The Three Swans is one of Hungerford’s great old coaching inns – evidenced by the milestone mounted on its front wall showing it lies midway between Oxford and Salisbury.
Today the earliest surviving record of an inn on the site is from a document of 1645. It recalls that on 15 March 1645 Thomas Smith, gentleman, granted scholarships for two local poor boys at a cost of 40 shillings per annum, funded by the rental income from ‘an inn on the east side of the High Street called The Three Swans … in the occupation then and now of Thomas Strangeways, vintner’. Another record reveals that Thomas Strangeways was a vintner in Hungerford in 1632, so it’s possible he was at The Three Swans then, or even earlier.
John Pearce bought the inn in 1773 for £400, and soon the old timber frame inn was given a Georgian “make-over”, probably giving it something like its present-day frontage.
The list of owners and publicans of the Three Swans is very long, with some very interesting characters!
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A casual glance at this wonderful brick frontage suggests that the house is Georgian. However, look more carefully and you will see that it has four bays on the second floor, five bays on the first floor and six bays on the ground floor. The re-fronting was added to an ancient timber-frame house, probably in 1710.
The Bear is one of the grand coaching inns of England, with a long and rich history. It is thought to have developed a lodging house for the adjacent medieval Priory of St John (see War Memorial) which was founded by 1232. There is documentary proof of its use as a Hospice in 1464.
The brick bridge over the Kennet and Avon canal was designed by John Rennie and built in 1799. For the first 100 years of its life, it carried nothing heavier than horses and wagons. Through the 20th century and onwards, however, it has had to support increasingly heavy vehicles.
The Town Hall and Corn Exchange were built in 1871. There had been three earlier town halls dating from the 13th century. All had been in the middle of the marketplace. A new town clock was given to the town in 1862 and the cupola of the 1786 town hall was much altered to accommodate the clock. However, the changes made the building unstable, and it was decided to build a new town hall, including a large and impressive clock tower.