Some history of the White Swan Inn at Drake's Cross, Wythall in the county of Worcestershire.


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This public-house at Drake's Cross in Wythall was originally a beer house known simply as the Swan Inn. In the 21st century the business is a large eatery called the White Swan. To be frank, it is not really a pub these days but a chain food outlet that sells some alcoholic drinks. If any of the Victorian publicans who kept the old White Swan could be transported into this building they would probably say "What the .... "

Wythall : White Swan at Drake's Cross [2015]

The White Swan has evolved into a chain restaurant in order to survive within a changing economic climate. Long gone are the days when the pub lost its original role on the busy road connecting Birmingham with Alcester. The residential development in close proximity to the building has compensated for the lack of passing trade.

Like the nearby Pack Horse Inn at Hollywood, early publicans of the Swan Inn were also engaged in agricultural work. The beer house was a locus for farm labourers in the evenings. In the pub's early days there were also some local labourers toiling in nearby clay pits. There was also a brickyard a few hundred yards to the south at Shawbrook. However, the Swan Inn prospered from a fair deal of passing trade as the hostelry was one of many taverns fronting the old turnpike road connecting Birmingham with Alcester.

Wythall : Milestone at Drake's Cross [2015]

The original milestone may have gone but a replacement still stands just to the north of the White Swan, opposite the old fish pond from which the signboard of this house may have taken its name. Hidden from the former turnpike by trees, the pond is fed by the Iss Brook which flows into the Peterbrook Mill Pool and the River Cole near Major's Green.

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The old road to Alcester was improved in sections through a number of Turnpike Trusts established in the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to these bodies, maintenance of the highway was the responsibility of parishioners who would have to undertake up to six days unpaid labour on road works. This system was poorly managed and the roads were generally in a dreadful state. As early as 1637 the inhabitants of Alcester were "presented at Quarter Sessions for not repairing a footway to Birmingham." The Turnpike Trusts brought about great improvements to the highways by taking tolls at strategically-positioned toll-gates and side-bars.

Isaac and Sarah Allcock were running the Swan Inn by 1840. The couple employed Mary Ashford as a general servant. Her brother Samuel was an agricultural labourer and also living on the premises. I am not sure if he worked on a local farm or whether the Swan Inn was part of a smallholding. There were few properties in the locality during this period. Houndsfield Farm was being run by Esther Burman and her family. The carpenter Richard Moseley had a business to the south of the Swan Inn, the timber yard being recorded on the map extract below.

By the time Zephaniah Smith was the licensee in the 1870s the pub was trading as the White Swan. He kept the pub with his wife Mary Ann, the couple having been married in 1868. They had three young children, Gertrude, George and Wallace, who spent their formative years at the pub. The son of a shoemaker, Zephaniah Smith was a retail brewer so the locals would have got to sample his homebrewed ales. He grew up in the locality and may have learned the craft from the maltster and neighbour Thomas Jones.

Wythall : Entrance to the White Swan at Drake's Cross [2015]

Mitchells's and Butler's

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Zephaniah Smith died in 1880. A later publican, George Henry Gittins, was a jeweller's engraver, a trade he later pursued in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. Walter Pearce had apparently made a success of the White Swan Inn but he died in 1890. This lead to a sale of the pub in November 1890. An auction was held for the White Swan Inn, together with two cottages adjoining which had been converted into stabling. There was also a cow-house, piggeries and other outbuildings, a large garden, a couple of acres of land. The auctioneers advised potential bidders that the "house was doing a capital trade, having much improved under the management of the late Walter Pearce."

Wythall : Map showing the White Swan at Drake's Cross and Shawbrook to the south [1903]

By the mid-Edwardian period Harry and Alice Willis were running the White Swan Inn. Born in Walsall in 1871, Harry Willis fell in love with a Brummie lass Alice Chapman. The couple had married at Christ Church in Sparkbrook in November 1891. Not long afterwards they were running the Hope and Anchor on Vauxhall Road in Ashted. At the turn of the 20th century they were running the Malt Shovel on Highgate Road in Sparkhill. Harry Willis was publican for more than 20 years. He was living at No.989 Bristol Road South in Northfield when he died in August 1937. His son Gilbert would operate a butcher's shop at Drake's Cross during the inter-war years.

Licensees of the White Swan Inn

1840 - Isaac Allcock
1851 - Joseph Moore
1876 - Zephaniah Smith
1888 - George Henry Gittins
1890 - Walter Pearce
1901 - Jane Hopkins
1911 - Harry Frank Willis
1940 - Edward Jones
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"At King's Heath Police Court yesterday Harry Frank Willis, the landlord of the White Swan Inn, Wythall, was summoned for furious driving and also for using indecent language towards the police on September 7th. Mr. H. Willison defended. Police Constable Stafford stated that his attention was called to the defendant, who was driving a horse and trap at a furious rate past his station at Wythall. Witness followed him to the White Swan, and when witness asked him to account for his furious driving he said he should go and see his master, and used bad language as he was driving away. Witness admitted that he had been to defendant's house and told him he had customers drunk in the house, but he had not taken proceedings against them. He denied that there was ill-feeling between them. Police Sergeant Hall said that when Willis came to the station he abused Stafford, and used bad language. Witnesses called for the prosecution failed to show that defendant was driving furiously, and were of opinion that the horse was running away. The Bench decided to dismiss this charge without hearing witnesses for the defence. With regard to the other charge, Willis denied that he used bad language, and said that Stafford used an improper expression towards him. Nine witnesses were called for the defence, and all agreed that defendant had not used the language complained of. They said Stafford used an improper expression when Willis said he should drive to King's Heath and report him. The Bench considered that indecent language had been used, and fined defendant 5s. and costs in this case."
"Publican Fined"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : September 16th 1909 Page 2

"A serious motor accident has occurred on the Alcester Road, Wythall. A car driven by Mr. Benjamin Jones, of Lichfield Road, Walsall, who was accompanied by his wife, two daughters, and Miss Saunderson, was returning in the direction of Birmingham when, on reaching the White Swan, a cyclist swerved across its path. To avoid a collision Mr. Jones swerved to the right, and found himself in imminent peril of crashing into the premises of the White Swan licensed house. He applied the brakes, which swung the car round and caused it turn over, throwing all the occupants out except Mrs. Jones, who was pinned under the car. Mr. Willis, landlord of the White Swan, with several bystanders, succeeded in lifting the car and releasing Mrs. Jones. She was found to severely bruised. Mr. Jones was also bruised, and the other occupants of the car shaken, Considerable damage was done to the car."
"Accident to Walsall Party at Wythall"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 11th 1915 Page 2

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