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The Black Swan Public House George Street Luton

Debenhams is on the site of both the Plough and the Black Swan August 2009
Debenhams is on the site of both the Plough and the Black Swan August 2009

The Black Swan Public House: 12 George Street, Luton [previously called the Swan]

The Black Swan was a well established public house by the time of its closure in 1878. It is first mentioned in 1633 when, as the Swan, it was conveyed by Thomas Crawley and his son, also Thomas, to Richard Peters of Luton, cook, and Pleasance, his wife for £95 [Z660/D/3/1/1]. The inn was described as standing between the messuage of Henry Selham on one side and Robert Martyn on the other and abutting the street near the market place. It was described as previously being the property to John Bishop deceased.

Five years later Peters conveyed the Swan to William Gillam of Luton, brazier, for £110 [Z660/D/3/1/2]. In 1693 William Gillam of Luton, locksmith, perhaps the son or grandson of the William Gillam of 1635, made his will [Z660/D/3/1/3] i nwhich he devised his dwellinghouse in Luton and the residue of his real estate to his wife Sarah for her life and, after her death, to his son John, with remainders to his four daughters.

in 1698 [Z660/D/3/2/3] a property was conveyed by Sarah Gillam, widow, to her son John. The property is described as a messuage or tenement adjoining the back part of Black Swan, Luton, with a stable and hogscoate [pigsty] and a half part of the yard and garden of the Black Swan, with the liberty to fetch water from a well belonging to Black Swan and right of way across the Black Swan yard.

In 1717 John Gillam, together with Edward Ewer and John, his son covenanted to levy a fine on the premises to John and Robert Chalkeley of Luton, brickmaker and grocer respectively who were, presumably, acting as trustees for the Ewers who were, again presumably, mortgagees [Z660/D/3/1/4 and X139/49]. The inn is here described as the Black Swan for the first time and is recorded as in the several occupations of John Gillam and Edward Poulton and fronting the common street near the market place.

At some point the inn was sold by John Gillam to John Trustram [Z660/3/1/6], who owned several nearby inns, including the Old Bell. In 1745 Mary Trustram, widow of John, mortgaged a number of inns including the Black Swan to William Lucas of Hitchin [Hertfordshire], draper [Z660/D/3/1/6]. Five years later Lucas was dead and his son, also William and a brewer, assigned the mortgage to Martha Howard [Z660/D/3/1/6]. By 1755 Mary Trustram was "long since dead" and the Black Swan was conveyed to Elizabeth Gutteridge of Luton, widow [Z660/D/3/1/6].

By 1776 Elizabeth Gutteridge was dead and the Black Swan was in the hands of her two daughters, Elizabeth Hill and Sarah Smith. The Smiths then bought out the Hills [WB/Green4/1/Lu/BS1]. The Black Swan included an adjoining cottage "for many years converted and used as a stable and outhouse". At some point the Smiths must have sold the premises because in 1860, when Frederick Burr's brewery and licensed houses were conveyed to Thomas Sworder the Black Swan was included in the sale [Z660/D/1/4], the conveyance noting that Mary Burr had died in 1810 and owned the Black Swan at that date.

The Black Swan was obviously not considered a jewel in the crown of Sworder's Brewery because in 1864 Robert How, agent for Thomas Sworder the elder of Hertford, uncle and business partner of the Luton brewer, wrote: "I saw Mr. Everitt yesterday and informed him that I had had an application to know if you would sell this property and he promised me he would write you. If so will you please let me know the lowest price." [X95/290/1/63]. At this date the licensee was John Millard who, William Austin in his 1928 book The History of Luton and its Hamlets states, was a retired constable.Luton Year Book 1906 states that the Black Swan closed on 5th October 1877 and that its licence was removed to the Royal Hotel.

The Black Swan was eventually sold in 1878 to Henry Blundell, draper, for £2000 [X95/387]. The premises was then described as "a messuage with a stable, yard and appurtenances lately used as a public house called the Black Swan, now converted into a private house and shop in Market Hill, Luton, formerly in occupation of Mrs. Millard, now of Henry Blundell". The property continued to form part of Blundell's store until it closed in 1978. The site of the old public house now lies, together with the Plough, under Debenham's department store.


  • Z660/D/3/1/1: feoffment: 1630;
  • Z660/D/3/1/2: feoffment: 1635;
  • Z660/D/3/1/3: will of William Gillam: 1693;
  • Z660/D/3/2/3: conveyance of property adjoining the Black Swan: 1698;
  • Z660/D/3/1/4 and X139/49: deed to levy a fine: 1717;
  • Z660/D/3/1/6: mortgage: 1745;
  • Z660/D/3/1/6: assignment of mortgage: 1750;
  • Z660/D/3/1/6: conveyance: 1755
  • WB/Green4/1/Lu/BS1: conveyance: 1776;
  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1829;
  • Z660/D/1/4: conveyance of Burr's brewery from Edward Burr and Richard Hatley Crabb to Thomas Sworder: 1860;
  • X95/292/60: possible offer on the Black Swan: 1864;
  • X95/292/63: offer made on the Black Swan: 1864;
  • X95/292/65: valuation of the Black Swan: 1864;
  • X95/292/70: offer made on the Black Swan: 1864;
  • X95/292/171: mentioned in correspondence: 1866;
  • X95/283: account of rents of Thomas Sworder's licensed premises: 1867;
  • X95/304: rent in barrels of Thomas Sworder licensed properties: 1867;
  • X95/290/1/63: correspondence regarding possible sale: 1869;
  • X95/240: copy agreement between Thomas Sworder and his creditors William Anstee, John Cook and Benjamin Bennett: 1878;
  • X95/242: assurance from Edward Burr and Thomas Hatley Crabb to Thomas Joseph Sworder: 1878;
  • X95/387: conveyance of the former Black Swan by Thomas Sworder to Henry Blundell: 1878;
  • WB/Green7/7/1: LutonTown centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet: 1990s

Licensees: Note that this is not a complete list; italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known 

1630: Richard Peters;
1717: Edward Poulton;
1806-1830: John Higgins;
1839: Samuel Carter;
1847-1850: Thomas Tomlinson;
1861-1872: John Millard;
1873-1876: Louisa Millard
Public house closed between 1876 and 1878.