Friday 29 August 2014

Which is the oldest pub in Louth?

The pubs of Louth have often attracted attention from local historians, but when it comes to the question of which of them is the oldest, there's rarely any serious discussion: Ye Olde Whyte Swanne on Eastgate (or, simply, The White Swan, as it appears from the historical directories to have been usually called before the twentieth century) is usually crowned the uncontested winner of that title.

Ye Olde Whyte Swanne, Eastgate, Louth. The sign on the side claims that it was established in 1612, although in reality this is the date of its first appearance in the written record, rather than when it was established. Photo © 2014 Google.

There are, it has to be said, good reasons why this is the case, not least the fact that 'The Sign of the Swan' is first mentioned as a Louth inn in an archdeacon’s visitation of 1612 and the present building is believed to date from the seventeenth century. As such, the White Swan would seem to be clearly more ancient than its usual nearest competitor, the Wheatsheaf on Westgate, formerly 'the Sign of the Wheatsheaf' (as in 1764), which is said to have been founded in 1627 and whose oldest standing element is usually only assigned to the late seventeenth century. However, whether The White Swan is the only answer to the question of the oldest pub in Louth, as opposed to the usual one, is a rather more complicated question: to some degree it depends exactly what one actually means by 'the oldest pub in Louth'? If one means the pub that has existed longest in Louth in its current premises, then The White Swan/Ye Olde Whyte Swanne is probably the answer that is sought: the White Swan clearly fits this bill. However, if one means something else, then there are other candidates to be had!

The Greyhound Inn, Upgate, Louth. Photo © 2014 Google.

The first candidate is the Greyhound Inn, on Upgate. This inn is first mentioned by name in 1767, had previously traded as the White Hart from at least 1751 to 1766, and was the site of several interesting incidents reported in the early newspapers—for example, in 1833 the landlord of the Greyhound, Joseph Wilson, was ‘removing a great coat belonging to one of his guests’ when ‘a loaded pistol, which was in one of the pockets, went off, and he received the contents in his body, from the effects of which he died almost immediately’ (Hull Packet, 6 Dec 1833). Clearly, it doesn't have the written pedigree to convincingly challenge the White Swan as the pub that has existed longest in Louth in its current premises. However, if one wishes to know the site of the oldest possible inn or pub yet identified in Louth, excluding the requirement that it be continuously operating, then the Greyhound might well be the answer. The reason for this lies with archaeological excavations that were undertaken to the rear of the Greyhound Inn around ten years ago. As was noted in Streets of Louth, these excavations indicated that this area of Louth was occupied from the twelfth century onwards and that it lay on the edge of the medieval town, with arable fields and wooded areas being located close by. Finds made include a substantial quantity of twelfth- and thirteenth-century pottery, along with horse shoes and horse harness fittings, leading to the suggestion that the first buildings on this site were stables that were perhaps associated with an inn. This site continued in use for a period but appears to have been largely abandoned after the mid-fourteenth century, perhaps because of the Black Death, and was only reoccupied in the eighteenth century.

The location of the main inns and pubs mentioned in this past, against Bayley's 1834 plan of Louth; click the image for a larger version. Key: 1=The White Swan; 2=The Wheatsheaf; 3=The Greyhound Inn; 4='Ye Inne'; 5=The Blue Stone Inn; 6=The Turks Head; 7=The Blackmoor's Head (Image created by C. R. Green, using R. S. Bayley's 1834 plan of Louth).

If the Greyhound Inn therefore could be on the site of the oldest pub/inn yet identified in Louth, what of the oldest continuously operating pub or inn in the town, irrespective of the age of its current premises, another valid and important interpretation of the question 'which is the oldest pub in Louth?' It would be easy to assume that this would be the White Swan on Eastgate again, as it is first recorded in 1612 and appears to have operated continuously. However, there are several pubs or inns that were recorded earlier than this in the town, such as 'Ye Inne' that was located on Upgate in 1564—possibly on the site of the property to the south of Church House—or the Blue Stone Inn, which was located on the southern corner of Upgate and Mercer Row and was certainly functioning as an inn in 1677 and may well have been so in the sixteenth century too (it was said to have once extended back all the way to Kidgate and to have been the largest inn in the county until its closure in 1800: see Streets of Louth under Upgate for both of these inns).

Even more importantly, one of these ancient inns may well be still operating today, albeit in a building much younger than the business itself. The inn in question was known as the Saracen's Head and was located on Aswell Lane (now Aswell Street). This inn bore a classically medieval inn-name, referencing the Crusades, and was indeed first mentioned in the medieval period, in John Louth's will of 1459. In October 1536, it made another appearance in the surviving documentary record: it was in the Saracen's Head that John Franke or Frankishe, the Registrar of the Bishop, was apparently staying ahead of the Visitation of Louth in that month, and it was from there that he was dragged with his books into the Market Place by Nicholas Melton (‘Captain Cobbler’) and his company at the start of the short-lived Lincolnshire Rising.

The Turks Head, Aswell Street, Louth, arguably the site of the oldest continuously operating inn/pub in Louth. Although the current buildings belong to the modern era, the Turks Head likely continues the ancient Saracen's Head inn, which operated on Aswell Street in the medieval and early modern periods. Photo © 2014 Google.

With regard to the location and potential survival of the Saracen’s Head into the modern period, it seems reasonable to suggest that there is probably some sort of intimate relationship between the medieval and early modern Saracen's Head inn on Aswell Lane and the modern Turks Head inn, which stands on the north-eastern corner of Aswell Street. The Turks Head appears to be one of the few Louth inns and public houses to have survived since the eighteenth century without a name change—a characteristic it also shares, incidentally, with the Wheatsheaf and the White Swan—and it was clearly already a significant inn during the mid-eighteenth century, when Christian Frederick Esberger stayed at the ‘Turkshead’ three times in 1764. In light of the relatively early recording of the Turks Head (most Louth inns and pubs are not recorded until the last part of the eighteenth century or after); the stability of the inn’s name; the close resemblance of this name to that of the Saracen’s Head ("Turk's Head", as an inn-name, is usually considered an eighteenth-century variant of the medieval "Saracen's Head"); and the location of the inn on the corner of Aswell Lane at the front of the medieval tenement that originally occupied the whole of east side of Aswell Lane from Queen Street (then Walkergate) to the Aswell spring, it certainly seems credible that the modern Turks Head might represent a rebuilding and survival of the medieval and early modern Saracen's Head.

An alternative theory, promoted by R. W. Goulding a century ago, is that the now-demolished inn that once stood just a little further south on the same side of the Aswell Lane, where the Mr Chips’ takeaway now is, could have been a survival of the Saracen’s Head. Named variously the Red Lion, the White Hart and the Foresters’ Arms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was apparently known as the Blackmoor’s, or Black’s, Head before 1789, this being another eighteenth-century variant of the early "Saracen's Head" inn-name. Whilst it is certainly not impossible that this represents a continuing Saracen's Head, the lack of stability in the inn's name is noteworthy and the Turks Head looks like a more credible candidate if we have to choose. However, it is perhaps worth asking whether we really have to choose between these two inns at all. A better solution to the presence of two inns on the same side of Aswell Lane bearing names that are variants of the "Saracen's Head" is simply that the original medieval inn probably occupied the entirety of the medieval tenement here, from Queen Street to the Aswell spring (as the early Blue Stone Inn on Upgate/Mercer Row appears to have done too, see above), with both eighteenth-century inns then deriving from the original inn as its site was subdivided over time. After all, the current properties and businesses on both sides of Aswell Street all result from the subdivision of the two medieval tenements that the original Aswell Lane ran between, and such a scenario offers a plausible solution to the presence of both the Turks Head and the Blackmoor's Head on the same side of the road here—the Turks Head would, on this model, be the direct descendant of the medieval and early modern Saracen's Head inn, as it stands at the front of the original medieval tenement, whilst the Blackmoor's Head would be a secondary creation made at some subsequent point when the Saracen's Head tenement was split to create the properties facing onto Aswell Lane/Aswell Street.

The content of this page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2014, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission. It is based in part on my book, The Streets of Louth, which offers additional details on the early history of the streets and buildings mentioned above and is available to buy as a paperback.