Leave Trafalgar Square by what is one of London’s shortest streets – Charing Cross – forward into Northumberland Avenue and on the left is Northumberland Street there you will find the popular Sherlock Holmes public house, the subject of the last post.
The pub was previously called the Northumberland Arms, mentioned and in The Hound of the Baskervilles, but in 1957 it took on the ‘Holmes’ theme and changed its name.
It is now a licensed museum of the fictional detective and is absolutely filled with relics of the Arthur Conan Doyle character. To the right of the pub is Craven Passage, which has within it as unusual a pub to be found in the capital.
The passage rose from the property inheritance of William, Earl Craven. He is best remembered for his noble deeds towards the victims of the 1665 Great Plague when he assisted in the arrangements for daily street cleaning and removal of household filth.
He made a tour of the pest-houses, advising the authorities that their size was inadequate to meet the demands for isolation. When there was no response to his recommendations he acquired a piece of land, now occupied by Carnaby Street in Soho, and built an annex to the overcrowded lazaretto (an isolation hospital) already established there, commenting that this pest-house contains ‘but 90 persons which now serve for St Martins, St Clements, St Pauls Covent Garden and St Mary Savoy’. At the end of the epidemic, Craven donated this annexe to the local people ‘in case it should please God that the plague brake out againe.’
Legend has it that sly old William was secretly married to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and daughter of James I, with whom he had been carrying on a love affair for most of his life. By the time he got round to proposing, Charles II was on the throne and it seems that when Earl Craven knocked on the King’s door to ask his consent to the marriage it was promptly slammed in his face.
The bargaining then started and the King drove a hard one, consenting to the marriage between his aunt and William Craven upon payment of £50,000.
In 1673 Craven applied for permission to partly rebuild Drury House in Wych Street which subsequently would be renamed Craven House; he proposed to make vast improvements and install all the labour saving devices which he stated would be both ‘ornamental and useful’. As for these ornamental adornments, there is no comment but its usefulness was assured, for his only intention for the refurbished house was to install his wife there.
The Ship and Shovell, a pub of two halves
Walking down Craven Passage you come to The Ship and Shovell, a pub reputed to date back to the 16th century, occupying the site of number two. One theory of its name is said to originate from the workers employed in constructing Victoria Embankment who used to leave their shovels outside the pub. Another is that it takes its name from Rear Admiral Cloudesley Shovell.
Whatever the derivation of its moniker, the Ship and Shovell is London’s only pub in two halves. What this actually means is that there are two pub buildings connected underground by a shared cellar and split by Craven Passage in the middle.
Given the two building nature, you might think it was once two pubs – the Ship and the Shovell which later merged. At one point it was called the Craven Arms and at another just The Ship, whatever is right has been lost in the mists of time.
A flight of steps take Craven Passage beneath the station where, until very recently, coins of all periods and realms could be purchased from the market which occupied the site here.
The Players Theatre has now returned to this ‘tunnel’ after temporarily being re-sited at the Duchess Theatre. It is here that next month The Knowledge gets its premiere.
The Passage emerges into Villiers Street under a psychedelic clock, part of the recently erected modern complex.
Much of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.