IN MY TOP TEN
12, Gate Street, WC2A 3HP
Nearest tube: Holborn
Another black-beamed, plant-festooned, leaded-light-windowed classic down a little side alley just around the corner from Holborn station.
EST: 1549. Monarch: Edward VI
Many of us would consider the boozy camaraderie of a pub to be preferable to sitting through a solemn church service. Yet 16th century visitors to the Ship actually went to the pub for a quick top-up of religion rather than for a beer and a laugh. Henry VIII’s falling-out with the church drove England’s Catholics underground – or to the pub in the Ship’s case. Outlawed priests made their base at the inn and Mass was conducted from behind the bar. Whenever the state’s officials happened to be spotted outside, the officiator would head for a handy priest’s hole and the rest of the “congregation” would return to their pints.
The Ship dates back to 1549 when Henry VIII’s scholarly young son was enjoying a brief spell on the throne before his death four years later at the tender age of 15. Most of the pub’s earliest customers were labourers from the nearby Lincoln’s Inn Fields but it later became a favourite with deckhands from the nearby dockyards. It was also frequented by one Richard Penderel, a Royalist who helped the 21-year-old future Charles II escape from Cromwell’s army by giving him a rough haircut and disguising him as a woodman. A great story to tell down the pub if ever there was one. Colourful 18th century patrons included well-known cross-dresser and spy Chevalier d’Eon and John Smeaton, designer of the third Eddystone Lighthouse.
The relatively small space is cunningly divided with dark panelled screens to provide quiet booths for groups of friends, city workers and lone newspaper-readers who make up the clientele.
The other stuff
Cask Marque ales, an oak-panelled restaurant and the usual bar snacks are on offer. The trio of soups were noteworthy: a shot of gazpacho was flanked by two espresso cups of broth and served with a bread roll and a trio of butters. Highly delicious and Instagram-worthy.
For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.