Ship Centurion WhitstableAn Inn on the site of the present-day pub was first licensed in 1750 during the reign of George II. There is some confusion about it’s name, as the earliest records refer to it simply as “The Ship”, the use of the title “The Ship Centurion” not being found before 1845, in written records. Moreover the title has been taken to mean a Ship-Centurion, the ancient Roman equivalent of an officer of Marines. This is not the case. Inns and pubs, then as now, were commonly named after ships and other, marine vessels, hardly surprising, considering the number of sailors who frequented these establishments, and the many retired marines who gave up the sea for inn-keeping.

Inns might be named for a type of vessel, such as Smack Yauil, Clippet, Schooner etc, or for an event, such as the Ship Aground. When named after a specific vessel, the old naming custom was to use the ships name but to precede with the word ‘Ship’ to make it absolutely clear that the Inn was named after the Ship, not simply given the same name as a ship, hence it should be the Ship, “Centurion”, when a modern pub would in the same circumstances call itself just “The Centurion”.

The ship in question was H.M.S Centurion, commanded by Commodore Anson, famous for a remarkable voyage round the world, made between 1740-1744. The voyage was nearly a disaster, becalmed for weeks off the Horn, nearly three-quarters of the ships crew died of scurvey, fever and dysentry. The survivors however, managed to continue the voyage, and in the course of this voyage captured the great Spanish treasure ship knows as the Manila Galleon. The wealth on board this ship was immense, it carried an entire years worth of profit from all the Spanish colonies, a sum estimated at somewhere between 2 and a half and four million pounds sterling. The prize money shared by the crew made even the lowest ratings wealthy men – an ordinary seaman received about £700 at a time when you could buy a comfortable town house for £100, and a decent cottage for £10.

The Ship “Centurion” was thus a name associated with wealth and good luck for many years, and the inn may have been named for either that reason, or possibly, the first landlord may even have served with Anson on the “Centurion”. However, the customers, then as now, would likely have referred to it just as the “Ship”, and this short version is how it appears on early documents, the legal profession being far less precise about such matters then.