Step into our history: The Swan, Wadebridge

S ituated at the heart of Wadebridge, The Swan is the perfect pit stop along the Camel Trail. We’re stepping back in time to take a peak into the past of this iconic pub.

Just a short drive from some of Cornwall’s most stunning beaches, Wadebridge is a popular choice for visitors to the South West looking for the best of both worlds with endless independent boutiques dotted along the high street to discover aside from the coast.

Ever growing in popularity, the Camel Trail is a must while in the area – a disused 18-mile railway track. Intrigued by how this came to be? Find out more from our archivist, Paul…


Where it all began

In 1831, Sir William Molesworth of Pencarrow commissioned a study to improve trade connections to Wadebridge. Prompted by the results of this study, the Bodmin and Wadebridge railway project was born – costing a total of £35,000.

The railway was intended to carry sand and fertilizer from the Camel Estuary to the farmers inland, but on its maiden journey on the 30th of September 1834, it took 400 passengers, making it one of the UK’s first passenger trains.

To serve the railway, the Molesworth family built The Commercial Hotel in the 1830s as a commercial venture. It seems likely that the present building replaced another inn on the same site, reputedly dating back to the 1620s. However, there was no mention of the hotel by name in the census returns of 1841 or 1851.

The building itself has a curious blend of classical and gothic 19th-century architectural details such as arched windows, dormers, a mansard roof, an oriel window, and heavy chimneys. While Historic England does not list it, it’s an impressive sight to behold.


Through the 19th century

In 1841, the ‘publican’ was John Thomas who lived with his Rebecca and three female servants Elizabeth Yard, Susana Parker, and Mary James. The census also records three guests – Mr Tap, Mr Abraham, and Mr Sloget, all described as travellers.

In 1851, Thomas was described as an ‘innkeeper’, running the hotel with his 69-year-old mother, sister and resident staff. The Thomas family left the business in 1854 and were replaced by William Tippett, a former journeyman, and his wife who both appear in the 1861 and 1871 census returns. The hotel became commonly referred to as ‘Tippett’s Commercial Hotel’ with four servants on the grounds – one even as young as 13!

By 1881 however, Plymouth-born Samuel M. Lee RSO was the ‘innkeeper’ of ‘Lee’s Commercial Hotel’. Before the decade ended, he was replaced by Richard Bonney RSO in 1989 who was described as a ‘hotel proprietor and auctioneer’; the Bonney family left the hotel in 1898 when the property was leased by the Pencarrow estate to A Coombe’s & Sons wine and spirit merchants of Wadebridge.


Building developments

By the end of the century, the hotel had an additional entrance onto Molesworth Street; to bars and a private sitting room with windows facing the street, a kitchen, scullery, and larder behind the bars with a tap room, beer, and wine cellar beyond.

Adjoining the internal stable yard were a brew house, a stable, a harness room, and a trap room. The Long Room on the first floor was used for many functions, including railway, agricultural club and hunt dinners, auctions, dances, and events.


River through Waebridge

A new lease of life

During Coombes & Sons’ 24 years as leaseholders, they had several landlords including Mrs Ann Bowden, John Cole, and Mr and Mrs Odgers.

Mrs Florence Ann and Henry Olver were the next landlords but were not without issues. In fact, in 1918, Henry appeared in court as ‘a profiteer… having on August 10th sold beer by the imperial measure at a price exceeding the maximum’ – he pleaded guilty.

In August of 1922, Walter Hicks & Co Ltd took on the lease of the Commercial Hotel from the executors of Coombe & Sons. Mr W E Blackwell ran the hotel, his annual rent fixed at £100 in 1923 until the hotel was eventually sold.

While Hicks & Co showed interest in purchasing the property in 1930, ownership transferred from the Molesworth family to the Molesworth St Aubyn Estates. Eventually, the brewery bought the hotel in 1933 for £2,700.

Mr and Mrs T Richards were the first St Austell Brewery tenants to run the business, serving for 20 years between 1933 and 1953. During World War II, the Long Room was commissioned by the war and was appropriately fitted with blackout windows.

In April 1946 the North Cornwall Hunt Ball was held in the hotel; to victual the guests Richards ordered 33 bottles of wines and spirits, 240 bottles of beer, a flagon of cider and 36 gallons of pale ale and 1000 cigarettes. Richards retired in 1953 and Mr P Jenkin, previously of the Yacht Inn in Penzance, took over the license.

Jenkins saw in a new era. In 1953, the hotel was fully refurbished, a scheme overseen by the architectural practice of C R Corfield. The cost of this work was the £1,398 2s 6d, including connections to the mains electricity supply. When the refurbished hotel reopened its doors, it boasted a cocktail bar, public bar, tap room, off-sales area, cellar and stores, while on the first floor was a dining room, residents lounge, writing room and eight guest bedrooms.


A new name for a new era

At the same time as this refurbishment, the brewery notified the local authority of their intention to change the name of the Commercial Hotel to the more regal and elegant-sounding Swan Hotel.

The brewery’s Managing Director, George Luck, wrote to the Clerk of Justices:

“We are always reluctant to change a long-established name, and the local people will no doubt always continue to know the hotel as the Commercial. But we hope you will understand that in the case of a stranger or visitor, it is almost impossible to get him to go to a hotel called the Commercial even for a drink let alone a meal or to stay.”

This change saw a new beginning for the Swan and today, the pub welcomes both locals and tourists alike with its central position on the Camel Trail.

Planning a visit to Wadebridge? Whether it’s a quick pitstop pint, or a long weekend stay to explore the surrounding area, step into the historic Swan and enjoy this authentic slice of Cornwall.