The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

The end of an era: George III’s Jubilee at Kew

Entertainment & Culture, Family History, Society and Politics, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 2 Comments »

Kew Green in 1810


Kew Green in 1810

It was 1809 and the patriarch was dead. Henry West was long gone and with him the little empire he had built at Kew was dying; the old Swan Tavern on the Brentford Ait had been surrendered by his wife in 1793 to Thomas Samuel Maycock and from him to Elizabeth Legh and her descendants; until finally Robert Hunter irritated occupant of the house opposite, made a complaint to the City of London about the noise. The island, he said 'was a great Nuisance to this parish and Neighbourhood on both sides of the river…,' it lured, enticed and encouraged the worst type of behaviour drawing debauched individuals to the 'House of Entertainment, which has long been a Harbour for Men and women of the worst description, where riotous and indecent scenes were often exhibited during the Summer months on Sundays'.
   Whilst under the proprietorship of the West family, the Swan Tavern had dazzled George IV and he had used it to plot his seduction of Mary Robinson, but by 1800 his father's court had drifted away to Windsor and old King George III paid his last visit to Kew in 1806. He did not return to this fond place of memories for his jubilee, but the remaining members of the West family including my great, great, great grandparents Henry and Henrietta would have joined in the celebrations on Kew Green:

   "The morning was ushered in by the firing of cannon, and the ringing of bells. The board of Artificers walked in procession to Church at ten o'clock. After divine service, Messrs. George and Henry Warren [local landowners and probably relatives of Henry West’s chum Thomas Howlet Warren] entertained 100 persons with roast beef, plum-pudding. &c. in a spacious marquee, erected for the purpose, upon Kew Green. Porter, ale, and punch, were likewise plentifully distributed. On his Majesty's health being drank, 50 pieces of cannon were discharged. In the evening, the whole town was illuminated. A grand gothic arch was erected, from the centre of which the British Star was suspended, and underneath a striking likeness of his Majesty, with the motto of "Virtue, Honour, and Glory." The whole of the trees around the green were illuminated by variegated lamps, in radiant arches, wreaths, and columns, and the evening concluded with a rustic dance, and fire-works".

Surely even a fogyish stick-in-the-mud like Robert Hunter would not have objected to such a celebration on his doorstep.

MJ Holman


An account of the celebration of the jubilee, on the 25th October, 1809; being the forty-ninth anniversary of the reign of George the third, collected and publ. by a lady, the wife of a naval officer
Kew Past, David Blomfield

Clarissa and The Swan

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 No Comments »

Brentford Ait

Brentford Ait, 19th Century

"… [Clarissa] was rowed to Chelsea, where she breakfasted; and after rowing about, put in at the Swan at Brentford-Aight, where she dined; and would have written, but had no conveniency either of tolerable pens, or ink, or a private room…"
Samuel Richardson, 'Clarissa, or, The history of a young lady'


In December 1738, Samuel Richardson the author of the novel Pamela leased a house called the Grange in North End Road in west London. The Restoration period property with its grotto and high walled garden, was the country retreat where Richardson created his epistolary novel Clarissa, and where he entertained good company from 'Saturday to Monday'.
   He was a familiar figure in the neighbourhood of Fulham; a widow who kept a public house on the corner of North End Lane, recalled "a round, short gentleman, who most days passed her door", and whose family she would serve with beer. Richardson moved to Parsons Green in 1755 and the Grange was later acquired by Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, who was said to have been impressed by its atmosphere.

   Richardson did not complete the novel Clarissa until the October of 1746, the year that Stephen West died and passed the ownership of the Swan to his brother Henry (my 4 x gt grandfather). Records show that Stephen had been granted a licence for the Swan in 1729 and had managed to grow a favourable reputation for the hostelry through skilful planning. By the time of Stephen's death, the water bailiff Roger Griffiths wrote that the Brentford Ait was "a very pleasant spot, on which is a publick house, inhabited by a fisherman, who of late years has greatly improved the spot by making therein several fishponds and other ornaments, for the more agreeable reception of those who shall make use of his house".
   Richardson's account of Clarissa's experience of the Swan reads as a very personal one; we can only guess that the author visited the tavern and perhaps did not find things to his satisfaction: no private room, no tolerable pens or ink etc. However, the Swan became famous not because of the quality of its stationery, but because of the excellence of its food and the superiority of its wine.

Find out what was on the menu in the next blog post.

MJ Holman (@mishjholman)


Manorial Records and Genealogy… do not be afraid

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750 No Comments »

Since making my début as a Genealogist in 1985, I have occasionally been apprehensive about consulting certain types of records. The possibility that I might have to trace an equity pleading, or consult a manorial record has often plagued my nerves with anxiety. Some of my apprehensions stem from consulting a late medieval Manorial Court Book for a Norfolk manor, written in tiny abbreviated Latin.
Genealogists embarking on quests for eighteenth century ancestors, should not avoid manorial documents because of a fear of the unknown. The records may only appear useful to those who have ancestors who held property in copyhold, but it should not be forgotten that tenants are often mentioned too.
To illustrate the usefulness of manorial documents, I will use two examples in relation to the individuals featured in The Swan Circle, one from a Court Book and the other from a Rentals Survey.
   Any researcher who wishes to view a manorial document for a parish, will need to ascertain the name of the manor that contains the parish, and whether the documents exist for the era they are interested in. A search through the Manorial Documents Register database at the National Archives will indicate where, if any, the documents are held. If a Court Book for the pertinent dates does not emerge, do not despair, it is possible that a book either side of the required dates might be of assistance; entries were made retrospectively regarding the surrender of a property, so look forward as well as back.
Many Court Books have an index of individuals, but it is more useful to search the document thoroughly – ancestors not yet discovered may be lurking further down the property line! If a Rentals Survey exists, use it to provide a shortcut when tracing how many family hands a property has passed through.
The Rentals Survey and the Court Books consulted for The Swan Circle are held at The National Archives in class CRES 5, but most Manorial Documents are kept at County level. Some records are still in private hands and are occasionally surrendered to local archives, so the pertinent records may not be in the public domain.

Our first example is for a Court Leet or Court Baron held in 1746 in the manor of Richmond, Surrey. The individual concerned is Stephen West and his name appears in the left margin of the page with notice regarding his death. The document provides useful genealogical information: from it we discover the extent of the land and premises Stephen held at Kew, 'half an acre of ozier ground' and 'a House in the ayte' and have determined that he had an only brother called Henry, a fisherman and heir.




 The second example is from the Rentals Survey and again concerns Stephen West. The entry pertains to a piece of land on the island known as Mattingshaw in Brentford and shows the line of ownership after Stephen's death. The document lists his 'heirs', including his brother Henry, Henry's wife Elizabeth and their son Henry and shows that the property passed out of the family hands and into the trust of Thomas Samuel Maycock in 1793.

Manorial Documents Register
Medieval Genealogy
Examples of English Manorial Documents
Using Manorial Records

The building of the Swan Tavern

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 No Comments »


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."  


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