Little slices of London's history

Wine, mutant swans…(and Star Trek?)

Swan with Two Necks Stockport
The Swan with Two Necks in Stockport

Many of London’s weird and wonderful street names come from inns or taverns, more of which here. Pub names can (and have) filled entire books in themselves, and one curious pub name is the Swan with Two Necks.

The history of this name goes back to 1357, when the first hall of the Vintners Company was built in, in Vintners Place, near what is now Upper Thames Street. The company is eleventh of the twelve great livery companies and its toasts traditionally included five cheers rather than the usual three.

This, according to our wonderful London historian John Stow, is because in 1363 Henry Picard, vintner and former mayor, “did in one day sumptuously feast Edward III, king of England, John, king of France, David, king of Scots… and Edward, prince of Wales”. There was a legend that the king of Denmark was also there so the presence of five kings gave rise to the five toasts.

Vintners Company swan upping

All of which is fun to know but is not related to the mutant swans. The company is one of only three owners of swans on the Thames, the others being the crown and the Dyers Company (a restriction that dates back to the reign of Elizabeth I). Every year there is a ‘swan upping ceremony’ in which the Vintners’ cygnets are marked with two nicks on their beaks. This mark of ownership led to a seemingly curious name for taverns: the Swan with Two Necks, from ‘swan with two nicks’.

The Vintners Hall was one of the many casualties of the Great Fire in 1666 and, in keeping with the pub theme, the Company spent the next few years without a hall and having to hold their meetings in various pubs. Maybe even in one called the Swan with Two Necks? There are still pubs around the country with the name.

Star Trek? Well, who knows – maybe Henry Picard was the inspiration for Captain Picard’s name.

4 responses to “Wine, mutant swans…(and Star Trek?)”

  1. Didn’t know about Picard and the Star Trek connection, but was fairly familiar with ‘swan-upping.’ Back to the days when they could eat them roasted, I suspect!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Hey, Pete, yes I suspect they were dinner centerpieces back then.

  2. […] The Swan with Two Necks (ok, cheating; it’s a pub name, rather than a street name, but so what? it’s a great name), which takes its name from the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the practice of swan upping. The Vintners, along with the Drapers and the ruling monarch, are the only people or bodies allowed to own swans on the Thames. […]

  3. […] there have been previous posts with swans, though they largely focus on pub names, such as the Swan with Two Necks and a boat […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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