Wood Street in Walthamstow once had several pubs within close proximity, although today there are just two remaining: the Duke and the Flowerpot.

One of the now defunct pubs was the White Swan at 84-86 Wood Street, whose doors closed for the final time in 2004. Built in 1887, it replaced earlier weatherboarded premises that had become unsuited to the demands of an ever-expanding community as the area was developed with new housing following the opening of Wood Street Station in 1873. The White Swan was even used as a property auction venue for nearby plots of land that were ripe for development, including 99 plots of freehold building land at Woodlands Road and Wood Street comprising 12 shop plots and 87 private dwelling lots.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The pub shortly after construction

A pub at the heart of the growing community, the White Swan also hosted skittles and billiard matches, and had its own skittles team. In the 1890s the pub was run by locally-born family the Paynes. Publican John and his wife Jane lived on the premises with their young family of at least five children.

William and Sarah Bach were licensees at the turn of the 20th Century, and lived at the pub with their infant son, born in 1899, and some of their bar staff. William was originally from Shropshire and was working in service before moving to Essex and marrying Suffolk-born Sarah. Under the Bachs’ tenure the White Swan (then bizarrely named Ye Olde White Swan), continued to host billiard matches attended by local amateur players as well as some from further afield.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The Wood Street area in 1893-4, when development of the area with new streets and houses was underway. The White Swan is marked with ared dot, and the Duke's Head is a little further south

Tragically, William died in 1905 aged just 45, leaving Sarah with their young son and a pub to run, but tragedy hit the family again, when Sarah died six years later. A manager of sorts was quickly drafted in, with licensed victualler George Godsell taking up temporary residence and management at the pub. Interestingly, he was licensee of a pub near Hull, Yorkshire, where he lived with his wife Sarah and her two children; whilst George was assisting in Walthamstow, Sarah remained in Yorkshire to look after affairs there.

In 1911 Sarah Bach’s executors put the White Swan up for sale by auction as a leasehold property valued at £6,000. Later that year the licence was transferred to Henry Whynes and Alfred David Spartam of The Suburban Caterers Limited. Henry ran the pub as landlord, although not without incident, being the victim of an attack by a punter not long after taking up the post. An intoxicated bricklayer, Thomas Sparkes, of Collard Road, had assaulted William, throwing a glass of stout at him, causing concussion and a spine injury. Thomas also hit the pub’s cook, Annie Lindsell, when she tried to intervene. Sparkes was jailed for 21 days.

By the 1930s the White Swan was being run by Hilda and Samuel Carter, who lived there with their two daughters Gladys and Hilda. Although Gladys worked in a local factory, Hilda worked at the pub as a barmaid. It was quite a full household, as three barmen and the pub cook also lived on the premises, as well as the manager of the off-licence section, Edward Wombwell.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The building in 2020

The pub became known for its live music, especially in the mid-to later decades of the 20th Century, with DJ and band nights. There was also comedy and other entertainments, with weekend nights being especially popular, especially as the pub was often open later than others in the area. The White Swan’s swansong was its closing night in 2004, remembered by pub regulars who stayed ‘till the last barrel was empty’.

The premises is now a betting shop, with accommodation above, but is still recognisable as the local pub it once was.

Karen Averby is a seaside-loving historian and research consultant specialising in researching histories and stories of buildings, people and places. She researches house histories for private clients and collaborates in community heritage projects (karenaverby.co.uk). She is also director of Archangel Heritage Ltd, an historical research consultancy providing research services for the commercial heritage sector (archangelheritage.co.uk). Also found on Twitter @karenaverby and @archaheritage.