One of my top ten pubs
12, Gate Street, WC2A 3HP
Nearest tube: Holborn 285ft
Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.5 miles
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 on September 4, 1651, 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 Chevalier d’Eon, a renowned cross-dresser and spy, and John Smeaton, designer of the third Eddystone Lighthouse.
The relatively small space is cunningly divided up by means of 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
Brewery: Free house
Food: Daily from midday
Being an independent pub, dining at the Ship is a bit less generic than elsewhere. Besides the inevitable pies, bangers and fish ‘n chips you can also opt for venison, duck, plaice and ribs. The starters are varied and the trio of soups were particularly noteworthy: a shot of gazpacho flanked by two espresso cups of broth served with a bread roll and a trio of butters. Highly delicious and Instagram-worthy.