The White Swan, Chiswick

by Val Bott & James Wisdom

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)

Chiswick New Town is an historical curiosity. It was built on a piece of land situated north-west of the old village of Chiswick between Hogarth Lane (now the Great West Road) and Devonshire Road. The first houses were built in the 1820s and by 1915 there were about 375 houses on the 11 acres. They were in generaI of the very poorest kind, and the supply of water and provision of drains were for a long time inadequate. A combination of Hitler’s bombs, the widening of Hogarth Lane and the Council’s slum clearance programme destroyed the houses in the early 1950s and the land is now used for an estate of flats.

The only one of the buildings remaining from the old ‘New Town’ is the pub in Bennett Street, the White Swan – known to its regulars as The Dirty Duck. Its owners, Charringtons, closed it in November 1979 and sold it to a development company, Farmrose Ltd, who specialized in the renovation of old buildings. They propose to retain the front of the pub, to rebuild the interior to run as a free house, and develop the land behind and beside it with houses.

The White Swan, detail from the developer's brochure

The chief character in the history of the White Swan is Charles Florey, a grocer who was born in Buckinghamshire in 1796. We do not know when he first came to Chiswick but he appears in the 1828 Rate Book in a house at the south end of Devonshire Road. This was, of course, when the New Town was very new. In the 1830s he is recorded as owning a house and shop in Devonshire Road, and also the property in Bennett Street which became known as ‘Florey’s Cottages’.

In the December 1836 Rate Book there is a pencilled insertion refering to ‘Florey’s Brewhouse’ in Bennett Street. The Beer Act of 1830 had allowed a person to retail beer for consumption off the premises without a magistrate’s licence if he presented a certificate of good character to the excise authorities. 1n 1834 this was extended to sale for consumption on the premises as well. So we must assume that Florey was building a new grocer’s shop and beer shop in Bennett Street to benefit from the new law.

Florey’s business activities were successful and he invested in property in the New Town. In 1845 he bought 20 tenements in William Street; in 1851 he bought a shop in Furze Street for his son Henry, also a grocer, but soon after Henry moved to Brixton; and in 1855 his wife, Harriett bought 18 tenements in Devonshire Street. Charles Florey died in 1857 and Harriett in 1858; the property was inherited by Henry and his sister Sarah.

From 1863 Henry Florey let the Beer Shop to a series of tenants. The Wine and Beerhouses Act of 1869 required beerhouses to be licensed by the magistrates, and it was first described as a Beer House in the Rate Books the next year.

It was first referred to as the White Swan in 1882. It was in this year that Florey sold it to a Croydon brewery, Crowley Bros; they probably constructed the present facade and rebuilt the interior. In 1893 the cottage at the end of the row was demolished for the new vicarage and the new end wall was decorated with Crowley’s name in the stucco. The cottage at the other end of the row was demolished by the widening of the Cromwell Road Extension in the 1950s leaving the pub as it looks today, with its arch through to the stables at the back. These were used by costermongers to store their donkeys and carts.

A ground plan of the pub has been made and photographs taken as the restoration will remove a good deal of the existing walls and fittings. However, at least in some form, Florey’s Beer House – The Dirty Duck – will survive as a public house with a wine bar or restaurant, and Daimlers may park where donkeys once rested in their stalls!

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