In an area where most of the old roads were swallowed up by the railway, Craven Passage is a rare survivor of a path that dates back to when the area first started to be developed. Originally known as Craven Court, it cuts across Craven Street and would have been a busy path into the middle of the huge Hungerford Market that used to stand where the railway is today.

The name comes from William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven, and former Lord Mayor of London who was granted his earldom following the restoration of the Monarchy and owned land in this area. He is particularly noted for his actions during the Great Plague of 1665 when, unlike most nobles who fled the city, he remained and worked on supporting those affected by the calamity.

Although it was a Court, it is today a Passage.

It’s possible that the renaming took place at the time of the arrival of the railway, as for a while, the passage as we know it today was given two names. The shorter spur on the eastern side was still called Craven Passage, but the longer western side was renamed Northumberland Passage.

It seems they were reunited once more within 50 years, although the exact date is unclear.

Probably the main landmark of the passage is the pub on the corner, The Sherlock Holmes — a former hotel that was converted into a bit of a tourist trap in 1957 for fans of the fictional detective. The collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia comes from the Festival of Britain which held an exhibition, and when it closed, Whitbread were able to buy the entire collection and installed it in this pub.

Although it seems odd to have a Sherlock Holmes themed pub at this location, this area appears several times in the novels, with suggestions that the building opposite, a former Turkish Baths featured in several stories, and possibly the pub, when it was a hotel, being the very one that appeared at the start of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Down the alley, if you look to the side where the Turkish Baths once occupied the building you can still see hints of their history in the tiles above the fire escape (formerly the ladies entrance), and the very distinctive Islamic arches.

It’s a passage that most people pass through in a hurry, often to get to and from Charing Cross station, but it’s rich in Sherlockian history.

For person’s seeking less Sherlock and more oddity, the passage boasts a second pub — rail travel is thirsty work after all — the Ship and Shovell, a pub that is actually on both sides of the passage and linked by a (staff only) tunnel underneath that also contains the kitchen and cellars.

The south side is a new(ish) addition, as it used to be a sandwich shop in the 1950s, owned by John Garvey, but was taken over when the sarnie seller sold up.

If meeting friends for a pint, just remember to tell them if you are going in north or south.

Nearest railway stations

  1. London Charing Cross
  2. Embankment
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2 comments on “London’s Alleys: Craven Passage, WC2
  1. parktown says:

    So can the word Court be used as it is today a Passage, or indeed the word you also use Alley.📓

    I tend to use the word Alley. In Battersea we had/have a back alley known as The Courts, that runs along the line of the Heathwall Sewer.
    I always associated the word Court with Courtyard a square opening within a building. What do you say…

    • Andy Taylor says:

      Well, post WW1 most of the buildings part-named court that I’ve seen are flats, or less posh “mansion blocks”. I don’t know if it’s an architecturally led name, or marketing led.

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