Black Swan, York: History of one of the most 'haunted' pubs in Yorkshire as owner says the business gets a lot of trade in October

Black Swan Inn is one of ‘most haunted’ pubs in Yorkshire and is steeped in history as the building dates all the way back to the 15th century - the owner says that they get a lot of trade in October.

The Black Swan pub lies on Peasholme Green, on the site of a historically significant Medieval house which had been occupied by numerous Lord Mayors of York and Members of Parliament.

The property was rebuilt in 1560 and merchant and politician Henry Thompson, from Kilham, made considerable changes, restructuring parts in brick, and altering the interior.

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Early in the 18th century, the house was owned by Henry’s brother Edward Thompson; a prominent Yorkshire politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1722 to 1742. They were both wine merchants in York.

A retro image of the pub - date unknown. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)A retro image of the pub - date unknown. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)
A retro image of the pub - date unknown. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)

Current owner, Maggie Anderton, 34, who grew up near Boroughbridge, has seen a year-on-year growth in trade and popularity in October compared to other months.

“It does get busy for Halloween and obviously it’s half term as well; York is a tourist city so a lot of people are out and about for the school holidays,” she told The Yorkshire Post.

“We are listed as one of the haunted pubs so we do get a lot of footfall and a lot of trade out of it. We had a good weekend.

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“Over the weekend we had one of the paranormal investigation groups; there’s about four or five that come here because we have bedrooms here as well, so they hire one of the bedrooms and do an overnight investigation to see if they can see anything or hear anything.

Black Swan decorated for Halloween. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)Black Swan decorated for Halloween. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)
Black Swan decorated for Halloween. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)

People come, they want to hear the stories, they want to know if any of the bar staff has personally seen anything, they want the real stories, not just the stuff that is written at the back of the menus.

“People come from far away and want to know what our stories are.”

The Black Swan has become a staple for York’s economy and tourism and it is very clear why; its steep history, unique character and friendly staff.

Ms Anderton explains why she thinks the pub is so popular.

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This is what the pub looks like now. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)This is what the pub looks like now. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)
This is what the pub looks like now. (Pic credit: Maggie Anderton)

“It helps that the pub is very old, the pub is haunted and people are interested in that but we look after it,” she said.

“We’ve got good beer, we’ve got all our own food, so people that might be sticking their head in to have a look will quite often end up staying for a few hours, maybe get something to eat and have a few drinks.

“There’s always someone to talk to that will tell you stories about York, it’s a tiny little community within York. That is probably why it does so well.”

Let’s delve into the pub’s history.

History of the Black Swan

Until the late 18th century it was a private house, with alterations being made over the next two centuries.

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Before its current design, a Medieval inn had stood on the site and remains are said to be beneath the pub.

It was built for merchant and Sheriff of York, William Bowes, in 1417, who also became Lord Mayor in 1428.

It was believed for many years that a passageway was built under the road, connecting the pub to St Cuthbert’s Church and dates back to the house’s foundation.

General Wolfe and his family lived in the church before they moved to the American colonies. Whilst there is no evidence of its existence, there are several steps in a cupboard that lead to a blank wall.

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Later occupants include William Briggs who was the landlord in the late 19th century and Fred Wright, in the 1910s, who was there at the time the Layerthorpe Cycling Club used the pub as its headquarters.

It was also used as a Horse Refuge during the Second World War as well as stables at the back and landlord Edgar Henry was in the pub by 1959 and claimed that a York brickmaker “sold his wife here, over a glass of ale, for 1s 6d” in 1884. Wife auctions were common in the 19th century.

As of the late 16th century, the private house became a public house with early and late 17th century extensions and further renovation took place in the 20th century.

By the 1930s, the pub was owned by the Tadcaster Tower brewery, which undertook a major renovation with the aim of preserving the building’s historical character. The pub was later owned by Bass and in 1954 it was grade II-listed.

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The pub is also said to be haunted by several ghosts and since 1978 it has hosted a folk music club. Since 2003, an annual folk festival has been introduced. It was named Folk Club of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

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