The Ship Holborn. This is a fascinating pub and one of our favourites in London.
Pubs Central London

The Ship Holborn


The Ship | Holborn's Pub of Priests

The Ship Holborn is situated on a somewhat hidden corner of Gate Street just behind the Holborn Tube Station in central London.

Established as a pub here in 1549 The Ship has a very interesting history intertwined with mystery. English Royalty, the Masons and the Clergy are all involved in it’s interesting past.

The area around The Ship in Holborn, used to be known for being full of notoriously seedy gambling establishments as well as other shady and nefarious (mostly) illegal businesses.

It’s most likely the pub was first constructed to satiate the thirst of farm labourers working the nearby Lincolns Inn Fields. These very fields themselves were also the location of a number of executions in the 16th Century including some of the outlawed Catholic clergy. Those executions would certainly have drawn a decent crowd, and The Ship would have experienced increased patronage after each grisly death sentence had been concluded.

The Thames was a vastly different waterway back in the 16th Century. Of all it’s tributaries, long since vanished (or running underground) one in particular, The River Fleet, had it’s course directly through Holborn. It was therefore likely that the tides of the river bought the Thames murky waters much closer to Holborn than they come today. Certainly it’s been noted in various historical documents on the area that there were, in fact, shipyards or dockyards close to the pub in the 1500’s. It’s also been rumoured to be a regular haunt for the smuggling trade and possibly even attracted a few pirates. Most probably this is why the pub was originally named The Ship Tavern.

Visitors to the establishment over the years have incorrectly often called the pub The Ship Inn or The Ship Pub but historical consensus dictates that it has always been called The Ship Tavern.

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Table of Contents

The Ship Tavern Holborn History

During the short reign of King Edward the Sixth the Ship Pub in Holborn was utilised by the English Catholic community as an “underground” church of sorts. Edwards father, Henry the Eight, had already publically outlawed Catholicism in 1533, meaning loads of practicing Catholics were high and dry when it came to supporting their beliefs. And so it was that instead of heading to the Ship Tavern to simply drink ale and engage in witty banter, many of Londons hidden Catholics sought out the pub in order to receive Mass given out by some of the aforementioned banned Catholic Priests, who’d made The Ship Tavern their unofficial faith base.

In a well organised ministry, specialist spotters were employed about the area armed with secret signals to warn the pubs worshippers when any of the Kings officials were spotted in the area. When the signal made it back to The Ship the parishioners would simply start drinking their mead or ale and transform into simple rowdy pub clientele. Meanwhile the priest, who’d been manning the pulpit – which was in fact the bar of the pub – secreted themselves away in the various hidey holes built within the pubs walls and cellar to await the passing of the kings men.

The religious activities involving The Ship were not the establishments only past secretive connections. The closely guarded society of The Freemasons – for a time operated out of the Ship Tavern also. The building was consecrated as a Masonic Lodge in in 1736 and for many years remained a London institution and meeting house for the local chapter of the clandestine order. Masons are renowned for being evasive and secretive to say the least, and that certainly fits in with the atmospheric past of this building and the business that was housed within.

There have been a number of notable famous (or infamous) regulars to the pub over the centuries also so be sure not to miss the history board posted by the front entrance to the pub.

The Ship Tavern Holborn sign hanging by the entrance doorway

The Ship Tavern Holborn

A dark pub both in terms of the décor on the inside and the colour of the pub on the outside, the Ship Tavern in Holborn nevertheless exudes cheerfulness with its brightly lit interior and flower adorned exterior.

Pub chatter can easily be heard when passing by the Ship and the traditional black beams of the build and the somewhat strange shape of the pub seem to draw in the passer by like some sort of historical Bermuda Triangle. From first-hand experience we can tell you that whittling away hours in the Ship can be achieved with consummate ease!

The Ship Holborn Bar | The Ship Holborn Menu

Being an independent establishment means The Ship Holborn can make its own decisions on what types of food and drink it is prepared to offer up to its customers. As a result you’ll find a good quality range of real ale on tap and a menu worthy of its traditional heritage but with a modern twist on the usual when it comes to the presentation.

The bar area itself is quite small but is sectioned smartly. This means you get the notion that you could be here with a solitary friend and the place would feel quite private, but at the same time you can easily imagine being here with a larger group and having a raucous time. There are six real ale pumps and a number of other chilled taps so plenty of beer options to choose from. They also make cocktails here which is unusual for a traditional pub to be honest, and the wine list is more than adequate.

Both the bar and the upstairs dining room showcase ornate ceilings and traditional nautical themed décor. The dining room has some warm red booth seating along with a number of tables, and the room is adorned with perfectly positioned lighting to make it a very comfortable place to eat.

The Ship Holborn exterior showing stairs to the ornate dining room.

How To Get To The Ship Tavern Holborn

You won’t come across this pub just walking the streets unless you know where to look. Best bet is to just follow your preferred smart devices gps and directional instructions using Google Maps or Apple Maps on your smartphone.

Travelling by Train: The Ship Tavern is literally a two minute walk from Holborn Underground rail station so a very easy commute when coming into Central London via rail. Exit the tube station and either walk South down The Kingsway taking your first left into Gate Street. Or walk west along the High Holborn and take the second right you come to which is called Little Turnstile. Both routes will take you straight to the pub.

If catching National Rail into London the Ship Tavern is midway between Charing Cross station and Farringdon station. The walk is about 950 meters so will take 10 to 15 mins from either of those stations.

Travelling by Bus: Plenty of London Transport buses pass by Holborn station going in all directions. Just alight the bus at Holborn Tube Station and follow the walking directions above.

Ship Tavern Contacts and Location Map

Phone: 020 74051992
Facebook: theshiptavernholborn
Twitter: @theshiptavern
Instagram: theshiptavern

The Ship Holborn | Our Verdict

The Londons Pubs professional and extensive consumer testing program in Central London is alive and well and we’ve had to return to The Ship Holborn quite a few times to be sure of its authenticity, quality and overall appeal. Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink!

As a result we’re happy to report that The Ship Tavern has passed our rigorous criteria and we’re more than happy to recommend the venue.

If you wish to seek out other pubs not so far away then perhaps read over our post on 6 Great Pubs in St James’s where you’ll find some equally exciting pubs to test out for yourself!

Thanks for joining us on this LondonsPubs.com journey. Stay Safe, Stay Happy, Enjoy Life!

Today’s Quote comes thanks to King Henry the 8th himself, “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed”. Here at Londons Pubs we have to say that we’re extremely happy the populace didn’t embrace Henry’s feeling towards the hop flower! 

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Media Attributions

Some images in this blog entry were obtained form Creative Commons sources.
Ship Tavern, Holborn 04.JPG” by Edwardx is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0


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