Swan With Two Necks

The Swan With Two Necks in 1971

The Swan With Two Necks in 1971

Of all the sad changes that modern has brought, and there are many to offset the good, one of the saddest is the passing of the traditional public house.

It isn’t so long ago that there was a pub on every street corner and several in between. They were as much a part of the social fabric of the country as the church or the factory, and all they had to do was serve beer, provide a dart board, a pack of cards for entertainment and a packet of crisps for the hungry.

It was where men would gather in the tap room to slake their thirst after a hard day’s work and where they would be joined by wives, girlfriends, mums, dads and uncles for a Saturday night out in the best room with port and lemon added to the tariff, and exotic drinks like Snowballs, Babycham and Cherry B.

But all that was a long time ago. There are still one or two watering holes that look like the ones I remember, but most have fallen by the wayside, put out of business by social changes, cheap supermarket deals on alcohol for home consumption and too many competing entertainments.

The Swan With Two Necks in the late 1950s

The Swan With Two Necks in the late 1950s

All this was brought to mind by this article from Manchester Online which features photos from Manchester City Library of old images of pubs past and present from the area. The one above is of The Swan With Two Necks that used to be nextdoor to the Withy Grove Print Works which used to churn out copies of the Daily Mirror, the Evening Chronicle and the Sporting Life.

I used to work not too far away in the 1970s so used to go there on the odd lunch hour, it being fairly newly rebuilt on the site of the original pub on the left.

The thing is, I never really questioned why a pub in the middle of Manchester should be called The Swan With Two Necks. At best, I guessed it must have been some sort of mythical beast – a swan with two heads.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The name actually owes its origin to the business of Swan Upping and the Worshipful Company of Vinters. Back in the day when swans were privileged game and property of the monarch, there was an annual census of all mute swans to make sure no-one was having it away with the king and queens dinner.

Then in the 16th century, in an unusual fit of generosity, Elizabeth I decided she would share the fishy-tasting fowl with the above mentioned Worshipful Company of Vinters. The problem was how to tell which swans belonged to HRH and which to her loyal livery company.

The solution was to mark the swans belonging to the vintners with two nicks in their beaks. The words nick and neck were pretty much interchangeable at the time and the wily vintners quickly realised that naming their pubs The Swan With Two Necks was a clever way of showing off their royal patronage.

The rest, as they say, is history, just as the traditional pub is being consigned to being no more than glorified eateries and ‘tremendous business opportunities’.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

4 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 11th March 2016

    Like you I mourn the passing of the traditional English pub. I loved “The Swan With Two Necks” story.
    On Panoramio, I am the “owner” of a group that aims to gather as many pictures as possible of English pubs. You can see them here:-

  • Trevor Rowley 12th March 2016

    Whilst we mourn the passing of the traditional English pub, perhaps we also might need to reflect on why this might have come about – an increased access to motor transport which would take us well beyond the pub at the end of the street, where grandad and his chums did their drinking in somewhat plain and basic surroundings, to the the glamour of far away watering holes full of smart settees, mock old masters and fake chandeliers. Add to this the cheapness of supermarket alcohol to drink at home (do people in pubs really buy full bottles of wine at exorbitant prices?), the smoking ban and a myriad of modern day factors and you have an industry that bears little comparison to its predecessors.

    As for unusual or odd pub names, I offer the Hark To Topper, a beautiful little pub on Bow Street (a little street just off the main drag) in Oldham town centre. Selling Sam Smith’s beers (food from the gods) I’d be there most nights if I lived in Oldham. But how on earth did it get that name?

  • Mr Parrot 13th March 2016

    All valid points Trevor, although I think that cheap supermarket booze is the main culprit.

    Not being a regular in Oldham, let alone its hostelries, I’ve never come across Hark to Topper before and I’ve no idea where the name comes from. Sounds like a good excuse for someone to pay a visit just to ask!

  • Trevor Rowley 13th March 2016

    That Sam Smith’s beer is pure nectar, Mr P. After eleventeen pints of wallop, you’ll swear you’ve died and gone to heaven – although, in reality, you’re still back in a small town boozer down a back street.


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