos and hisses from the assembled crowd. ‘The gallant woman flogger looked about him in evident surprise,’ writes our correspondent, ‘forgetting probably that he is now in a land which, with all its faults, bestows on its citizens the privilege of free thoughts and speech, and teaches them to denounce the tyrannies of a butcher like Haynau.’ When the writer left the scene, the marshal was being followed down the street by the mob and he eventually took refuge in a stable yard.
But directly below this is another account ‘from other sources’, which is far more sensationalist and dramatic. Perhaps inevitably, it is this unattributed account that was picked up and repeated word for word by newspapers across the country the following day.
According to this source, the three visitors arrived, one of them sporting very long moustaches, and signed the visitors’ book before being escorted across the yard for the start of the tour. The brewery clerks looked at the book, and saw that the fellow with the long ‘tache was none other than Marshal Haynau. Word spread around the brewery in less than two minutes, and ‘before the general and his companions had crossed the yard nearly all the labourers and draymen ran out with brooms and dirt, shouting out “Down with the Austrian butcher,” and other epithets of rather an alarming nature to the marshal.’ The men gathered around him as he was inspecting the mash tun, continuing to hurl abuse. And when one man dropped a bale of straw on his head, this acted as a signal for a more physical attack. Haynau was flogged with brooms so hard that one broke across his back. His clothes were torn from him. His companions ‘defended themselves manfully’, but the brave marshal fled, only to find that the aforementioned mob had gathered in the street outside. They surrounded him and dragged him down the street by the moustache. A woman threw a pair of scissors out a window to cut off his famous whiskers. He tried hiding in a dustbin, but was dragged out of it by the beard. He was pelted and struck ‘with every available missile’. And worst of all, some cad ‘struck his hat over his eyes’. Finally, he managed to run and hide… in the George.
Imagine my surprise and delight, dear reader, upon discovering that the George Inn had a starring role in this caper. Imagine my incredulity that no previous chronicler of the old inn had placed this account front and centre in their work. And imagine my inconsolable grief when I read: ‘He ran in a frantic manner along Bankside until he came to the George public-house where finding the doors open he rushed in and proceeded upstairs into one of the bedrooms, to the utter astonishment of Mrs Benfield, the landlady’.
The George Inn isn’t on Bankside (though if you Google ‘George Inn Bankside’ you do get our George). And the George Inn never had a landlady called Mrs Benfield. But census data from 1851 shows Mr and Mrs Benfield running the George public house on Bankside.
There was another George in Borough. Right next to the Anchor on Bankside.
And it was in this George that the ‘Hyena of Brescia’, the ‘Hangman of Arad’, frightened Mrs Benfield (“I thought he was a madman”), asked Mr Benfield for a brandy via his translator (“I’ll be damned if he have any brandy here!”) and cowered in a bedroom until Inspector Squires of the Southwark police came to rescue him, borrowed one of Mr Benfield’s old hats in a lame attempt to disguise him, and rowed him across the Thames in a police boat to the safety of Somerset House, jeered by the crowds on Bankside.
|How the Illustrated London News covered the brave Marshal's retreat.|
The public flogging of the Austrian Butcher instantly became both an international incident and a touchstone for the emerging class warfare of the Victorian era. The Austrian ambassador demanded an apology. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, refused, defending the brewery men whom he felt ‘were just expressing their feelings at what they considered inhuman conduct by a man who was looked upon as a great moral criminal.’ Only after the intervention of a furious Queen Victoria was a more conciliatory letter sent, but the Austrians remained so offended that they sent no representative to the Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852.
The day after breaking the story, the editorial in the Daily News read:
We rejoice that he escaped without serious injury, but we do also sincerely rejoice that such a manifestation of British feeling, so honest, so popular, and so spontaneous, as well as so energetic, goes forth to the world of Europe to mark in what estimation the deeds of Austria in Hungary are regarded by the intelligent of our industrious classes.
The Morning Post, however, took another view. ‘There can be but one feeling in the breast of every Englishman worthy the name, as to the outrage perpetrated on the Baron the other day at the brewery of Messrs Barclay and Perkins,’ it thundered. The mob that accosted him on the street was ‘reinforced by the all the choicest specimens of the rascalry of the Borough’, who shouted things to the poor man ‘which are wont to garnish the conversation of low Liberals.’ Yes, the whole thing was a left-wing plot, because ‘British Liberalism is determined, as far as it can, to divest Great Britain of its long-standing reputation for hospitality.’ The paper expressed its hope that that nice Mr Haynau wouldn’t judge us all by the standards of those ‘dastardly ruffians who assaulted him in the Borough’.
The Times also expressed the view that the whole thing must have been a leftist conspiracy. Why, we were talking about stupid brewery workers, the thick working classes. Ignoring the steady rise of both the international workers’ movement and the tales of woe told by terrorised Hungarian refugees who, like all refugees, had settled safely in Southwark, the Times believed that these people were too stupid and ignorant to have even known who the Marshal was without the sinister organising influence of ‘foreigners’ – a euphemism at the time for socialists.
The Standard pointed out that Haynau’s greatest injury was to his pride. He escaped the flogging with no serious physical injuries, despite being dragged through the street. If the crowd had meant him serious harm, as the right-wing press claimed, they ‘had the opportunity of inflicting serious injury, and they that they did not inflict any such injury, is proof that they designed none.’
A week later, a public meeting of the ‘National Democrats’ was held at Farringdon Hall, for the purpose of celebrating ‘the noble conduct of the workmen employed at Barclay and Perkins brewery, in having given expression to the feeling of detestation felt towards the assassin and woman-flogger, Haynau, by all true Englishmen’.
Hundreds were turned away because the room was so crowded, and there were even ‘a sprinkling of women present’. The Italian Marsellaise was sung by some Hungarian refugees. Messages of solidarity were received from as far afield as Paris and New York. At one point, the crowd was addressed by Friedrich ‘Citizen’ Engels, a man delightfully described in the report of the meeting as ‘one who has fought for freedom in many lands, and wore a long beard’.
Fourteen years later, when the Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi visited England, he insisted on going to Barclay Perkins to thank personally ‘the men who flogged Haynau’.
Even the lovely Dr William Rendle, a man so kind-hearted he hardly killed anyone in all his years as a surgeon, remember, said it was ‘a cruel punishment no doubt,’ but that it was also the perfect example of the term vox Populi, vox Dei. ‘Moral homeopathy’, the ‘cure of cruelty by cruelty, or more mildly, that which is know as poetical justice, administered by a mob’.
|A plaque marking the incident stands in Park Street on the site of the Anchor Brewery.|
 If you’re ever drinking in Hungary (which I can heartily recommend) never try to clink glasses with the locals – it’s a social faux pas. As the Hungarian generals were being murdered on Haynau’s orders, the Austrian officers were allegedly drinking beer and toasting each other by clinking their mugs together. Hungarians declared that they would therefore never clink their own glasses together again.