IN MY TOP FIVE
1-3 Craven Passage WC2N 5PH
Nearest tubes: Charing Cross, Embankment
Why settle for one pub when you can have two? That was obviously the thinking behind the landlords of the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) when they were established on either side of Craven’s Passage near Charing Cross Station. Stumbling across London’s only two-part pub (apart from the Euston Tap, as my son has helpfully pointed out) you will assume you are seeing double and then start to wonder whether these jolly red inns are actually mirror images of each other inside?
EST: 1852. Monarch: Victoria
The two terraced houses that make up the Ship and Shovell were built in in the 1730s when the most southerly of the two had a clear view of the river via a porthole-like window. This enabled the dockers and carters who frequented the inn to keep an eye on the Thames and watch for ships that might need divesting of their coal and other goods. The buildings were later replaced and the pub was listed as the Ship and Shovel in 1852. It seems the perfect name for a pub whose clientele used to shovel coal from a ship. But in 1997 the name was changed to the Ship and Shovell (with two Ls) to commemorate the life of a 17th century sea admiral. Sir Cloudesley Shovell was born in Norfolk and rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy from cabin boy to Admiral of the Fleet. He battled pirates and foreign seafarers before ending his life in a shipwreck off the Scilly Isles. In other words: he had no tangible connection with Charing Cross whatsoever. Craven Passage itself was named after the first Earl of Craven (also from the 17th century) who gained London’s respect by staying in the city in 1665 and helping to maintain order during the Great Plague rather than fleeing to the countryside like so many other noblemen.
To answer your earlier (hypothetical) question, the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) are entirely different inside. The pub on the right as you approach from Villiers Street is a pleasant but unremarkable London boozer with an ornate bar and Victorian décor. The pub on the left is much more quaint and characterful, however. The mere handful of seating places include two cosy booths and an adorable cubby hole partly shielded by screens and provided with your own personal coat hooks. My only gripe about this “snug” was that it would have been snugger with the addition of comfy chairs in place of the pub stools. The walls of both hostelries are covered with 17th century sailing paintings and Shovell memorabilia as you would expect.
The other stuff
Hall and Woodhouse are the brewers behind the Ship and Shovell – less well known than your Greene King’s and your Fullers but equally passionate about their beer. Food options include the inevitable fish and chips but I opted for the chili cheese chips – guaranteed to blow the mind of any culinary thrill-seeker. Besides the chili my chips were also topped with coriander, jalapenos and English mustard. My tastebuds still haven’t recovered – but in a good way.
For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.