Finding the White Swan Inn


Recently we received an inventory relating to the White Swan, a pub in Westgate Street, Gloucester (reference D15916). When we came to log details into our online catalogue, we realised we were missing an important detail- precisely where was it?  This pub no longer exists, and we have only 3 other records in the archives that mention it, GBR/L20/2/1914/52, D3117/4568 and D3117/4158A.

So, where to start?

Well, one of the first places to look for lost buildings is old maps. This is only really useful if you have a vague idea of where the building was, and luckily we know this pub was in Westgate street. For many locals who know the city, Westgate street is actually quite a big place to start looking. So, to pinpoint whereabouts we then looked at the other documents, to see if they gave any clues. D3117/4158A mentions a right of way dispute that involved the Old Spa House, hinting the buildings must have been very close. A quick search for ‘old spa house’ in our catalogue comes up with a lot more hits than the pub. D3117/4156 lists number 95 Westgate Street, known as Old Spa House in the description. We have a number! What next?

Rather than search through huge and delicate rolled up maps, we use a fantastic online resource called ‘Know your place’, here: http://www.kypwest.org.uk/

This website was developed in Bristol and now covers other counties, including Gloucestershire. It holds digital copies of some of the maps we keep, and it’s a great place to start looking. After setting the base map to 2019, we started going through the comparison maps and scrolled up and down Westgate Street looking for our pub. All we had so far was the name ‘White Swan Inn’, ‘Old Spa House’ and the number 95 for a rough location. Unfortunately, numbers of buildings changed over time as they were built on, over, divided up etc. especially after World War II.

After 10 minutes or so – bingo! On a map from 1852 made for the local board of health, we found it! It’s on the extreme western end of Westgate street, which in 1852 was on White Swan Lane and is now swallowed up by Westgate Street parking. Where the building itself stood is now a block of flats. You can see two buildings along is numbered 95, which in 1852 was named ‘The Newfoundland’. 

All subsequent maps on Know Your Place have the building shown, but just the letters ‘P.H’ written, which mean ‘public house’. So we know a pub was still here in 1947, but was gone by the end of the 1960s when development plans in the city turned it into a car park.

Now what?

Well, the inventory discovered gives us a very vivid picture of a pub in early 20th Century Britain. It is dated 1933, so in the inter-war period. Everything is listed, every chair and table, what state it was in, what room it was in. Take the bar for example, arguably the most important room in a pub. You might have sat down with a metal mug, at a mahogany pembroke table, on a Windsor chair. You might have played with dice to pass the time, or perhaps chess or a game of quoit. The décor included a stuffed drake, dog and squirrel, a stag’s head and antlers, and a framed picture of Tom Sayers the famous boxer. A rubber stamp and pad is listed ‘for glasses stolen from the Swan’. Some traditions never die!

More details are given about the taps, the linoleum floor, hooks on the door and every basin, jug and pewter measures are listed. Anyone wishing to create an accurate film set for the time period has their research done for them! Inventories tells us not only what the trends were, but sometimes mention a local business that there remains no other trace of. We know in the bar they used a Gledhills patent cash till, which was a business at the time in Halifax. Further down, the staircase has a clock listed by ‘Mollinews, Painswick’ which doesn’t come up with any immediate hits online. Local names appear, such as in the private sitting room which has a portrait of ‘Mr Clutterbuck’.

What came in as a small booklet on a chance find turned out to give us a wealth of information about pub life in 20th century Gloucester.

So- now it’s your turn. What can you discover?

UPDATE 25/01/2022: One of our search room team was able to look up the demolition date of the pub in an index, which tells us it was demolished finally in 1972.