Above: Agas Map c1561 showing the earliest representation of the Old Swan Tavern. The name of the tavern is written along the street beside which it stands.
“Upper Thames Street – Part 15”
Places of interest come ‘thick and fast’ at this point on the Agas map. This is the story of the Old Swan Inn. On the Agas map the building is not named but the street beside it ‘The olde swanne’. There are very few visual representations for this old inn which was one of the most well-known inns in the City of London.
The inn stood next to Old Swan Stairs which were at the southern end of Old Swan Lane. The earliest mention was in the 1360s. About 1632 it was described as ‘The Swan in Thames Street that doe sell Rhennish Wine’ – which is German wine. The inn was destroyed on Sunday 2 September 1666 in the Great Fire and later rebuilt.
From 1716 the inn was the starting point for the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race. The race was instituted by the Irish actor Thomas Doggett. It is the oldest sculling race in the world. Men who are just out of their apprenticeship as watermen compete to row from the site of the Old Swan Inn to Chelsea where there was another inn called the Old White Swan (also now demolished). The course is a distance of four and a half miles (7.2 km). The prize is a red coat with a large badge on the left sleeve. The race, which takes place in July or August, depending on the tides, is organised by the Fishmongers’ Company who are the trustees of Doggett’s will.
Above: Panorama of London, 1770. The inn (arrowed) is shown just west of Fishmongers’ Hall which is, in turn, is to the west of Old London Bridge. Notice the river stairs beside the tavern — called Old Swan Stairs.
The inn is known to have still been in existence in 1764 but how much later it was remained there is not clear. It is unlikely that it was in existence much later than 1800. Taking its name of the inn, there was an Old Swan Pier which was first mentioned in 1875 and was well used by paddle steamers into the early 1900s.