The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

The building of the Swan Tavern

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The 1771 Manorial Survey showing a plan of the Swan Tavern, its fish ponds and orchards




After the calamitous events of the Civil War, where it was said 'the most barbarous outrages were committed in the town, and the inhabitants cruelly plundered', a flood devastated Brentford in 1682. The weather had turned violent and a storm raged with bursts of thunder and lightning, followed by a swift release of flood waters cannoning through the town, carrying away its little houses and boats. A similar event would occur a century and a half later but more savage and deadly, killing some of the inhabitants, and laying to waste their habitations.       
   Such turmoil had been a feature of Brentford's existence, whilst across the river at Kew, the genteel pursuits of gardening and estate building were being followed and forged, with brand new villas designed and built, and gardens planned and laid.
Earlier in the century in 1631, Samuel Fortrey a Flemish merchant had taken a mansion at Kew and rebuilt it, placing his own initials with that of his wife's over the door, for many years the new villa would be known as the Dutch House.
Fortrey's neighbour, Sir Henry Capel had made an obsession of gardening and collecting unusual plants. John Evelyn, a frequent visitor to Kew observed that Capel's 'orangerie and myrtetum are most beautiful and perfectly well kept. He was contriving very high palisadoes of reedes to shade his oranges during the summer, and painting those reedes in oil'.
Back across the river at Ealing, the baptism register of 1698 records the birth of Stephen son of Stephen and Ann West. The eldest boy is followed by a stream of offspring, there's John and Mary, then Anne and Dorothy until finally Elizabeth and Sarah are baptised in 1713 and 1715 respectively. The 1753 Will of Ann West gives reference to two other children, Martha and Henry whose baptisms are not recorded by either Ealing or Brentford parish churches.
The family had made a considerable fortune for themselves from fishing rights, leaving behind the begrimed labour of butchery and the increasing quest for trade. Fishing was more localised with buyers on their doorsteps, but there is a confusion as to which Stephen West, elder or junior, started the climb towards respectability.
Stephen West junior married Mary Stevens at St Benet Paul's Wharf (a 'Stevens church') in 1724 and according to the historian John Cloake was granted a publican's licence the same year. A document exists at the London Metropolitan Archives for a 14 year Lease concerning the conversion of land into a kitchen garden, first to Lady Elizabeth Molyneux (great-niece of Sir Henry Capel) and second to Ann Lelly [sic] widow of Sir Peter Lely, with rights to Stephen West for landing passengers on the Kew side of the river in 1729.
The very same year West is specifically granted a licence for the Swan Tavern. The hostelry was situated on the Brentford Ait, and according to some sources was originally built by Stephen West. The extent of the plot can be seen on the 1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond shown in the image above; the actual acreage consisting of fishponds, orchards and buildings was in reality larger than that of the Dutch House on the opposite bank.
The success and eventual notoriety of the Swan, would culminate in a period of glory years for the aforementioned Henry West brother of Stephen, who would sit and pose for his portrait, painted by one of the greatest miniaturists of the day.

That story is yet to be told.

The Brentford Whitsuntide Ale

17th Century Digressions, Entertainment & Culture, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 No Comments »

    At a vestry held at Brentford in 1621, several articles were agreed upon with regard to the management of the parish stock by the chapel-wardens. The preamble states, "that the inhabitants had for many years been accustomed to have meetings at Whitsontide, in their churchhouse and other places there, in friendly manner, to eat and drink together, and liberally to spend their monies, to the end neighbourly society might be maintained; and also a common stock raised for the repairs of the church, maintaining of orphans, placing poor children in service, and defraying other charges;" which stock not having been properly applied, it was ordered, that a particular account should be given from year to year of their gains at those times, and the manner of the expenditure. In "the, accompts for the Whitsontide ale, 1624," the gains are thus discriminated: 

  £. s. d
Imprimis, cleared by the pigeon holes 4 19 0
__________________________by hocking 7 3   7
__________________________by riffeling 2 0   0
__________________________by victualling 8 0   2
  22 2   9

"The hocking occurs almost every year till 1640, when it appears to have been dropped. It was collected at Whitsuntide."
"1618, gained with hocking at Whitsuntide 16 12 3 "
The other games were continued two years later. Riffeling is synonimous with raffling."



  £. s. d
"1621, paid for a beast for the parish use 2  6  8
______given to the French chapel by consent 1  0  0
1625, for a coffin to draw the infected corpses 0  8  8
1633, given to a knts. son in Devonshire,  
    being out of meanes                                           0  0  6
 ______paid for a book of sporting allowed on Sundaies 0  0  6
1634, paid Robt Warden, the constable, which  
   he disbursed for conveying away the witches       0 11 0
1688, paid for a declaration of liberty of conscience 0 1   0
1688, paid for a form of prayer for the Dutch not landing 0 1   0
——— for a thanksgiving for deliverance from Popery 0 1   0
The two last entries immediately follow each other."  


Stephen West & the Assassination Plot: Final Part

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In December 1670 two men, Stephen and Charles West, were arrested for the attempted murder of the Duke of Ormonde. The circumstances in which they were apprehended and their subsequent interrogation and trial are vague.

What follows is an attempt to bring together the proceedings as they unfolded, however an accurate time frame does not appear to be possible at this stage.

   The testimony of Thomas Greene, a tanner, provided a crucial part of the brothers' alibi, but it also endowed the story with a backdrop of town life in the 1670s. The two brothers travelled from Stapleton every Saturday for the fair at Bristol, selling their trade, supplying meat and hides. Bristol was booming and was slowly beginning to benefit from the North Atlantic trade. The merchants were growing in number and had their eyes on the profits from the Americas and the Caribbean; the outgoing human ‘goods’ from the port set sail to work on the plantations, but there was a burgeoning demand for incoming necessities that must have attracted the West brothers.
After leaving Bristol on 12 December 1670, Stephen and Charles West headed south to another port and potential market at Southampton. The detailed description of the Duke of Ormonde’s attackers and one of their horses, had been circulated to the King’s town officials via the London Gazette dated 8-12 December 1670.
Upon arrival in Southampton, the two brothers must have aroused suspicion, possibly bearing a resemblance to the published description of the assailants and being in charge of a black nag. They were subsequently arrested, their money and horses were confiscated and they were incarcerated in prison; within two or three days they were removed and sent to the Westminster Gatehouse.
The State Papers contain a nebulous document in the hand of Sir Joseph Williamson, instructing the Justices to study the examinations extracted by the Mayor of Southampton, ‘and wishing them to inquire into such particulars as relate to their [Stephen and Charles West] parts, and to lose no time in the inquiry’.
On 5 January, Stephen and Charles sent a letter entreating Thomas Greene to send a certificate to the Gatehouse, certifying the colours and marks of the horse they had bought from him, ‘for it concerns our lives and therefore for Gods sake do not fayle us this time’.
Further evidence arrived the same day from William Beveridge, the Vicar of Brentford, who having been notified of the brother’s distress, collected twenty-one signatures to confirm Stephen’s marriage in 1663 and his residence at Brentford, saying ‘the cause of his going away now was that he was overthrown in a law suit’.

The following evening, the two men were examined before Lord Arlington and other Lords of the Council:

‘when they pretended their names to be West, two brothers, by profession butchers, and that they rambled so about upon occasion of debts; but being taken in different confessions and found to be persons of an unknown life and conversation, if not the persons suspected, they were committed to the Gatehouse til better evidence be brought to clear them’.

   A certificate from Thomas Greene arrived on Saturday 7 January, confirming that he had seen the two men at Bristol market on 6 December and they did not leave until after the 10 December. On the 7 December they had bought from him ‘a black nag with certain marks’ and had given him a hide as part payment thereof.
Five days passed at the mercy of Lady Broughton, the notorious keeper of the Westminster Gatehouse, until finally Stephen and Charles West went to trial at the Old Bailey where they were acquitted within two days. The warrant issued for their release was sent on 14 January, however they were not released immediately; amongst the undated State Papers is a Petition from the brothers to Lord Arlington for relief, as they ‘… are detained by Lady Broughton, because they cannot pay the double fees which she demands’. 
Earl of Arlington  
The authorities did not catch up with Lady Broughton for another decade. Her draconian regime and ‘hard usage of the prisoners in a most barbarous manner’, emerged after she was indicted for extorting fees and sent to trial. She pleaded not guilty, but was founded culpable on all counts, stripped of her office and fined 100 marks.

The outcome of the Petition is unknown, but upon receiving the letter, the Council also received the following:

‘Petition of Katherine, wife of Rich Halliwell, tobacco cutter, to Lord Arlington for release of herself and maid from the custody of a messenger, to which they were committed, having been apprehended about three weeks ago, on suspicion that her husband is connected with the horrid attempt against the Duke of Ormonde. She hopes that he is innocent, and absents himself only from fear of prison, having endured much in that kind in respect of his religion’.

   Richard Halliwell or Hallowell was named as one of the culprits responsible for the attack on the Duke of Ormonde and described by the London Gazette as ’middle sized…, plump faced, with pock holes, of demure countenance, having a short brown periwig’. Halliwell and the remainder of his comrades were still at large, and some of them were not captured until a famously audacious attempt was made to steal the Crown Jewels in May 1671.

It seemed that both the attack on the Duke of Ormonde and the attempt to steal the Crown Jewels were perpetrated by the same man, the infamous Thomas Blood. The King pardoned Blood and gave him land in Ireland worth £500 a year, many watched on in horror as Blood became a society favourite. In his diary, John Evelyn wrote:

‘Dined at my Lord Treasurer's, where dined Mons. de Grammont and several French noblemen, and one Blood, that impudent, bold fellow, who had not long before attempted to steal the imperial crown itself out of the Tower, pretending curiosity of seeing the regalia there, when, stabbing the keeper, though not mortally, he boldly went away with it through all the guards, taken only by the accident of his horse falling down. How he came to be pardoned, and even received in favour, not only after this, but several other exploits almost as daring both in Ireland and here, I could never come to understand. Some believed he became a spy of several parties, being well with the sectaries and enthusiasts, and did his Majesties service that way, which none alive could do so well as he; but it was certainely as the boldest attempt, so the onely treason of this sort that was ever pardon’d. This man had not onely a daring, but a villainous unmerciful looke, a false countenance, but very well spoken, and dangerously insinuating‘.

   Blood died in 1680 and the Duke of Ormonde in 1685; the respective fates of Halliwell, Stephen West and Charles West are unknown. Stephen West must have returned to his family in Brentford, for his descendants built a small empire on the banks of the Thames, that would eventually propel them into the path of the royal family yet again. 

Part 3

Stephen West & the Assassination Plot Part II

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 1 Comment »

In the December of 1670, Londoners experienced some of the worst fog for a generation. In his diary for 15th December, John Evelyn wrote that he had observed, `the thickest and darkest fogg on the Thames that was ever known.' 
   The murky winter evenings and the poorly lit streets of Piccadilly, formed a backdrop against which, an ambush and an attempted murder would take place.
   A week before John Evelyn wrote his diary entry, the London Gazette published an account of an attempt on the life of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. Thomas Carte, Butler’s biographer wrote a detailed version based on the Duke’s own elaboration of the incident.
  On 6 December 1670, the Prince of Orange, on a visit to London was accompanied by the Duke to an entertainment in the City. As the Duke journeyed home, he was attacked by six men in St James’s Street  between the hours of six and seven in the evening. Despite always being accompanied by footmen, the Duke was urged from his coach and forcibly mounted on horseback behind one of his attackers.
   One of the assailants rode ahead to Tyburn to tie a rope to the gallows with the intention of hanging Butler, but the Duke had managed to unhorse his attacker whilst they rode beyond Berkeley (Devonshire) House towards Knightsbridge.
   The Duke and the dismounted attacker fought in the mud, until the man, alarmed by a clamour of voices, started and mounted his horse. He fired his pistol at the Duke, but missed as he hurriedly took aim in the dark. The attacker and his comrades rode off, ‘the bold Assassinates having made shift to escape all pursuite by reason of the darkness of the night.' The Duke, suffering no more than shock and a few bruises, was confined to his home at Clarendon House for a number of days.

Clarendon House 1680

On 7 December, the London Gazette reported that:

“His Majesty has thought fit by His Royal Proclamation… that whosoever shall discover unto His Majesty… any one of those Six Persons, or any of their Aiders or Abetters… he shall for such his pains and diligence in this Affair, receive from His Majesty a Reward of One thousand pounds Sterling.”

Furthermore, the Gazette published a description of one of the horses and the pistol used in the attack, declaring ‘it may be some good Means to promote the Discovery of these Malefactors.’ The weapon was described as a small ‘Pocket Screwed Pistol’, garnished with silver, and marked with the Letters T. H.; the horse was a brown bay ‘with a white stripe or Blaze all along his face.’ Anyone wishing to view the instruments of the crime, could do so by paying a visit to Clarendon House, where they were on display.
   The King called upon all ‘Mayors, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace’ to assist in seizing the assailants as ‘His Majesty resolves to pursue and bring to Justice, as the Enemies of His Crown and Dignity.’

On the 8 December 1670 the London Gazette issued a description of the attackers based on witness testimonies:

“Richard Hallowell, alias Holloway, a tobacco-cutter, lately dwelling in Fryingpan Alley in Petticoat-lane without Bishopsgate-street, a middle sized man, plump faced, with pock holes, of demure countenance, having a short Brown Periwig, and sad coloured cloaths, about Forty years of age.

“Thomas Allen, alias Allyt, alias Ayliffe, who pretended himself a Chyrurgion or Doctor of Physick, sometimes living at Rumford in Essex, but lately lodging at or near Aldgate, being a man of a down look, lean faced, and full of pockholes, with a stuff coat, usually wearing a Worsted Camlet Cloak, and a Brown Short Periwig, inclining to Red, about 36 years of age.

“Thomas Hunt, a tall and well proportioned man, and a ruddy complexion about 33 or 34 years of age, wearing a Flaxen Periwig, of a large Curl, and long, but sometimes of late a black one; his cloaths Black, and sometimes wearing a Brown Worsted Camlet Coat, long, and has one legg a little crooked or bow’d… and a mark or searce near his right Eye, about the bigness of a penny.

“______ Hurst, of a middle size, good complexion, with a dark coloured Periwig, and commonly wears a Black Coat.”

   Eyewitness accounts reported that the assailants were seen heading towards Knightsbridge after the attack. Once they were by the river, they doubled-back and took the road ‘near to the Neat-houses by Tuttle-fields’ before making their way through Lambeth into Southwark.
   Four of the men were mounted on two horses and one of the attackers was on a black mare with a white foot about 16 hands high. The mare was seized at Lambeth, as belonging to the aforementioned Thomas Hunt, who was then, as the London Gazette reported, apprehended for attempted robbery at Smitham Bottom in Surrey.
   In the following issue, the London Gazette (15 December), published its description of Thomas Hunt again, as if the arrest in Smitham Bottom had been a false hope.

It seemed apparent that the gang had disappeared south, and no further knowledge of them emerged until two men were arrested in Southampton.

Part 3


Stephen West & the Assassination Plot Part I

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London, Decem. 7th. 1670

"Whereas upon Tuesday, the Sixth of this instant December, between the hours of Six and Seven in the Evening, an Inhumane Attempt was made upon the Person and Life of his Grace, James Duke of Ormond…"

On 12 November 1642, Prince Rupert brought his army of cavalry and Welsh infantrymen to Brentford. The Parliamentary army were barracaded inside Brentford guarding the bridge across the River Brent that connected the two halves of the town. Rupert's forces drove the Parliamentarians over the bridge and into the open fields, fighting into the afternoon and forcing the enemy to flee via the river, only to drown in the depths of the Thames.

Glovers map of Brentford battle
   A year or so before Prince Rupert's men had come to Brentford and, as the story goes, stole some 300 apples from the orchard of a local man, Stephen West was born. It is unknown whether he was born in Brentford or Ealing or if he had come from further afield, but he and his brother Charles were both apprenticed to the trade of butchery. The registers of St Laurence, Brentford record the burial of a James West 'butcher' in 1680, and in the same register, one Mary West daughter of John West 'cutler' was buried in 1695.
  On 30 April 1663, having met and courted a girl called Ann Shelley, Stephen West applied for a marriage licence. Ann was a year older than Stephen and had given her place of origin as St Mary Cray in the parish of Orpington, Kent; there had been a Shelley family holding the manor of Crofton in Orpington in the early half of the 16th century and Ann's family may have belonged to the manor.
   On 2 May 1663 a marriage was recorded in the register at Ealing Church and two baptisms followed, Elias on 14 April 1664 and Anne on 11 November 1666 – however both children were entered into the register with the father's name only by each entry.
  By 1664 the inhabitants of Brentford had numbered a shade over 250 hearths and were surrounded by the peaceful assurance of industry, fisheries, wharfs and timber yards. A busy thoroughfare for transporting goods and individuals had given rise to the growth of inns in the settlement and despite being larger than its neighbour, Brentford was only a lesser part of the parish of Ealing.
   By 1665 the plague had arrived and decimated the population; the burial registers show that 103 burials had taken place in Brentford. Stephen and Charles managed to escape the plague's merciless destruction, probably by travelling to fairs across the south of England as a consequence of their trade.
   Five years later, on 10 November 1670 they arrived in Stapleton just north of Bristol. They bought a horse from Thomas Greene a local tanner and butchered a bullock and sold him the hide. They attended a fair five miles from Stapleton on 6 December and left for Southampton on 12 December; upon arrival in Southampton the Mayor arrested them for attempted murder and treason.

Part 2


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