The exact age of the Swan at Streatley can only be guessed, but the original inn building is thought to have been in existence since the latter part of the 17th century. The current South Wing was originally a stable block and dates back to the early 16th century, when it would have been part of a group of farm buildings and cottages. Later it was used as a boathouse, with 19th century red brick refacings being added to the Tudor frame.
The first known innkeeper was Francis Soane, grandfather of the famous architect Sir John Soane, who named it The Swan in 1698. He later obtained a bargee’s licence and had the rights to operate the local cross-river ferry.
The ferry and the inn was later run by the Saunders family for three generations: Moses – who specialised in building and repairing boats, weirs and locks – passing it on to son Cornelius (the official Goring lock-keeper in 1862) and then grandson Samuel taking over. Other owners include Ernest Robert, Annie Saunders, George Chumley, the Potters and the Morrell family, who up until 1940 owned the large Rectory estate, which comprised three quarters of the village. During the Second World War the hotel was requisitioned by the War Department.
Until the 1950’s The Swan remained a small residential inn with just eight bedrooms, then the kitchens were extended and the stable block converted to bedrooms and joined to the main building. Owners in the Sixties were Mr and Mrs Caleb Champion, who sold it in 1970 to variety entertainer Danny La Rue. In 1977 the hotel was bought by James Gulliver and in 1983 the stable block was listed a Grade II building. Two years later the main hotel was also listed within the Streatley Conservation Area, one designated as of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Magdalen Oxford College Barge was brought to the Swan in the early 1980’s and has become an iconic feature permanently moored alongside the hotel, as a reminder of days gone by. It is now licensed for civil ceremonies as well as being a popular venue for social or corporate gatherings.
The Literary Swan
The Swan and local scenes have been mentioned in many books, including Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” and Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”. In 1881 the writer GD Leslie described it as “the prettiest and quaintest of little hostelries” with the attraction of a “brand-new piano”, but regretted its popularity as a meeting place for artists as “the little coffee room has easels and artists’ traps in every corner”. Painters and writers who would have frequented the inn in that colourful period undoubtedly include Oscar Wilde, who is known to have often stayed in the area, and named one of his characters Lord Goring. Lewis Carroll of “Alice in Wonderland” fame often preached in the village church, George Bernard Shaw was friends with local landowners the Morrell family, and poet laureate.
The Swan also features several times in J. Ashby-Sterry’s poem ‘A Streatley Sonata’ (1886) including:
‘Tis sweet to muse in leafy June,
‘Tis doubly sweet this afternoon,
So I’ll remain to muse and moon
Before the “Swan” at Streatley !
When Danny La Rue bought the hotel in the 1970’s his presence at the inn drew crowds of admirers who were often thrilled to find “mine host” serving them in the bar at weekends. The many famous names from the world of showbusiness who attended occasional parties included American pianist Liberace, actor Wilfred Brambell (Steptoe Snr) astronomer Patrick Moore and singer Shirley Bassey.
The Goring and Streatley communities grew up on either side of a ford which provided a crossing point over the Thames, where the ancient Roman routes of the Ridgeway and Icknield Way met. ‘The villages are situated in the Goring Gap which provides one of the prettiest natural settings in the region as well as one of the steepest hills, as a 1920 Punch magazine sonata reads: “Upon the winding Thames you gaze, and through the view’s beyond all praise. I’d rather much sit here and laze, than scale the hill at Streatley.”
The first pound lock was built of wood in 1787 and the first timber toll bridge in 1837, putting an end to 500 years of the ferryboat. Tolls were charged until the 1900’s;; the present stone bridge was built in 1923. The villages have very different histories, and relations between the two sets of residents on either side of the river have not always been smooth. Goring is on the Chilterns side of the Gap in Oxfordshire; Streatley lies in the North Wessex Downs and is in Berkshire. There are tales of fierce rivalry between the inhabitants down the ages, although they came together in 1887 to establish the Goring and Streatley Regatta, once a notable August Bank Holiday event, with special trains being laid on from London. The railway, which came at the expense of a declining canal trade, has done as much as anything to unite the villages; the stop was originally named Goring Station, but later changed officially to “Goring and Streatley”. However, as recently as 1935 there was friction when Streatley celebrated King George V’s Silver Jubilee, but banned Goring residents from taking part!