The Swan Inn was situated at Phipps Bottom on the hairpin bend that divides Pillowell from Yorkley. The Rudge Brook flows under the road at this point. The property was a private house built c1698, which first became licensed in 1874. In 1889 the Swan was bought by Arnold Perrett & Co. Ltd. The annual rateable value was £12.0s.0d. and it was classified as a beer house. Closing time was at 10 pm. Arnold, Perrett & Co’s Wickwar Brewery sold the Swan Inn to the Cheltenham Original Brewery in 1927.
March 1968 was once of the wettest months ever recorded in the Forest of Dean. The worst affected areas were in Lydney where persistent heavy rain caused the River Lyd to overflow severely flooding properties in Newerne Street. Rudge Brook at Pillowell also overflowed and the Swan Inn was deluged with four feet of flood water. Things were so bad that the council launched a Flood Relief Charity Fund to help those struggling to cope with the long clear-up job.
Citizen: 28th April 1983 – A sign at last. After remaining ‘anonymous’ for two generations, a pub at Pillowell has been given a new sign. And now no more potential customers will pass by the Swan without realising it is licensed premises. The pub has a splendid new sign to go with its recently painted cream exterior. Mr John Camm, landlord for five years assisted by his wife, Betty, explains: “Twenty years ago there was a sign on a wooden post outside, but it rotted and the sign fell down. I am the fifth licensee since then to try ang get a new sign. During that time the inn was under threat of closure, probably because the brewery thought it not viable.” Now Whitbread Flowers, says Mr Camm, have seen the potential of cottage pubs.
The new look inn and sign is thanks to area manager David Hopkins. “I have been a bit niggled in the past about not having a sign. Several people have said that they have gone past without realising the pub was there,” said Mr. Camm. In fact, trade boomed just after the sign was put up and Mr. Camm hopes that this was no mere coincidence.
The pub, the last of three in the village, has been the Swan since the early 1800’s when it began as a miners’ tavern. But there was a move to have it renamed Phipps’ Bottom as it is called locally due to its position at the base of a hill and the large number with the surname once living locally. “But we thought some people might take it the wrong way, especially as the customers suggesting it wanted an appropriate sign to illustrate the name,” said Mr. Camm.
John Camm had a rather cheeky offer for his customers in 1986. He said, “Customers of this hostelry will be issued with official Forest of Dean Fern Tickets when they call in for a pint. The ticket allegedly gives the holder the right to sink into the lush greenery with a sweetheart and let his passion takeover, without fear of interruption from Forest Rangers.” John’s ticket bore the rhyme: ‘Have you ever made love in a bed of fern? Then, alas my friend, you’ve a lot of learn.’
In 1999 the Swan became an unlikely place to showcase local and regional cheeses. The Forest & Wye Review newspaper reported that ‘at the tiny Swan Inn on the Whitecroft-Pillowell border, you won’t find a pool table – there isn’t room for one – though quoits board stands in the corner. There is no fruit machine, and no piped music either. For bar meals there is no big list of cooked food. Instead, the wall blackboard lists 32 farmhouse cheeses – plus a selection of home-made cheese tarts. The cheeses are sold not only as pick-and-mix ploughman’s platters, but as take-away and free home delivery boxes. There is also a selection of home-made chutneys and pickles.’ The pub was renamed the Swan Inn Cheesehouse Restaurant and Bar and every Saturday between 11.30 am and 2.30 pm a range of speciality cheeses were on display to taste and discover. There was also a ‘Cheese of the week’ on offer.
The change from a traditional village pub to a specialist cheese emporium was not to everyone’s taste and it caused considerable resentment with the old pub regulars. It was also claimed that the landlord had imposed rules barring the wearing of shorts. In July 2000 up to 40 former customers set up their own makeshift drinking place on the bank opposite the Swan to protest at the changes. One of the protesters said “On September 2nd 2000, twenty-one of us walked out at once and nobody intends going back in there. There used to be two darts teams, one quoits team, two crib teams and a darts team based at the pub, but he has lost the lot and even the village brass band doesn’t hold its harvest festival in there now.” It was also claimed that the Swan at Pillowell had one of the best quiz teams in the Forest of Dean.
The landlord regarded the disgruntled group as childish and tiresome. Of the protests he said, “I will bring harassment charges. I’ll take them to court and they will have to face the consequences. I’ll still be here at the end of the day.” He maintained that “for each dissatisfied customer there were ten who are more than happy by the way I am running the pub”. He added, “We are looking to have a civilised pub and we expect people to be reasonably well behaved, reasonably well-dressed and reasonably well-mannered.” An ‘ex-customer’ wrote a letter in the ‘Forester’ newspaper commenting, “The landlord may own the building, keep it clean and serve the drink but it’s the public who keep it going, who spend the money to give the landlord his living, which makes that building into a public house. After all, a public house without the public is just a house.”
In December 2001 the Swan Beerhouse was offering at least 120 bottled conditioned beers (Real Ale in Bottles) from small and micro-breweries from the West Country and from throughout England. There was a home-delivery service in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Somerset, Avon & Wiltshire.
The Swan pub was taken over by Matthew Tie in 2006. He added an extension to the bar and commented, “It’s given us a lot more space and business is good. We do food in summer, when there are more visitors around, especially walkers and cyclists.”
In February 2010 an application was submitted to the Forest of Dean District Council for ‘alterations and change of use of existing public house to residential dwelling. Erection of a detached private car garage (demolition of existing garage).’ The refurbished property was on the market in July 2012 with a guide price of £329,995. It was described as a detached four / five bedroom (two with en-suites) former public house. Four reception rooms, double garage and parking. Huge amount of accommodation. Potential for two family / extended family living.’
Landlords at the Swan Inn include:
1874 Mary Phipps
1891 Henry Smith
1902 Mrs M. James
1903,1906 William G. Morgan
1919,1927 Edwin Willetts
1939 Harold Porter
1946 Basil James
1968 – 1974 Graham Dicks (moved to the Miners Arms, Whitecroft in 1974)
1978,1986 John and Betty Camm
1996 Chris Miller
2006,2008 Matthew Tie