Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Swan-on-the-Green, West Peckham

Brew-pubs have been with us in various guises, for centuries. In fact before the rise of commercial breweries, virtually all brewing would have been carried out either in the home, or at the local alehouse.

It was the Middle Ages which saw the first appearance of the “common brewer”; this being someone who brewed beer for any alehouse that did not brew its own beer, and whilst these continued to grow in both number and size, it was still common for most pubs to brew their own beer.

Even as late as the early part of the 19th Century, around half of the brewing in England was still carried out privately – that is to say by publicans or alehouse owners themselves. The success of the “common brewers” was practically guaranteed though, as the stability and economies of scale they brought to an industry which was very much hit-or-miss, and which lacked the benefits of scientific knowledge and process control,  ensured the drinking public would be getting an enjoyable and quality end product.

Much has been written about the rise of the great brewing companies during the 18th and 19th Centuries, but the success of these breweries, and their smaller more localised counterparts, slowly spelled the end for the publican brewer. During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the number of pubs which still brewed their own beer went into terminal decline, and by the time CAMRA first appeared on the scene, there were just four such brew-pubs remaining in Britain.

Since then, spurred on by the success of the “Real Ale movement” and the burgeoning interest in beer, the number of brewpubs has increased, but this growth has at times been quite sporadic and has often been in waves.

During the 1980’s, David Bruce and his chain of “Firkin” brew-pubs helped to swell the number of brew-pubs quite substantially, but once some of the bigger brewers muscled in on the act, many drinkers began to view pubs which brewed their own ale as something of a gimmick.

Since those heady days, numerous brew-pubs have come and gone, but the genre has seen a steady revival in recent years, largely as a result of the rise of  so-called “craft-beer”. It is therefore encouraging to know that there are still a few pubs who can trace their traditions back, perhaps not quite to those very early days, or indeed not even to the time of  David Bruce, but which nevertheless have been brewing their own beers for the best part of the last two decades. To have such a pub, almost on the doorstep,  is something to be cherished, and after visiting this pub last weekend, I am pleased to report the tradition of home-brewed ales still continues in a few isolated pockets of the country.

The pub in question is the Swan-on-the-Green, in the tiny village of West Peckham, which is roughly halfway between Tonbridge and Maidstone. West Peckham is literally on the “road to nowhere”, as it is reached by turning off along a "dead-end" lane, from the Mereworth to Plaxtol road, a short distance from the B2016 Seven Mile Lane.

Apart from a few houses overlooking the large and attractive village green, plus the rather lovely Saxon church of St. Dunstan's, there is little else in West Peckham, apart from the village pub, appropriately called the Swan-on-the-Green.

The pub was known as the Miller’s Arms, having first acquired a licence in 1685. This was when the establishment originally incorporated a bakery. Parts of the current building are said to date back to the 16th Century, but most of the pub is slightly newer. In 1852, under new ownership, it changed its name to the Swan. In 2000 the pub was altered again to incorporate "The Swan Micro-brewery" which brews its own range of cask conditioned beers.

I first visited the Swan during the early 1980’s, when I was a member of Maidstone CAMRA branch. Back then it was a pretty ordinary Courage house overlooking the village green. The pub slipped off my radar when I moved to Tonbridge in 1984, and it wasn’t until it started brewing its own beer, as mentioned above, that I took a renewed interest in the place.

Being well of the beaten track, the Swan doesn’t appear the easiest place to get to by public transport, but with a little forward planning, a visit there is perfectly feasible and relatively straight forward. The No.7 service bus, which runs daily between Tonbridge and Maidstone, calls at the nearby village of Mereworth.  Alighting at the stop nearest the village school, followed by a walk along country lanes of just under a mile and a half, brings one to West Peckham. From there, just head towards the church and the village green, and the Swan will be apparent on the left.

Several of my visits though have been whilst walking in this picturesque corner of the county. Both the Greensand Way and Weald Way long distance foot paths, pass close by, and it is whilst walking these routes that I have ended up at the Swan. On Sunday though, I arrived by car, on my way home from Maidstone, after visiting Mrs PBT’s who is in being treated in hospital there, to sort out a rather nasty chest infection.

I parked the car at the side of the pub, pausing briefly to look at the adjoining outbuilding at the rear, which houses the Swan’s  micro-brewery, and made my way inside. The pub is divided into two distinct areas either side of the bar. There is a larger area to the left, which is primarily given over to eating, and a smaller section to the right. This seems to be where the pub regulars and locals from the village hang out. They were certainly all there on Sunday, along with their dogs.

I sat at the bar, as there was plenty of space, and I was not blocking anyone’s access. There were four home-brewed ales on offer; ranging from the 3.6% Fuggles Pale to the 7.4% Christmas Ale. As  I was driving I opted for the former, a crisp, pleasant and very refreshing beer which slipped down well. I scored it at 3.5 NBSS. At just £3.20 a pint, the Fuggles Pale was excellent value for money, and just goes to prove the economies which can be achieved when the beer is brewed on the premises.

I stayed for around 30 minutes. Watching the comings and goings in the adjacent right-hand bar area. These seemed to mainly revolve around people and their dogs. It was all very pleasant, and all so very English and I was glad of the distraction from the spiral of events of the past few days.

I left just after 2.30pm, and was back in Tonbridge, and back to reality in under 15 minutes. I was pleased I’d called in though and will certainly be making further return visits to the Swan. I might also be tempted to treat myself to something of the menu, even though it looks a trifle on the dear side.


Russtovich said...

"I was glad of the distraction from the spiral of events of the past few days."

Glad to hear you could take a bit of a breather from the past few days.

"This seems to be where the pub regulars and locals from the village hang out."

I'm in the camp that likes a separate area mainly for drinking as opposed to one big room.

"The No.7 service bus, which runs daily between Tonbridge and Maidstone,"

And runs a good 3 times an hour from looks of it. Much better than what you'd get over here in the way of public transport.

"I might also be tempted to treat myself to something of the menu, even though it looks a trifle on the dear side."

Agreed. Looks a bit like the menu prices of the (fairly) new brewpub here in our town:


We have a gift certificate from our eldest for Christmas to use there sometime in the next little while. Tried going last weekend but it was the first time we'd had decent weather here over the holidays and it was packed (which is not a bad thing; just bad for us). We'll go back for lunch one weekend, and if the weather's not too bad, we'll walk. :)


PS - "Being well of the beaten track,"

Off the beaten track. :)

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for spotting the typo Russ, it made me laugh as I awoke this morning and read your comments. I will correct the error in the fullness of time.

Yes, a good bus service at the moment, but there are rumblings that Kent County Council are planning to drastically reduce the subsidies they pay to the bus companies, in order to keep certain routes running. The No. 7 bus might escape these cuts, as it provides an important link between two large, West Kent towns, but there’s no getting away from the fact that times are hard and budgets are stretched
Must say I like the look of your new brew-pub, although few photos on the website wouldn’t have gone amiss. Just been looking at the wider map; I didn’t realise quite how rugged the coast of western Canada (British Colombia?) is. I have a cousin who lives in Vancouver, btw.

Stanley Blenksinop said...

Hello Paul,
We called in at this pub on our memorable summer's walk following some of your suggestions a year or two ago and I must say we were rather disappointed.We arrived five minutes after the lunchtime service had finished too late to get a bit to eat ( from memory it seemed ridiculously early ) and we couldn't even get some sandwiches rustled up for four of us.Far worse than that was the attitude of the staff which was really rather rude.We stayed for just the one pint and that was warm and flat to be honest.Shame,because it was a wonderful location overlooking the green with a cricket match being played.Seems like you had better luck but for a brewpub they seemed far more interested in food than beer,although not to us obviously !

Paul Bailey said...

Sorry to hear of your bad experience at the Swan, Stanley. I always regarded the pub as very food-oriented, but I suppose me arriving at 2 o’clock, meant the bulk of the Sunday lunchtime food trade had finished.

As I reported in my post, there was a lively crowd in the right hand bar section; most of whom were drinking rather than eating. The two young girls behind the bar were very pleasant, as was the slightly older lad. He was quite chatty, especially when it came to telling me about the house-brewed beer.

Sounds like you either caught the pub on a bad day, or I caught it on a good one!

Anonymous said...

I hope your wife is continuing to recover, Paul.

A good read. I scored the beer here the same as you (NBSS 3.5) a few years ago, so their beers must be good as I often find rural homebrew distinctly underwhelming (and I often think the villagers are keener on the novelty factor than the beers themselves). If you can make a good job of it like the Swan, it must pay.

Russtovich said...

Glad I could make you smile Paul. And no rush on the correction. I think Martin has given up on fixing the mistakes I find. (LOL)

As for the rugged coastline here; I knew it was rugged on the coast but I had no idea it was the same on Vancouver Island, and I'm Canadian! (blush)

Below is a photo looking back at Vancouver Island from the ferry that goes from Comox (on the Island) to Powell River (on the mainland):


Heck, we have some of the best skiing in the country less than an hour's drive from where I live:


In fact, although the conditions were pretty slushy, in 2016 and 2017 Mount Washington had skiing on Father's Day in June! (just the one day, but still) :)

May I add, as did RM, that I hope your wife is continuing to improve.


Paul Bailey said...

I’m pleased you found the beer at the Swan as good as I did, Martin. The point I was trying to make, in the original post, is that the pub must be doing something right to still be brewing its own beer after nearly 18 years. I also find it encouraging that, unlike some outlets, they haven’t been tempted to produce loads of different “seasonals”, or worse still umpteen one-off “specials”. That surely is the road to the poorhouse. Instead they have stuck with a well-balanced core range of beers, which seem to be well received by the locals.

I still haven’t corrected the typo Russ, in fact I didn’t even switch my computer on last night. Thanks for the photo and the link. I hate to use the word, but as your neighbours south of the 49th Parallel would say, “awesome”.

Thank you both, for enquiring after my wife. Eileen is still in intensive care, but under less sedation and, for the time being at least, they have removed the tube from her mouth/throat. She can now cough, meaning she can now start to clear her chest. I cannot thank the NHS enough for the care she is receiving, particularly during what is a very busy and stressful period for the health service.

I don’t know how long she will remain in hospital, so I have postponed my Manchester trip until later in the year. There are plenty of interesting pubs in the city which will more than compensate for missing the beer festival, and there’s always next year.

Russtovich said...

I'm so glad Eileen is doing better. Baby steps but she's taking them in the right direction. And yes, kudos for her care at a time when it seems every second person has the flu.

Thanks for reminding me where I live is pretty nice. Much as I'd love to be having a pint in a Kentish pub I can get a decent pint here, and do the Kent thing virtually. ��

As for Manchester I completely agree. If my wife Rose was in Eileen's condition I would be sticking close to home.

All the best Paul.


Paul Bailey said...

A belated thank-you, Russ. Eileen has now been transferred onto one of the main wards and out of intensive care. She will remain in hospital for some time yet, whilst she gets her strength back, but it is really good to see her sitting up and taking note of things again.