T h e B l a c k S w a n I n n | coney street, york

The Black Swan Inn occupied a dominant position where the former BhS building stood in the heart of life in Georgian York. Back in the 18th century, the street would have been even busier than in modern times because it was the main arrival and departure point for stage coaches with the first scheduled stage coach from York to London setting off from Coney Street in 1706.

The Black Swan Inn was among the most important inns and coaching houses in York in the 18th century. It occupied a deep site some 60 ft. wide by 208 ft. deep, with the main building fronting the street and with a yard behind, which in 1850 was entirely surrounded by buildings. At that time the inn also included a building on the site of the Yorkshire Bank built in 1923. The inn itself was a 17th-century structure, wholly refronted and partly rebuilt in 1790 to follow the new building line of Coney Street. The Black Swan Inn seems to have occupied quite an area as all the inns in York stabling horses, presumably had to with The Black Swan itself having stabling for 100 horses. What a sight this must have been!

In April 1706, the first stage coach left the Black Swan, Holborn for York at 5am with the journey taking four days. In 1786 the first mail coaches appeared, and by 1830 eighteen coaches left The Black Swan daily. In 1838 the time from London to York was down to 21 hours. Stage coaches included the ‘Express’ to Carlisle, ‘Tally Ho’ to Carlisle, ‘Rockingham’ to Hull (every forenoon), ‘Trafalgar’ to Hull (every afternoon) ‘Union’ to Kendal (every morning) and ‘True Blue’ to Leeds (every afternoon).

A journal by the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in 1857, includes these descriptions about The Black Swan Inn: “It is a very ancient hotel; for in the coffee-room I saw on the wall an old printed advertisement, announcing that a stage-coach would leave the Black Swan in London, and arrive at the Black Swan in York, with God’s permission, in four days. The date was 1706; and still, after a hundred and fifty years, the Black Swan receives travellers in Coney Street. It is a very good hotel, and was much thronged with guests when we arrived, as the Sessions come on this week”. And from another visit the same year: ‘The Black Swan, where we had been staying, is a good specimen of the old English inn, sombre, quiet, with dark staircases, dingy rooms, curtained beds, all the possibilities of a comfortable life and good English fare, in a fashion which cannot have been much altered for half a century. It is very home-like when one has one’s family about him, but must be prodigiously stupid for a solitary man”.

The Black Swan is now in York Castle Museum, http://www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk

The Black Swan Inn closed on 4th April 1939, when its sign, a black swan, was given to York Castle Museum. The building was demolished in 1968 when a shop was built on the site.