17. Former Swan Pub

Joe's Bar, 98 High Street 

Higham Ferrers was recorded in the Doomsday book as having a population of 30 households in 1086, putting it in the largest 40% of settlements recorded in that survey of England. From that substantial beginning the town grew in importance and by the Middle Ages it had become a centre of importance for the Lancastrian dynasty of rulers. Only one mill was recorded as having value in 1086, but it is possible that some inhabitants in the town specialised in the brewing and selling of alcohol. A potential location for such an enterprise could have been The Swan.

Over indulgence?

Thomas Chichele, father of three sons including the more famous Henry, lived in Higham from 1386 to his death in 1400. He owned property and land in Higham and the house associated with the birthplace of Henry is opposite The Swan. Following his father’s death William Chichele, his eldest son, inherited the property in Higham. In 1406 it is recorded that quit rent of 40 shillings was paid for a brewhouse inn called Le Swan on the Hope. It is thought that “the Hope” referred to the hospital, a leper hospital. which had been located on the hill between Higham Ferrers and Rushden. William Chichele may have decided to own The Swan outright, possibly purchasing the building from the Crown. It is recorded that the Hope had been in existence “long before the foundation of Archbishop Chichele’s college.”1 If all this follows, it could be suggested that The Swan had also been in existence for some considerable time. William had been granted an indult by Pope Boniface IX in September 1398 for the remission of sins “as often as he pleased”. This must have been a very useful thing to have as should he decide to pop over the road to quaff a yard of ale, he knew that he had not committed any transgressions. Hence owning The Swan could have been a very logical step.

The Swan and Chichele College

On William’s death property in Higham, including The Swan, was inherited by Henry. Henry was an active burgess in Higham all his life as well as being an efficient Archbishop of Canterbury and a wise, peaceful, loyal and able administrator to the Lancastrian dynasty. Although his duties took him away from Higham for long periods of time, he continued to have an active interest in the affairs of Higham. In 1418 Henry V appointed Chichele to the Governorship of Higham Castle. During his lifetime Henry Chichele founded four lasting institutions, All Souls College, Oxford, and three others in Higham Ferrers, these being The Bede House and the Grammar School, and Chichele College, originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Thomas of Canterbury and St Edward. The college was intended for a limited number of canons, chaplains and choristers and was funded in part from the revenue from The Swan, as well as other properties owned by Henry Chichele.

The Cloister Garth, Chichele College

The Swan and public life

The Swan continued to be an active ale and brewhouse during the succeeding centuries and was frequently owned by leading men in public life in Higham including Henry Freeman in 1634, who became a passionate Parliamentarian and was longtime opponent of another leading family of Higham, that of Thomas Rudd, Chief Engineer for King Charles I

By the nineteenth century it was owned by John Mee, and on the 23 April 1802 the Mee family were advertising that they were providing a post chaise “with six able horses and careful drivers,” from The Swan. The Mee’s held significant land holdings in Higham and in 1840 John Mee was not only a signatory to the Enclosure Award of 1840 but also a beneficiary of the redistribution of land with a plot on Warmonds Hill. 

Inquests were also held in The Swan; one on the 31 May 1884 was led by Mr J Parker establishing the cause of Annie Elliott’s suicide.

The fire of 1882

Fire was a constant problem. The Swan was burnt down at least three times, but phoenix like, it has always risen from the ashes. The latest build was after the disastrous fire of 1882 when not only The Swan was demolished but a significant number of adjacent houses as well.


On 16 June 1948 the Campbell Praed Brewery installed electric lighting in The Swan and an outdoor beer house in KImbolton Road.  The total cost was £25. 

Before the demolition
The Swan is the building with the higher roof line and gable end (image Rushden & District History Society )

The demolition of adjacent buildings in the 1980s

Following the rebuilding of the fire damaged houses in the 1880s, one hundred years later a proportion of them were demolished to provide the space to build the Borough Court flats.

After the demolition
showing Borough Court and The Swan renamed Joe's Bar

Present day

The Swan continues to adapt to the times and provide its customers with the opportunities of the twenty-first century. 


1. Caley, J, Wills, H. (Sir) Bandinel, B (Rev) Monasticon Anglicanum, Vol 6, part 2, 1846, London