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A history of Marbury and The Swan

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Marbury Hall

Before King Harold had his fatal spat with William in 1066, the history of Marbury cum Quoisley is shrouded in the mists.  Roman coins have been discovered, so legionaries must have passed this way but they didn’t settle. Maybe there wasn’t a pub for them! They liked pubs. 

We know that the Anglo Saxons established Marbury as a ‘burgh’ – the name means fortified settlement near a lake – likely to keep out the dreadful Danes and those pesky Welsh raiders. An Anglo Saxon dated human skull was recovered from the Mere by an angler in 1998 – a bit of a shock for him, but a fishing tale to boast about!  Saxons drank copiously, so we can only surmise there was an ale-house. If so the Hastings’ debacle would have been a hot topic over a couple of horns of ale; Marbury was on an estate owned by the ill-fated Harold.  In 1086, the Domesday Survey recorded ‘Merberrie’ and by 1299 there was a wattle and daub parish church. Present day sandstone built St Michael’s church dates from the 1500s. 

With the English Civil War, in 1642 local toff Thomas Marbury took for Parliament. We don’t know if there was a pub by then, but daresay the locals would have needed one or two after those knockabouts with the Royalists.

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Marbury Church

That’s the rather misty early history despatched. However, we do know that the Swan has sat at the epicentre of Marbury life for more than 250 years. Records show that Thomas Briscall left the Swan in 1767 handing the keys to John Broad Hurst, who was behind the bar until 1786.  That would be quite challenging in those rumbustious days, with badger baiting, cockfighting and bare knuckle boxing commonplace. John would have had a lot to cope with as punters quaffed a jug or three to celebrate winnings or mourn their losses.  A chap called Arthur Wellesley once popped up in the village to view the oak tree at Little Mere that pays tribute to his thrashing of the French at the Battle of Waterloo. We believe the ‘Iron Duke’ liked a tincture, so just maybe he called at the pub too? 

Some landlords had longevity. John Penny was there 21 years from 1817 while, John Tapley and his wife did twenty years, from 1838 to 1858. They had five daughters and would have needed them. Marbury was a busy place in those days with blacksmiths, butchers, shoemakers and tailors, while most people working in cheese making and agriculture would have had healthy thirsts to slake.

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Mere

Competition was fierce. The Hollybush at Norbury and the Bridge Inn in Quoisley were alehouses while the Leathern Bottle at Hollyhurst and the Swan were the posher ‘public’ houses. Back then ‘alewives’ would brew the beer.  The Leathern Bottle did not survive, but the ‘Old Swan’ was rebuilt in the 1880s by the local ‘squires’, the Cudworth Halstead Poole family. In 1891 builder Joseph Harding and wife Betsy took on the ‘New Swan’ while farming alongside with cattle, sheep and pigs – quite normal then.

By this time the Crewe to Whitchurch railway had arrived and visitors would come by train to watch bare knuckled.  Remarkably, the tenancy passed through generations of the Harding family for 95 years. Before the Great War, Lizzie Harding kept a rowing boat on the Little Mere for her residents and local fishermen.  About then cycling for leisure became popular. The Swan became a regular pit stop for the Cyclist Touring Club and bikes could be hired in the village. But in 1914 Kaiser Bill rather nastily called a halt. Eighty-six local men served in World War I.

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Marbury Mere & Church

The trappings of modern life increasingly arrived in the interwar years – a telephone exchange in 1927 and mains water supply and electricity in 1930, followed by the first bus service in 1934.  A time of expansion for brewers, the 1930s saw the Swan snapped up by the ambitious Wem Brewery. The brewery was known as ‘The Treacle Mines’ – which could have been a tribute to the ale, or not.

During World War II Marbury had its own ‘Dad’s Army’. Beacons were lit around the countryside to successfully lure enemy bombers away from industrial Crewe. Risky for the village, but fortunately it suffered nothing worse than a few cracked ceilings.  But, in another ruse to ‘stop Hitler’s little game’, we speculate that the lads may have sampled a few ‘Treacle Best’ when they conceived their idea to dig a pit trap in the village road and cover it with brushwood; rather unfortunately this only succeeded in ‘capturing’ a visiting vicar!

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Swan 2018

With peacetime Marbury settled into less dramatic times and in 1948 a local author described the bucolic life as ‘far from the Madding Crowd’ and the village as ‘a hidden gem down country lanes’. By 1974 George and Ann Sumner had taken on the Swan and found life so agreeable they stayed to run a successful pub right up until 1998.

After that the pub changed hands several times over the years, until Jerry Brunning bought it to begin the next chapter in the Swan’s rich history. It was a long slog to painstakingly repair and restore the 19th century building. But April 2018 saw the Swan open its doors to once again take its place as a traditional country inn at the heart of the village, in Jerry’s own individual style of course – and with Wi-Fi.