Above: A print (probably dating from some time in the 1820s) showing the large yard of the inn. The coach office is to the left with a board outside, advertising the services. Nearby is a coachman, with a whip in his hand. In the centre of the view is a fully laden coach about to depart through the large archway on the far left. The galleries allow access for guests to rooms in which they stayed overnight.
This was one of the really well-known inns of the City of London. It was first mentioned 1556. Its site was between Wood Street and Milk Street beside a short street called Lad Lane. Lad Lane is said to have originally been called ‘Lady Lane’. According to Harben, the large inn stood on the north side of Lad Lane at No 10 – in Cripplegate Within Ward. Gresham Street was gradually laid out from 1845 and completed 1881-95, incorporating several small lanes into a wider thoroughfare – including Lad Lane.
In 1637 John Taylor published his ‘Carriers’ Cosmographie’ which was a guide for inns – rather like Bradshaw’s guide to the railways 200 years later. Taylor has an entry for the Swan with Two Necks stating: Carriers of Manchester come every second Thursday ‘at the two-necked Swan in Lad Lane.’ Carriers ‘that do pass through diverse other parts of Lancashire’ lodge there. Carriers of Stafford ‘and other parts of that county’ come on Thursdays.
The inn is shown on John Rocque’s large scale map, published in 1746. It is also listed in his index as ‘Swan and Two Necks’.
By 1829 it is known to have been in use as a coaching inn, with 23 daily departures by mail coaches. John Timbs, in his ‘Curiosities of London’ published in 1855, states that the ‘Swan with Two Necks, Lad-lane, now Gresham-street, was long the head coach-inn and booking-office for the North.’
The British Almanac of 1862 states ‘One of the most remarkable recent buildings in the City for its size and constructive features occupies the site of the well-known Swan-with-Two-Necks, in Gresham Street. It is built for Messrs. Chaplin and Horne, the railway carriers, and has a frontage of nearly 100 feet, a depth of 150 feet, and a height of 64 feet above the pavement, while beneath are warehouses and extensive stabling.’
It had ceased to be used as an inn by 1861. The Trade Directory for 1869 listed the site as ‘the Receiving Office for Goods for the Great Eastern, London & South Western, South Eastern, London, Brighton & South Coast & London, Chatham & Dover Railway Companies.’
Finally, we should explain the curious name. There was at least one other inn in the City by the same name and inns by this name still exist today in other parts of England. The sign on such inns usually carried the unlikely picture of a large swan with two necks – and also two heads. It is believed that the name is a corruption of the phrase ‘swan with two nicks – referring to swans owned by the Vintners’ Company. All swans on the Thames have been owned either by the Sovereign; the Dyers’ Company; or the Vintners’ Company for many centuries. Swans owned by the Sovereign are unmarked. Swans owned by the Dyers carried one small ‘nick’ filed into the bill (or beak). Swans owned by the Vintners carried two ‘nicks’ on the bill. The marking is still carried out annually on the Thames during a two-week event, which takes place in July – known as Swan Upping. These days, instead of marking the bills with ‘nicks’, the swans have rings put on their legs to indicate ownership.