The Swan – Tavern, Inn, Hotel, Hostel & Brewery

Although this lovely old building is no longer licensed to sell alcohol it remains a meeting place for young people. The blue plaque displayed on the building states that it is a sixteenth century coaching inn, but parts of the building are older. The building is timber framed with some of the roof timbers dating back to the fourteenth century. The development of the site appears to have been restricted by the size of the site. It was initially governed by the existence of an early fifteenth century open hall, which would have extended along the street in both directions (very little remains of it).

Swan Hotel

Swan Hotel

The location of the Swan is an indicator that it could have been a very early inn. It sits on the ancient junction with the old Roman road of Akeman Street (High Street) and the main route between Berkhamsted and Windsor Castle (Chesham Road). It is also the closest inn to the church and as with many other market towns there has always been the legend that the cellar is linked to the church crypt by a secret tunnel.

Malting barley for ale and beer was a major occupation of the town and it is likely that most inns and beer houses brewed their own stock of beer, each having their own small brewhouse; the Swan’s was at the rear located on the Chesham Road side which was known as Grubbs Lane in those days. The Constables’ book mentions in 1783 “paid for beer in St John’s Well Lane and Grubbs Lane 4s 8d”.

The mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century was the era of coaching inns, offering stabling and fresh teams of horses for the coaches while the passengers took refreshment and sometimes, overnight accommodation. In 1793 the Swan had a coach that went to the Bell at Holborn three times a week.

By 1861, nurseryman Henry Lane’s grandson John Edward Lane had moved into the Swan and started to expand the brewing business.  John started to purchase or build new public houses to sell his beer and build up the breweries’ tied estate. It is possible he had the Brownlow Arms (on the corner of Chapel Street and Ravens Lane), the Crystal Palace and maybe even the Gardeners Arms (Castle Street) built in this period. He also bought the freehold to the George in the High Street. By 1871, he had left his stepsons the Foster brothers to take over. Following John’s death in 1898, an auction was held at the Kings Arms to sell off some of his properties. In 1899, whilst in the process of restoring the inn, a well preserved oil painting of the poet William Cowper was discovered, hidden away among some rubbish in the cellar.

The Swan later became one of the principal hotels of Berkhamsted. At some stage it expanded into the old brewery buildings and was run by Peter Caro. The Swan closed in the mid-1980s and reopened in 1996 as the Swan Youth Project.

Janice Boakes, Chronicle, v.XIII, p.32-38