“AS LONG AS THE SWAN SITS BY THE MERE, THERE’LL ALWAYS BE A PINT OF BEER”
……..author unknown, but sagacious
The Swan has stood at the heart of Marbury for more than 250 years. But for a couple of years, it had to close before new life could be breathed back into it. In 2016, with no real investment from the previous owners for many years, the 19th century built hostelry was really in a bit of a mess. Some ruthlessness was called for. But what with underpinning work and such to put it right this proved quite tricky (see photo page). Setting an opening date was a bit like trying to pin down a blancmange with a packet of blunt drawing pins.
Watching and waiting
Locals were watching and waiting anxiously, and so too were the team. But the builders ploughed on valiantly while operations manager Lindsay Cox and the team were beavering away in the background, sorting out suppliers, recruiting staff and just getting everything else right.
By April 2018 it was. The Swan glided back to the epicentre of the village. Marbury has 11 National Heritage listed black and white Medieval/Tudor buildings, including the Swan’s own outbuildings. And a 16th-century church that overlooks the splendid Big Mere (See History Page). Well, the resuscitated Swan fits well with all that.
Real ales, fires, books and patio
There’s a five hand-pull real ale bar (see Beers) and two main dining areas plus a Garden room, a new addition to the building, providing plenty of extra dining space. For cooler weather, wood burners flicker merrily in rooms which feature natural, reclaimed materials, wood panelling, beams and solid wooden or tiled floors along with antique furniture and colourful rugs.
And then there are the books; there are some 2000, supplied locally by Barn Books, scattered throughout – lots of interesting stuff, novels, history, gardening, cooking, whatever you fancy if you have the time. They sit alongside lovely old black and white photographs and classic pictures.
And a really cosy room for small groups is the ‘Cellar Room’ – don’t worry that’s actually above the beer cellar not in it – adorned with old whisky and wine bottles and more classic paintings. For the warmer drinking weather and alfresco dining, there’s a large paved patio with a rustic ‘log fencing’ touch.
In the ‘back’ we have an ultra-modern energy and labour saving kitchen with clever infra-red grills and something fancy called electric induction stoves to make for a pretty efficient food service. From here head chef Matt Marren will mastermind his regularly changing menu – including fresh fish daily – painstakingly developed to be based on honest, fresh ingredients but with his own cheffy spin. (see Menu Page).
Our own wine…..
Then there is the wine. An eclectic selection, some recommended from owner Jerry Brunning’s very own ‘black book’ compiled through years of selfless research. A pretty good starting point is our house wines, served by the glass and carafe and sourced from our very own artisan producer in Bordeaux (see Wine Page).
‘In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in the water there are bacteria’…Benjamin Franklin
And at the bar…..
The long wooden bar is a big thing for us, we want people around it. Did we mention the five hand pulled beers? You should also find some quite decent whisky and nice gins (click here
to visit the wine and drinks page to see the selection). The bar top is a bit quirky, put together from reclaimed chemistry lab counters and complete with hand-carved names but nothing too rude; must have come from a posh school. In what we thought is a nice touch for bar lighting we sought out some quite distinctive retro style fittings – they look like they might have been pulled out from an old communist era factory in East German! Unusual, but we like ‘em.
Throughout the pub, there’s plenty of dining space, with table service for those that wish it, but the bar area, which welcomes our four-legged friends (on leads), is kept dining free as an adult-only space, with brown leather seating and lower tables just for ‘socialising’.
But we do welcome diners in the bar to linger over a pre-prandial or three. And we want the Swan to be part of the community, so maybe just call in for a drink and some (free) craic.
One chap you may see around the bar a bit is Jerry. He won his spurs building up the Brunning & Price pub group over some 20 years, together with Graham Price. When they eventually passed the business on, ten years ago, he really thought he had retired as a publican. But then he saw the Swan was up for sale. He couldn’t resist.
Back in the very early days, Jerry learnt his business in the hard knocks school of a rural Surrey local – doing everything. Now he really has retired from that, so the daily pub running he leaves to the trusty team. But, just like the old days, Jerry likes nothing better than a good natter over a decent pint or two with locals and guests. Yes, he does rather like that bit still. Cheers!
‘The pub is an institution unique to England, and there is nothing more English. It is not an American bar, darkened still by the long shadow or Prohibition; not a French cafe, where people sunnily drink aperitifs on the pavement; not a Bavarian beer-hall, full of swaying and noise”
…..Michael Jackson (the famous beer writer not the slightly well-known singer).
A little history from Marbury life and the Swan
Before King Harold had his fatal spat with William in 1066, the history of Marbury cum Quoisley is shrouded in the mists.
Roman coins have been discovered, so legionaries must have passed this way but they didn’t settle. Maybe there wasn’t a pub for them! They liked pubs.
We know that the Anglo Saxons established Marbury as a ‘burgh’ – the name means fortified settlement near a lake – likely to keep out the dreadful Danes and those pesky Welsh raiders. An Anglo Saxon dated human skull was recovered from the Mere by an angler in 1998 – a bit of a shock for him, but a fishing tale to boast about!
Saxons drank copiously, so we can only surmise there was an ale-house. If so the Hastings’ debacle would have been a hot topic over a couple of horns of ale; Marbury was on an estate owned by the ill-fated Harold.
In 1086, the Domesday Survey recorded ‘Merberrie’ and by 1299 there was a wattle and daub parish church. Present day sandstone built St Michael’s dates from the 1500s.
With the English Civil War, in 1642 local toff Thomas Marbury took for Parliament. We don’t know if there was a pub by then, but daresay the locals would have needed one or two after those knockabouts with the Royalists.
Bare knuckles and badgers
That’s the rather misty early history despatched. However, we do know that the Swan has sat at the epicentre of Marbury life for more than 250 years. Records show that Thomas Briscall left the Swan in 1767 handing the keys to John Broad Hurst, who was behind the bar until 1786.
That would be quite challenging in those rumbustious days, with badger baiting, cockfighting and bare knuckle boxing commonplace. John would have had a lot to cope with as punters quaffed a jug or three to celebrate winnings or mourn their losses.
A chap called Arthur Wellesley once popped up in the village to view the oak tree at Little Mere that pays tribute to his thrashing of the French at the Battle of Waterloo. We believe the ‘Iron Duke’ liked a tincture, so just maybe he called at the pub too?
Some landlords had longevity. John Penny was there 21 years from 1817 while, John Tapley and his wife did twenty years, from 1838 to 1858. They had five daughters and would have needed them. Marbury was a busy place in those days with blacksmiths, butchers, shoemakers and tailors, while most people working in cheese making and agriculture would have had healthy thirsts to slake.
Competition was fierce. The Hollybush at Norbury and the Bridge Inn in Quoisley were alehouses while the Leathern Bottle at Hollyhurst and the Swan were the posher ‘public’ houses. Back then ‘alewives’ would brew the beer.
The Leathern Bottle did not survive, but the ‘Old Swan’ was rebuilt in the 1880s by the local ‘squires’, the Cudworth Halstead Poole family. In 1891 builder Joseph Harding and wife Betsy took on the ‘New Swan’ while farming alongside with cattle, sheep and pigs – quite normal then. By this time the Crewe to Whitchurch railway had arrived and visitors would come by train to watch bare knuckled.
Bikes and rowing boats
Remarkably, the tenancy passed through generations of the Harding family for 95 years. Before the Great War, Lizzie Harding kept a rowing boat on the Little Mere for her residents and local fishermen. About then cycling for leisure became popular. The Swan became a regular pit stop for the Cyclist Touring Club and bikes could be hired in the village. But in 1914 Kaiser Bill rather nastily called a halt. Eighty-six local men served in World War I.
The trappings of modern life increasingly arrived in the interwar years – a telephone exchange in 1927 and mains water supply and electricity in 1930, followed by the first bus service in 1934.
A time of expansion for brewers, the 1930s saw the Swan snapped up by the ambitious Wem Brewery. The brewery was known as ‘The Treacle Mines’ – which could have been a tribute to the ale, or not.
They don’t like it up ‘em…. L.Cpl. Jones
During World War II Marbury had its own ‘Dad’s Army’. Beacons were lit around the countryside to successfully lure enemy bombers away from industrial Crewe. Risky for the village, but fortunately it suffered nothing worse than a few cracked ceilings.
But, in another ruse to ‘stop Hitler’s little game’, we speculate that the lads may have sampled a few ‘Treacle Best’ when they conceived their idea to dig a pit trap in the village road and cover it with brushwood; rather unfortunately this only succeeded in ‘capturing’ a visiting vicar!
With peacetime Marbury settled into less dramatic times and in 1948 a local author described the bucolic life as ‘far from the Madding Crowd’ and the village as ‘a hidden gem down country lanes’. By 1974 George and Ann Sumner had taken on the Swan and found life so agreeable they stayed to run a successful pub right up until 1998.
After that the pub changed hands several times over the years, until Jerry Brunning bought it to begin the next chapter in the Swan’s rich history. It was a long slog to painstakingly repair and restore the 19th century building.
But April 2018 saw the Swan open its doors to once again take its place as a traditional country inn at the heart of the village, in Jerry’s own individual style of course – and with Wi-Fi.
‘Life isn’t all beer and skittles, but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman’s education’….Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays.