Some history of the White Swan on Bradford Street and Birchall Street at Deritend in Birmingham in Warwickshire
The White Swan is arguably the finest surviving public-house produced by James and Lister Lea and Sons within the Deritend and Digbeth area, the reason being it has retained much of its interior features. The passageway leading to the lounge and toilets is a sea of beautiful Minton tiles and mosaic flooring.
Incredibly, a few years ago this building, erected in 1900, was scheduled for demolition in order to widen the road junction. Thankfully, this ridiculous action was scrapped and Deritend is all the richer for that decision.
Most folks assume that this is a Digbeth pub but technically it stands in Deritend. Moreover, it is assumed that it has always stood on Bradford Street. In fact, although today's building fronts Bradford Street, historically the pub belongs to Birchall Street. I have listed it under Bradford Street as that is where people will look for the pub which does have a Bradford Street address in the 21st century.
The old tavern was originally known as the Swan Inn, a beer house rather than a fully-licensed house. The premises had previously been used by the hairdresser Thomas Foulkes. In the above extract from Wrightson's Triennial Directory published in 1839 he is listed at No.10 Birchall Street. The hairdresser had moved from premises on High Street Deritend.
Elias Foster seems to have been the person that handed over his guineas to the excise and obtained a beer house licence for the corner property. By 1845 he is listed at 10 Birchall Street. Four years later, when the Post Office Directory of Birmingham was published in 1849, he was also occupying No.9 and trading as a beer retailer and butcher. Indeed, he formerly traded as a butcher at No.226 High Street, Deritend.
Elias Foster was born in the Black Country town of Sedgley in 1806. He kept the Swan Inn with his wife Elizabeth who was a born-and-bred Brummie. Earlier in his career, when he and his wife lived in Palmer Street, he worked as a carpenter. By 1851 Elias and Elizabeth had moved to the Coach and Horses in Upper Dean Street, leaving son Elias Stephen Foster to run the Swan Inn. It was during his time that the "White" prefix appeared on the inn sign. Elias was recorded as a brewer and beer retailer in the 1856 Post Office Directory. When the property was advertised in November 1856 it was listed as the White Swan Retail Brewery - note the spelling error and Foster is listed as Forster.
The Foster family may have installed John Bradley to manage the tavern as he appears in Slater's Directory for Birmingham in 1852-3. The family were looking to relinquish their interest in the White Swan and focus on the Coach and Horses. Son Elias Stephen Foster would succeed his father as licensee of the Upper Dean Street public-house.
Mary Ann Yates kept the White Swan Inn for a brief spell in the mid-late 1850s. When she made plans to leave she advertised the fixtures, furniture and brewing plant. Although no photographic record exists of the property, the detail within such advertisements helps to conjure up an image of the place. Like those before her, May Ann Yates rented the building from the leaseholder, Thomas Stern of Harborne. He was also disposing of the site in May 1857 and advertised the White Swan occupied by Mrs. Yates and No.277 Bradford Street rented out to Mr. Smith. Both properties produced £45 per annum, the unexpired term on his lease being 42 years. The freehold of the site was owned by Earl Howe who I will discuss later in this article.
Moving from the British Lion on New Town Row, George Bennett took over at the Swan Inn [the "White" element disappears during this period]. The beer retailer was hauled before the magistrates in December 1859 on a charge of keeping his house open during improper hours on a Sunday. His spell at the Swan Inn was brief and he was succeeded by John Adams by 1861. Born in Bridgnorth in 1816, John Adams was an economic migrant and found work as a warehouseman whilst living in Legge Lane. He retained this position, leaving his wife Mary and son Alfred to hold the fort at the Swan Inn whilst he brought in additional income. He continued to work as a warehouse clerk when the family moved to Ladywood.
The licensed trade was seemingly not for the Adams family and, consequently, the White Swan was advertised again in December 1861. The advert shows that a retail brewery was still in operation at the house. Working as a warehouseman, John Adams probably hired a journeyman brewer. It is not likely that his wife Mary was a brewster as there is no evidence that they were involved in the beer trade after leaving the White Swan.
Benjamin Perks took over the licence in 1865. He was previously the landlord of the nearby King William IV on Bradford Street. However, he had enjoyed success as an iron bedstead-maker and, at one time, he was employing four men in this field. Following his death in October 1867, his wife Louisa became the licensee. During this period the adjacent building was occupied by the fender, fire-iron and wood screw manufacturer John Thomas Turner, trading as William Turner & Sons. Louisa Perks was running the Swan Inn when this detailed plan was produced in 1871.....
The thick line running along Birchall Street is the sewer pipe, the plan being drawn up to show sanitation in the streets of Birmingham. These plans offer some of the earliest detailed plans of the town. They are invaluable as they show the housing development along Bradford Street prior to large scale expansion of the industrial buildings. In this case, almost the entire block of housing seen to the left of the Swan Inn would be swept away for the enlargement of the Patent Enamel Works.
This illustration shows the Patent Enamel Works in the mid-19th century when it was centred on No.284-8 Bradford Street, a little further along the road. This factory would later be extended up to the boundary wall of the Swan Inn, the licence of the property probably saving the building from being swept away. In the 1871 plan the individual properties of Nos.277-282 can be seen. A trade directory published in 1868 records Mrs, Harriet Wallis, a brush maker at No.277. The wax flower modeller Thomas Pearcey occupied No.278. Next door at No.279 was the pin pointer William Wathen, whilst No.280 was home to Miss Matilda Jane Duddell who traded as a milliner and dressmaker. The 1871 plan shows that the Swan Inn shared a yard and water pump with Nos.277 and 278.
The key reason for the growth of the Patent Enamel Works was the explosion in the use of enamel advertising signs. What started as Victorian posters, enamelled iron plate signs rose in popularity during the second half of the 19th century and their use continued until the mid-20th century. They were produced by vitreous enamelling, a process of fusing coloured glass to iron plates, and patented in 1859 by Benjamin Baugh when managing Salt's Patent Enamel Works close to the White Swan. In 1889 Benjamin Baugh opened another manufacturing plant at Selly Oak. This became one of the largest factories dedicated to the production of enamel signs.
The White Swan had a narrow escape in 1863 when a large chimney stack erected next to the glass cone at the Patent Enamel Works collapsed in high winds. The premises of Messrs. Turner next to the White Swan were largely destroyed, resulting in the death of Mary Maria Derry who was employed by the Turner family. Other employees, including her sister Elizabeth Bullivant, were pulled from the pile of bricks. A man named Thompson and a woman named Hinton were saved by fellow employee John Anson. He found Mary Derry but when he, along with other colleagues, pulled her out she was already dead. The lower section of the chimney had only been built two years earlier by Thomas Green of Gosta Green. However, Salt's increased the height of the chimney to around 65ft by another stack-builder named Johnson. This work was criticised by a surveyor reporting to the coroner's inquest, stating that "the labour or workmanship was very inferior and unsatisfactory." Incredibly, the Jury returned a verdict of "accidental death."
Following her spell at the Swan Inn, Louisa Perks later moved to the Cross Keys in Emily Street. She was succeeded by Edward Newton who had previously been listed as a maltster and hop merchant close to the Saint Matthew's Tavern in Lupin Street. Edward Newton was born in Bromsgrove in 1842. The maltster kept the Swan Inn with his Birmingham-born wife Clara. The couple lived on the premises with their four children and shared the accommodation with the Bloyd family who were hired as servants. Edward continued to work as a maltster when he and his family moved to Manchester Street. They would later move to Selly Oak.
Henry Whitfield arrived as the publican in 1885. He moved here from the Boar's Head in Macdonald Street. Two more licensees came and went before the arrival of Edward Hope. The Birmingham-born publican kept the Swan Inn with his wife Sophia. The fact that he was documented as a retail brewer suggests that homebrewed ales were still being produced on the premises. There was once a large malthouse in Birchall Street, a possible source of brewing ingredients for Edward Hope. The malthouse was located on the south-east side of the street next to the post office on the corner of Cheapside.
Edward and Sophia Hope had previously kept the Warwick Arms in Great King Street at Hockley. The move into the licensed trade represented a departure from Edward's earlier career in the jewellery trade. The son of a manufacturer of nickel and silver goods, the Hope family had traded in Hylton Street where they specialised in spoon-making.
Edward Hope was succeeded at the Swan Inn by Arthur Shrimpton. Born in Walsall in 1863, he married Lavinia Latham in 1888 at Christ Church in Sparkbrook after he had moved to Birmingham to work as a brass founder. The couple later kept the Gunmaker's Arms at Smethwick.
Born in 1822 Richard William Penn was the son of Richard William Penn Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe and Harriet Georgiana Brudenell. The family's name is commemorated in a number of Birmingham's thoroughfares such as Howe Street, Penn Street and Curzon Street. The latter was a result of the marriage of Penn Assheton Curzon [Richard William Penn's grandfather] to Lady Sophia Howe, daughter of Admiral Howe. She was the niece of Charles Jennens, the wealthy eccentric who was dubbed "Solyman the Magnificent." He built Gopsall Hall near Twycross and where, it is claimed, that his protégé Handel composed part of Messiah. His name was remembered with another of Birmingham's streets - Jennens Row and the house was commemorated at Gopsall Street.
The lease agreement between Richard William Penn and Ansell's featured a covenant that the Aston brewery would rebuild the White Swan within 12 months and the cost of the new structure would be a minimum of £2,000. The Holt Brewery Company had entered into a similar agreement with the nearby Dog and Partridge - but for half the sum. This is perhaps why the interior decor of the White Swan is more ornate. Indeed, the lessor, Earl Howe, had specified that the new White Swan was to be "a building of good class and suitable to the character of the neighbourhood." The lease was sealed on October 27th, 1899. The annual rental on the site, which originally included an adjoining cottage, was set at £100.0s.0d. per annum. The Ansell's property register shows that the company were to commence rebuilding from December 25th 1899 and, in the interim period, paid a rental of £1 per week. A plan [see above] of the site was featured within the agreement and shows the original White Swan was a small part of the plot with a long frontage to Birchall Street.
Ansell's commissioned architects James and Lister Lea and Sons to design a new public-house. The building plans were drawn up and submitted on December 12th 1899. The building is a very similar design to that of the Dog and Partridge. The windows and doors are in the same position but there are subtle differences in the brickwork and corner tower.
From the two vestibules there were large mahogany and stained-glass snob screens all the way up to the counter, creating three distinct areas within the bar. The centre door on Birchall Street was included for a jug department - an essential watering hole for the factory employees working the hot foundries nearby and, in particular, those grafting in the Patent Enamel Works next door to the pub. This factory, with its frontage on Bradford Street, dominated the area between Birchall Street and Rea Street. The White Swan served as the factory's key watering hole for many decades.
A club room [see building plan] for the use of societies and even political gatherings was included on the first floor. This was later used as a billiards hall and was advertised as such above the corner entrance shown in an inter-war photograph.
William Foxhall, the last licensee of the old White Swan, moved to a beer house called The Hope on Bissell Street. Peter Waltho was an interim manager for the brewery.
On completion of the White Swan, Ansell's installed John Whitehouse as manager, though a succession of publicans came and went throughout the Edwardian period. Albert Jeffs only had to move his belongings a few metres along the road as he had previously kept the Anchor Inn on the corner of Rea Street.
Alfred Iliff moved on to the Smithfield Arms in Jamaica Row, though he did go to run another White Swan at Nechells Park Road. Ansell's were possibly disappointed that there was a high turnover of licensees after they had invested a significant sum of money in the fabric of the building. Harry Froggatt did put a few years into the pub. He was followed by Hannah Jordan who was custodian until the 1920s when Albert and Mary Butler were at the helm for three years.
George Winters had a brief spell behind the counter in the 1930s. He had previously kept the Calthorpe Arms in Handsworth. He was succeeded by Christopher and Catherine Payne who had previously kept the White Swan on King Edward's Road. This photograph was taken around the time they moved into the premises. The couple remained at the White Swan throughout the Second World War. Indeed, Christopher Payne held the licence until February 1956. The pub then had a revolving door fitted for a succession of come-and-go managers and tenants. These included William and Dorothy Corfield, Bartley and Jean McGovern, Thomas and Katherine Naughton, and James and Bridie Matthews. However, this instability was brought to an end at the end of the 1960s when the Creaton family took over the pub. Indeed, the family went on to run this public-house for one of the longest spells of any pub in the city.
Rosscommon-born Michael and Agnes Creaton first took over the White Swan on May 15th 1969. After Michael's death in 1975, Agnes took over the business and achieved remarkable success with her daughter Angela. The late Michael Creaton was one of the great characters in the Irish community and many years after his death he was still remembered fondly by the local community. Their son Andy, along with his wife Geraldine, both regularly worked behind the bar for many years. Two other daughters, Bridget and Maggie were often to be found in the White Swan but not on the same side of the counter as Angela and Agnes. Clocking up half a century behind the counter, Agnes Creaton became one of the longest-serving tenants in Birmingham.
I can remember when I had a drink in here in 2001. I was chatting to Dave Kirby who Angela teased as being one of the fixtures and fittings. He exemplified the continuity this pub enjoyed as he used to work behind the bar in the 1950s. Talking to me, he recalled some of the previous gaffers - he had even worked for long-serving publican Christopher Payne. At this time the White Swan remained very much a community pub and had been enjoyed by several generations of the same families which helped to create a unique relaxed atmosphere for a city pub. I have enjoyed many a happy hour in here. In 2007 I found it better than ever, especially as the beer range had increased so that a good range of the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries portfolio was available. Sitting in the bar with a pint of well-kept beer, one could enjoy the sight of the wooden floor, decorative ceiling, tiled walls, light pouring through the leaded stained-glass windows and, of course the enormous servery - a monster of a creation in carved wood with a highly decorative back bar including two inlaid clocks. The pub also had a cosy smoke room accessed via the magnificent corridor.
Tn 1995 Agnes Creaton won the Ansell's "Lady Lessee of the Year." The quality of the beer was deemed so good that when directors from Ansell's took champagne to the pub to help celebrate her time at there, they ended up drinking the mild instead. At the time Ansell's business development manager John Kent said "Agnes is one of the nicest and most professional licensees I know and is well respected in the community ... she is virtually tee-total but does all the cellar work herself and, without doubt, the quality of the beer is second to none."
Towards the end of the 99-year lease agreement signed in 1899, the White Swan formed part of the Allied Domecq empire. However, the freehold of the building had been acquired by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd. in 1989 creating the bizarre situation of Allied renting the building from a rival brewer. The Penn Curzon connection ended in 1935 when the building was conveyed to Deritend Estates Ltd. By 1989, the property was in the possession of the Wesleyan and General Assurance Society. The Colmore Circus-based company sold the White Swan to Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd.
With Agnes Creaton getting on in years, daughter Angela increasingly took on the day-to-day running of the pub. A combination of bad timing in terms of the area's redevelopment, along with the Irish community moving further out of the city centre, resulted in the closure of the White Swan in the Spring of 2019. The building was put on the market for £450,000. I read that an offer from Joule's was rejected. The White Swan was sold to SevenCapital, a property development company. After being closed for two years, the 120 year-old tavern was leased to Nigel Barker and Will Young who, following some restoration work, re-opened the White Swan in September 2021.