Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Two necks or two nicks?

The Swan Inn at Stony Stratford can trace its origins to the 15th century. It was in a prominent position on the Wolverton side close to the church of St Mary Magdalene. At least one 18th century reference rated it as the best of the Stony Stratford Inns. It was originally the Swan and in the early 17th century it is referred to as "The Swan with Two Necks". When it starts to appear in 18th century estate documents it is always called The Three Swans. The inn remained part of the Wolverton Estate until 1802 when it was sold to Thomas Harrison. It did not survive the railway era and was converted to residences.

Extract from Michael Hipwell's will 1609

The first reference to the building as The Swan with Two Necks is to found in Michael Hipwell's will, dated 1609. I have copied it above and highlighted the relevant phrase.

Why the change? And what did this mean? The change of pub name I will come to, but let me first explain where the phrase Swan with Two Necks comes from.

Swans were kept in plentiful supply at one time as a source of food and quite early the royal prerogative was asserted over swans, which still prevails today. In the 15th century the King agreed that the Vintners Company and the Dyers Company  could keep for themselves a number of birds on the Thames. To distinguish the Royal Swans from the Vintners' and Dyers' Swans a system of marking was developed. The Vintners chose to mark the bills of their swans with two notches or nicks. Subsequently they adopted a sign of a swan with two nicks at the entrance to Vintners Hall in London. In time the Swan with Two Nicks became corrupted to The Swan with Two Necks.

Like most guilds the Vintners Company strove hard to regulate and control the trade and they could usually ensure that only their members across the country could deal in wine. So it must have come to pass that the inn holder of The Swan became a member of the Vintners Company and as a consequence may have had a monopoly on the retailing of wines in Stony Stratford. Therefore an inn sign advertising not just a swan, but a swan with two nicks would be a way of asserting his status as a member of the Company.

By the end of the 17th century the Vintners Company had lost influence and exclusive control and possibly the name mattered less. At any rate it appears in early 18th century documents as The Three Swans although the secondary name does crop up from time to time in later 18th century references.

The inn and its associated land were always part of the Wolverton estate and inn holders took out leases. In 1802 the Radcliffe Trust sold it with several other properties to meet a new Land Tax,

The Swan was probably a 15th century foundation. Like many other Stony Stratford properties it was rebuilt after 1742 and it is that building which can still be seen today at 92-94 high Street.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. One small typo spotted: "stove" should be "strove". Sorry, I'm a pedant. Ken