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Pub Visit - England

Old Swan 1Sunday 14th February 2016

Bob Thompson

It seems difficult to believe that Netherton was once a village. What changed it was the Industrial Revolution. The town is slap bang in the middle of the Black Country, so called because of the extensive pollution caused by said industry.

This area was well known for its many iron foundries and the massive Round Oak steelworks at Brierley Hill wasn’t far away. Netherton also had a number of collieries, some in production well into the 1960s and 1970s.

Old Swan 2The major iron product of the larger area were chains. However Netherton was known for nails and ship’s anchors. This is commemorated with the display of an anchor across the road from the Old Swan, next to the Dudley-bound bus stop. Another statue is directly opposite and is of Joe Darby, who was a well-known spring-jumper of the past. This long-lost sport involved leaping as far as possible from a crouching position. He was born in nearby Windmill End and practised by jumping across the local canals.

Old Swan 3Netherton is about a mile and a half from Dudley, the most important town in the Black Country with its zoo and open-air industrial museum, recalling the life of the past through the medium of many re-located buildings. Interestingly Netherton and Dudley were in the county of Worcestershire in an enclave that was surrounded by Staffordshire. Another point of note is that both are hill-top towns.

There is no railway in Netherton, or even Dudley for that matter. I am aware of this because I was on the last train along the branch line from Old Hill, which also went on through Dudley, on Sunday 11th September 1966. The three intermediate stations had the delightful names of Baptist End, Windmill End and Darby End. All were request halts and their passenger service trains ceased during 1964.

The pub was founded in the middle 1830s, quite possibly 1835. Although there is no record, it would seem logical that the pub brewed its own beer from the start as nearly every other in this area did so. It is believed that was established by Joseph Turner and during its first twenty-five years or so, went through a number of publicans.

Old Swan 41863 was a pivotal year as that was when the brewery we see today was constructed. It is understood that the pub was also reconstructed to its present form in that year.

In 1872 Thomas Hartshorne purchased the property and he employed a publican to operate it on a daily basis. In 1880 his son, also Thomas, became the owner. The pub continued in the hands of the Hartshorne family for a very long time.

Old Swan 5It was in 1932 that Tommy Hartshorne decided to employ the pub’s most well-known licensees. This was Frederick and Doris Pardoe. They kept the existing brewer, Ben Cole, on as Mr Pardoe had no intention of doing the brewing as well as managing the pub. When he left the brewing was on by Solomon Cobsey, who was succeeded by his son George who continued doing it until 1988.

After the Second World War Frederick wanted to expand the distribution of his beers and bought two pubs and an off-licence. The first of the pubs was The Gladstone Arms in Audnam, near Wordsley. In 1956 the old pub here was demolished and a new one erected.

Later it was sold to Ansells and even later became a Holt, Plant & Deakin house, a part of the Allied Breweries empire, with beer supplied by one of the micro-breweries in their estate. It was acquired by the Spirit group in 2002, then Punch in 2003. Always the death knell of good pubs this PubCo managed to run it into the ground pretty quickly and it was closed in 2006 and demolished the same year.

Old Swan 6The second was the White Swan in Dudley. It was an old pub dating from at least 1853 and was purchased in the 1940s by Frederick Pardoe from Atkinson’s Brewery of Aston Green, Birmingham. It was closed and a new pub built during 1969.

I remember visiting it during the mid 1970s and early 1980s with fellow beer aficionado, the late Dave “Willy” Whealdon. It was sold to Greenall-Whitley of Warrington in 1985.

Frederick Pardoe died in 1952 and the Old Swan continue to be run by his widow Doris, who took over the licence. She purchased the pub outright from the Hartshorne family in 1964. It was during her tenure that it became known as “Ma Pardoes”. She was a lady who would accept no nonsense in her pub yet was also said to be very kindly. I remember her being in the background when I visited, also with Dave, but this was always at lunch-times.

Old Swan 7In 1983 she handed over the reins to Sid and Brenda Allport (Doris’s daughter) who he previously worked in the pub. Doris Pardoe died on 1st April 1984.

Not long after Sid and Brenda Allport decided to sell the business. I must explain that by this time the pub had become well known, not least because it was one of only four home-brew pubs left in the country.

Old Swan 8There were great fears that a large brewing company, of which there were several in the West Midlands, would purchase the pub and spoil it for future generations. Because of this threat it was purchased by CAMRA Investments Ltd and private investors, Mercia Capital Venture of Birmingham. The deal went through during April 1985.

The next-door premises, formerly Bennett’s Wool Shop, was bought and the pub was extended into it, but only at the rear of the building. It was enlarged at the back and total amount expended including the purchase came to an enormous £220,000.

It re-opened on 31st October 1986. However laudable were the aims of CAMRA, the pub did not recover as quickly as expected and was soon in financial difficulties.

The next change occurred in November 1987 when it was acquired by the Hoskin’s Brewery. I first came across them in the early 1970s when they had a traditional brewery in Leicester with an off-licence and just one pub, located ten miles away in Market Boswell, the Red Lion.

Old Swan 9By the time they took on the Old Swan, they were expanding their estate, but this over-stretched the company. They kept brewer George Cooksey on, but then dismissed him which meant they had to supply the pub from Leicester. This effectively closed the Old Swan Brewery for over a decade. Because of their financial situation Hoskins sold the pub to Premier Ales of Stourbridge.

Old Swan 10It gets even more complex as shortly afterwards they merged with the Pitfield Brewery who originated in London. The new company was named Pitfield Premier Ales but, like its predecessors was not fated to exist for very long. It merged with the Wiltshire Brewery of Tisbury. This union lasted a little longer but trade at the pub decreased until it was closed in 2000.

That was the lowest point the Old Swan reached. Enter Tim Newey on to the stage. He had worked for Doris Pardoe in the pub during the 1970s but had gone away to work for Holt, Plant and Deakin, a chain of brew-pubs throughout the West Midlands that had been set up by Allied Breweries. They were very good, but I guess the fall-out from the Beer Orders put paid to them, as the new PubCos weren’t interested in brewing, even on a small scale.

Old Swan 11The pub was purchased by Punch Taverns and Tim convinced them that he should operate it. He recruited brewer Dave Rawstorne from Holt, Plant & Deakin and re-established the pub and brewery.

It re-opened on 10th November 2000 and ran in the same manner as it was in Doris Pardoe’s days. Dave later left for the Titanic Brewery in Burslem, Staffs. However the pub was doing well and a new brewer was recruited.

Regarding the brewery, it still has a lot of the original equipment, although the copper is now heated by gas rather than coal. It would appear to be of around eight barrels (bbls) capacity. It turns out about 1,200 barrels (bbls per annum). Some of the production goes to the free trade.

The mash tun is thought to date from the 1930s and brewing is done up to three times a week. The malt is Maris Otter Pale, Crystal and Chocolate with the hops being mostly Fuggles and East Kent Goldings.

Before I get to describing the pub I would like to talk about the individual beers. There were five available when Linda and I visited. They were Old Swan (3.5%), a light mild, also referred to as Original; Black Swan (4.2%), a beautiful dark mild; Old Swan Entire (4.4%), it is said Dave used the recipe of the erstwhile Holt, Plant and Deakin Entire for this.

Old Swan 12There was also Bumblehole (5.2%) and NPA (Netherton Pale Ale) (4.8%). Bumblehole is said to be a sweeter, stronger version of Entire. I haven’t tried it but I can’t imagine anything much sweeter than Entire. NPA is a relatively new beer and I haven’t yet tried it. By the way Bumblehole is not rude in any way as it is the name of the bottom of the valley behind the pub. The old railway line referred to earlier was nicknamed “the Bumblehole line” because it ran along it.

On the day we visited I made a point of getting there before opening time as I wanted to get a lot of photographs of the Grade II listed interior. It is on CAMRA’s register of Historic Pub Interiors.

Old Swan 13Our first stop was the main bar of the old pub, which is a timeless room to savour a beer or two. I had visited fairly recently but it was so crowded then, I didn’t take it all in.

It seemed to not have changed for forty years although I guess it had in subtle ways. The old weighing machine was still there in the right corner, with the old advertising hoarding extolling the quality of the beers. The predominant colour is red with raised features on the bar picked out in black. There’s a new iron stove in the middle of the room with a grilled cover that you can rest a glass of beer on (mulled beer?).

In the window frames there is an internal frosted glass screen, a feature that is very rare today. The glass globe light shades are perfect. Likewise, these are not often seen in these times. The pumps on the bar bear no clips as was often the case in the past with small brewers. The beers available are displayed on a blackboard. The ceiling is covered with beautiful green and white tiles with the centrepiece being the old swan itself, completely displayed in tile. There’s some nice wood panelling on the left wall.

Old Swan 14On the right side of the main room there is a corridor that leads from the front to the brewery at the back of the pub. There is a door from the main room to it as there is a gents’ toilet at the end. There is also another door off the corridor to the off-sales counter. I don’t think this is in use these days. However if you turn right from the off-sales you enter a very nice room at the back of the original pub. It has a mix of fitted and loose chairs and tables. The walls are light coloured with some framed paintings.

There is a small bar counter and next to it is a lovely little snug. It has stuffed red banquettes facing each other across the small room. There is yellow wallpaper and there’s an old fireplace at the end surmounted by a framed mirror. I guess this is where the ladies would sup their Port in Victorian times as the front bar would be exclusively male. You shouldn’t miss this beautifully preserved room if you visit the pub.

Old Swan 15At the side of the snug is a corridor that leads to the part of the pub that was acquired in 1986 passing ladies’ and gents’ toilets on the way.

The former wool shop has a separate front entrance off Halesowen Road and is best described as if I’d entered that door. On my immediate left is a very attractive room with a cast-iron fireplace along with red-painted wood panelled walls.

A little way into the pub there is a small bar counter on the right. Keep walking and you enter a larger room with, of all things, a Hammond organ on the left side.

On the wall above it there is a lovely advertising mirror for Dunvilles Whisky from the Victorian era. Evidence of this is the “VR” etched upon it. On top of the organ is a model of the Titanic. Not just decoration, this is very relevant to this town as its anchors were cast in a foundry here.

I then did something I’d not done before and walked out to the small garden, which I admit, I didn’t know existed. There is a very nice entrance from the car park which is formed of a bower of foliage over the way in.

Old Swan 16I could see the blank wall of the brewery from here. It has its own yard but as it was Sunday I couldn’t access it. I then went back through the pub to the street and re-entered the old front bar to finish my pint.

This has been an extremely long article; the longest yet on a single pub, yet I feel it is worth it in view of its importance and history.

There is a restaurant on the upper floor which I did not visit but I believe the menu is also available in the lounge bar area through the left-hand door from the street. The only food served in the front bar is a hot pork sandwich on thick bread with stuffing and gravy; true Black Country fare.

This piece was researched from many different sources but two stand out as really good resources. Both are labours of love and I commend you to them. They are and Hitchmough’s Black Country Pubs on I thank them both for helping me along the way.

Should you be in the Black Country please visit this pub. On its own or part of a holy trinity of the Beacon Hotel (Sedgley), the Sarah Hughes tap and brewery; and the Vine, Delph Road, Brierley Hill which is the Batham’s tap and brewery.

Important Information:

The Old Swan, 89 Halesowen Road, Netherton DY2 9PY. Tel: 01384 253075

Monday-Saturday: 11.00-23.00; Sunday: 12.00-23.00

There are two major bus routes that arrive right outside the pub at the Netherton Church Street stop: The 243 runs from Dudley Bus station on a near circular route to Merry Hill via Cradley Heath High Street. The 244 runs from Dudley Bus Station to Halesowen via Old Hill.

Both run every 20 minutes during the day, Monday to Saturday,
hourly from 19.00 (18.00 on a Saturday). And both routes are hourly on Sunday.