Morpeth Arms

58 Millbank, SW1P 4RW

Nearest underground: Pimlico 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tate Britain 0.1 mile


Outside the Morpeth Arms

The un-pub-like exterior of the Morpeth Arms

The hook

The Morpeth Arms has a rather bland exterior devoid of the black beams, leaded-light windows and swinging signs that one has come to expect from a pub. But the cheeky blackboard messages outside add a touch of humour that will tempt in the casual Thameside walker.


The history

EST: 1845. Monarch: Victoria

This pub occupies a prominent position in a row of well-to-do houses and public buildings. So it’s hard to visualise Millbank as the wasteland of plague pits, bogs and quagmires that it once was.

Unbelievably, someone back in the 19th century decided that a nice big prison was all that was needed to brighten the area up. But the Millbank Penitentiary – opened in 1821 – was doomed from the start. Not only did the festering marshland beneath soon begin to subside under the weight of this massive jail, it also provided the ideal breeding ground for diseases which led to the poorly-nourished inmates dropping like flies. Meanwhile, the sheer size of the prison meant that even the most seasoned of warders kept getting lost in its labyrinthine corridors.

So in 1843, the prison was moved to Pentonville and Millbank Penitentiary was downgraded to a holding depot for convicts waiting to be transported to Australia. Deportation was by no means a new idea: in fact the US had had the dubious honour of being Britain’s chief dumping ground since the early 17th century. But when America gained its independence in the 1770s it rather inconveniently pulled up its virtual drawbridge and obliged us to look elsewhere for our cast-off convicts – many of whom had done nothing worse than steal a loaf or rustle a sheep.

The Australia-bound felons nervously awaited their fate in the underground cells of Millbank, contemplating the odds as to whether or not they would survive the journey. Some died of disease or malnutrition before they could even join a ship.

The Morpeth Arms, built in 1845 to serve the prison warders, stands above these now-deserted cells which are reputedly haunted by the ghosts of perished prisoners – along with a warder or two, presumably still trying to find their way out.


The ambiance

The managers of the Morpeth Arms have done their best to create a welcoming space using dark paintwork, low lighting and atmospheric music. The Spying Room upstairs is particularly cosy and provides a clear view of the MI6 building opposite, made even clearer with the aid of the binoculars provided for punters to “spy on the spies”.


The other stuff

Brewery: Youngs

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

The pub offers an eclectic mix of food options for all types of diner. Whether you identify with today’s well-to-do Pimlico residents or yesterday’s quagmire-dwellers there’s a dish to suit you among the sirloin steaks, scotch eggs, osso bucos and chip butties. Aficionados of the spooky will enjoy the Ghost Cam which provides a live feed to the tunnels beneath the pub, enabling punters to spot any supernatural activity from the comfort of their barstools. Though a display counter showing the number of ghosts spotted to date would have been nice. 

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.



The Ship and Shovell**

One of my top five pubs

1-3 Craven Passage WC2N 5PH

Nearest tube: Charing Cross 200ft

Nearest attraction: National Gallery, 0.2 miles

IMG_6246The Hook

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 first established on either side of Craven’s Passage. When you first stumble across one of  London’s very few two-part pubs (see the Euston Tap) you will assume you are seeing double. Then you will start to wonder: are these jolly red inns actually mirror images of each other inside?


The history

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 one 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 its name was changed to the Ship and Shovell (with two Ls) after 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, well, not being craven. When the Great Plague ravaged the city in 1665 he stayed put and helped to maintain order rather than fleeing to the countryside like so many other noblemen.


The ambiance

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 Victorian décor. However, the pub on the left is much more quaint and characterful. Its handful of seating places include two cosy booths plus an adorable cubby hole partly shielded by screens with its own personal coat hooks. My only gripe was that comfier chairs would have made this “snug” even snugger. The walls of both hostelries are covered with 17th century sailing paintings, mostly linked to the obscure Captain Shovell who provides a touch of swashbuckling glamour that coal-shovelling somehow fails to deliver.


The other stuff

Brewery: Hall and Woodhouse

Open: Every day except Sunday

Food: Midday till 3.30pm (4pm on Sundays)

All your basic pub food options are available but I opted for the chili cheese chips – guaranteed to blow the culinary thrill-seeker’s mind. 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. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.