Hertfordshire Genealogy

Answers to Questions


The Swan & Two Necks, Hitchin, late 19th Century

February, 2007





Steve Chase (toadend @t tiscali.co.uk) of Wrawby, N Lincs,writes: During my research into a relative's family tree, I have found that Elizabeth Chalkley ran an Inn called the "Swan & Two Necks." The 1891 census shows this to be Number 40 Tilehouse Street. It seems that Tilehouse Street is still pretty much intact, and I was wondering if you had, or could point me to, any pictures that may show this building as it is today...(or then). Having checked the 1901 census, there didn't appear to be an Inn present in Tilehouse Street then.

First I think it important to realise that there was a technical licensing distinction between Inns (which also often offered accommodation) and Beer Houses - both of which would have had a distinctive name. These differences were not always recognised in the records. In Kelly's trade directories inns were given trading names while beer houses were often simply listed under the landlord, with an occupation of beer seller. For instance in the 1882,1886 and 1890 directories Mrs Elizabeth Chalkley is listed as a beer retailer in Tilehouse Street. In addition census enumerators varied in the way they recorded addresses. Most enumerators (but not all) indicated inn names - and some also recorded beer house name. On a census return a beer house keeper might well move "upmarket" and describe themselves as an "Inn Keeper" - which is what Elizabeth Chalkley may have done in 1891. Because, in a town as big as Hitchin, there were many beer retailers it can be often difficult to identify beer houses by name. The 1899 directory lists a Mrs Mary Richardson as a beer retailer at 40 Tilehouse Street. no trading name being shown.

As to photographs. there are many books of photographs of old Hitchin, and while some inns are clearly identified, the ones I looked in did not identify Swan and Two Necks in any of the many pictures of Tilehouse Street. However Frith's Hitchin includes a picture of The Three Tuns in Tilehouse Street taken in 1901 and another picture of the Cooper's Arms in Tilehouse Street taken in 1903. The Cooper's Arms is a 15th century building first licensed in 1860  [Hertfordshire Inns & Public Houses] and is still open [google] - selling real ale. Both were clearly there at the time of  the 1901 census, and if you didn't see them it was probably because the enumerator did not bother to record their names.

Your best bet for an identified photograph is to contact Hitchin Museum. which I believe has an excellent collection of local pictures.

March, 2007

Steve contacted the museum and found them very helpful, providing him with copies of two old pictures. At the same time I discovered the booklet Hitchin Inns and Incidents - from which the following extract comes:

A little higher up Tilehouse Street, in those days, we could well have been aware of a small woman, neatly dressed in a clean white pinnafore, who was proprietress of the curiously named beerhouse known as the Swan with two Necks as she stood in the doorway waiting for custom. Its slightly sinister name has all that could be asked to arouse the curiosity of the passer-by. The name may have originated from a debasement of an heraldic device, its origin arising from the nicks cut into the birds' bills when the ceremony of 'swan upping' takes place on the Thames to denote ownership. The Worshipful Company of Vintners has, as its crest, a swan with two nicks and illiterate sign­ painters have translated this as the swan with two necks. But to emphasise the 'neck' angle, the inn board was projected over the street on a graceful, elongated strip of iron­ work. It is now derelict.


[Note: Steve has pointed out that the picture in the book claiming to show the "Swan with Two Necks" actually shows the owner of "The Bull's Head" at number 31 Tilehouse Street. The house in the background still exists, and has a plaque on the front titled "The Old Bull's Head".]

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

Page updated April 2007