Feb 10

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 8: The Ship & Shovell, Craven Passage WC2N

Pumpkin Publog3 comments • 1,228 views

This was a favourite after-work pub for years, being within easy walking distance of the office but seemingly off the radar of anyone else working there. Despite being in a busy tourist area, it maintains its hidden gem status by sitting, tucked away, in an alley under Charing Cross station.

A large sign outside declares the pub’s USP: “The Only London Pub in Two Halves,” the place being housed in two buildings either side of the alleyway. On one side, the larger bar is an L-shaped room with ample tables and a couple of tellies. The tasteful decoration includes big ornamental mirrors, prints of olden-times navy business and a large portrait of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, the 17th Century Admiral from whom the pub takes its name and who presented a spectacular case for an accurate means of calculating longitude by striking rocks off the Isles of Scilly, wrecking four ships and killing himself and his entire crew. His stern, well-fed face gazes at you from the pub signs and portraits in both bars, unaware of impending doom.

The other side is a much cosier place and, for me, where the pub stands out. Here, the bar is tiny; the ground floor only has room for a small table, a couple of booths and a snug at the back just about big enough for two people. At quiet times, its size, dark wood-panelling and lack of modern fittings make it feel like you’re hanging out in London during the Restoration and Samuel Pepys is about to burst in with some seriously juicy gossip about the King’s latest mistress. Unfortunately, quiet times are rare so it becomes necessary to slip past the crowds and head upstairs to the Crow’s Nest, well known by the pubcrafty as the last part of the pub to fill up at peak times. It’s a quiet, sparsely-decorated room with couple of decent-sized tables for seating bigger groups. It lacks its own bar but – joy of joys – I love a pub with a dumb waiter and here, one is available to perform the essential service of getting large rounds upstairs without having to negotiate the narrow bends and steep staircase.

It’s a Hall & Woodhouse pub so the beer is excellent: Badger Best, IPA and Tanglefoot will satisfy the needs of ale lovers and the big bar has the space to carry a few guest beers. Hofbrau and Peroni are on tap for lager drinkers. Despite often being crowded, the staff are attentive and being served is hardly ever a problem. If I have any complaints about the place at all, it’s that they could probably do with a cat.


  1. 1
    Matt DC on 10 Feb 2010 #

    I love this pub unreservedly, many happy memories of this place, but the Crow’s Nest and the snug are what makes it.

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 10 Feb 2010 #

    Awww I love the Shitty Shovell, possibly the least deserved nickname of any pub ever.

  3. 3
    Alan on 10 Feb 2010 #

    omg i never made the connection that it’s the dude from that disaster that led to the Longitude act.

    the standard longitude essay that i wrote as an undergrad had to mention these 2 stories: the scillies disaster, and the longitude solution that involved a wounded dog and the ‘powder of sympathy’ applied to the wounding implement at noon (so that the dog would yelp at noon wherever it was … longitude … profit)

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