Extracted from a recording made with Mrs.Wright of Moorfields in October 1991 by John Ruffell
Photograph of the 'Swan' in 1914 - temporary image
"Mr Keneston was my uncle and came to the Swan about 1914 when it was in a very low state. Auntie was a professional cook and housekeeper and they worked it up to being 'the hotel' in Alcester at that time in the 1920's. I came to it in 1920 from school and I was interested in cooking and so on, so I went under the jurisdiction of Auntie. I am actually from Chesterfield. Mr Keneston was High Bailiff I believe in 1924/25, and the Court Leet in those days met on the 2nd Tuesday in January and the Town Crier used to go round in the morning calling all the business people to the Town Hall for the ll.30am meeting, and then in the afternoon the two new bailiffs went round inviting the people to the Dinner which was on the same night. They had a beautiful dinner in those days. They used to have soup which was venison, fish, roast beef, roast pork and boiled mutton,...then pheasant, plum pudding and mince pie, followed by cheese and biscuits. All for seven and sixpence! There used to be so many brace of pheasants from Ragley and a joint of venison, and so many bottles of wine for the Court Leet. The dinner was always at the Swan for about 60 people. After the meal they had 'The Throwing of the Pennies', they would open the windows and the Town Crier would ring the new Bailiffs in and there were so many pennies thrown out into the street. The Court Leet Sunday wasn't the next day but a week later, still in January.
"In those days there were no fridges, everything was hand done. The venison from which we made the soup, so much of the joint was made into soup and so much was roast. A block of ice would come down on the seven o'clock train in the morning, and that would be chopped up, and put into a big zinc bath and the bottles were put round it. The ice came down from Birmingham from the fish market. Bill Devey's grandfather used to meet the train for his fish and bring down the blocks of ice. The Swan used to have what was known as the Coffee Room on the right hand side as you went in. All the furniture used to be moved out and tressle tables put round. At the Swan it was all stables, John Holme was the Hostler, and they had several carriages. Commercial travellers would come down on the train and the hotel would provide transport and meet the six o'clock train in the evening. . The Commercial Travellers would stay the night and then do their business transactions the next morning.
"There used to be a cycling club which used to meet at the Swan, and there was a plaque on the wall for the club. Always at Bank Holidays people would come cycling down from Birmingham and meet at the Swan. All the Bedrooms were used in those days. There was only gas, candles and lamps, no electricity, and of course the old range for cooking. The fire had to be kept going, and the roast was done in the ovens. There was no packets of this and packets of that, it had to be hand done. I had a very good training under Auntie! They wanted me to go to London but I didn't. We used to do all our own bottling and everything because there was not much tinned stuff in those days. We used to bottle plums, damsons, even little spring chickens, peas, beans, everything used to be bottled! It was hard work!
"There was a Mr Bates at the Globe Hotel (where the traffic island is now), and his daughter, and Mr Bates for the entertainment at the Court Leet, would sing as he had a beautiful voice. Charlie Bunting would always do "Why am I always the bridesmaid" and would dress up for the part! It was all local talent!
"I married in 1931 and lived in a house where the Conservative Club is now. It had ten rooms.
The corner shop is still the same as it was then. My father-in-law was the post master and owned the post office building.
"Burdens put the electricity into the Swan. There used to be a cattle market where the Library and Clinic is now and on auction days we were very busy at the Swan. The meat was displayed in the butchers shop with the rosettes attached, - you don't see meat like that these days. Near the Station was a poultry market and Mr. Jephcott was the auctioneer, and on a Friday near Christmas, he bought a goose for his own staff to come down to the Swan to have a dinner, and Mrs Dyson and I would do all the plucking! - There is nothing worse than a goose to pick, you know! It was just like Victorian Kitchen that was on the television a little while ago. ..the range had to be polished and the floors had to be scrubbed every morning. The kitchen table was as white as the driven snow, it was scrubbed over and over after we had finished the lunches. There were lace curtains at all the windows and every room would be fully booked from Easter to after the Mop."
Spring 1993 Index