First look: Inside historic York pub after its £300k makeover

Fresh look for an old place… the courtyard at the Old White Swan. Photographs: Richard McDougall
25 Jun 2014 @ 8.41 pm
| Business, Food & Drink
Fresh look for an old place… the courtyard at the Old White Swan. Photographs: Richard McDougall
Fresh look for an old place… the courtyard at the Old White Swan. Photographs: Richard McDougall

One of York’s historic pubs, the Old White Swan on Goodramgate, has been restored to its traditional best. Fireplaces are reinstated and there’s a giant new feature – but the ghosts remain untouched.

The £300,000 refurbishment has given the Nicholson’s pub a much-needed makeover. But it has been done sensitively so as to preserve and enhance the heritage of this landmark venue.

Originally built in the 16th century as nine separate buildings, these have gradually joined together.

The result is a pub with many rooms of differing characters, including the Stagecoach section to the right of the main bar.

Its famous courtyard has been spruced up with a new outdoor bar and lighter, airier feel.

Much of the money went into developing the kitchen to help the pub’s all important food offer could woo York diners in an increasingly competitive market.

One of the reclaimed fireplaces can be seen in the dining room
Manager Angela behind the new outside bar
One of the reclaimed fireplaces can be seen in the dining room
One of the reclaimed fireplaces can be seen in the dining room
Does a priestly ghost slip down here after dark?
Does a priestly ghost slip down here after dark?
Welcoming… the Old White Swan on Goodramgate
Welcoming… the familiar Old White Swan sign on Goodramgate

Fireplaces and phantoms

Pub manager Angela Avery has been involved with Nicholson’s pubs throughout her career, first in London and then Brighton.

She worked at the Cross Keys just around the corner before moving to the White Swan.

Angela’s enthusiasm for the business seems to be spreading as she introduced me to several members of staff who each beamed at me before hurrying off to serve another table.

The refurbishment has meant that the business has gone through a long, scaffolding-filled process to create what is now a homely traditional pub.

The long-standing fireplaces have been restored to working order and the staff cannot wait to light them in the winter.

“Regular customers comment on how grand the chimney looks now that it has been made a feature of the room,” Angela said. “Some hadn’t noticed it before!”

According to legend, priests would gather around those same fireplaces centuries ago to deliberate important ideas.

Customers of the pub have often talked about feeling a “presence” around the fire places.

Angela has seen shadows on her CCTV throughout the pub but said she feels “protected, not afraid, maybe it’s the Irish in me!”

The ghosts have yet to comment on the refurbishment of the business.

Another of the Swan's many rooms
Another of the Swan’s many rooms
Beer, beer, we want more beer
Beer, beer, we want more beer

Food and drink

The pub is sticking to its traditional menu with dishes like beer-battered fish and chips at £10.95 for cod and £8.95 for pollock.

There are no fewer than 22 draft ales and ciders on the bar at the moment. These include Rudgate Brewery’s Cherry Pale wheat beer, Wadworth’s Orange Peel and Dr Sunshine’s Special Friendly all the way from Ramsgate.

A pint costs from £3.10 to £3.60. There are also a selection of British gins to sample, in keeping with the theme of the traditional pub.

Wines start in price at £11.50 a bottle or £3.30 a 175ml glass for a Spanish Chardonnay.

Towering above the rest

york-giant-patrick-cotter-obrien-halfAs well as the fireplaces and chimneys being given a new lease of life, the history of the building and the business has been displayed on feature walls throughout the space.

This includes a wall dedicated to Patrick Cotter O’Brien, a man who measured 8ft tall and became the pub’s entertainment in 1781. Onlookers paying a shilling to stare.

There’s even a measuring stick so that customers can see how they stack up against the giant.

Matching O’Brien for live entertainment is a tall order – but the Old White Swan is ready to rise to the challenge with live music evenings every other Friday.

And plenty of screens show live sport in the Stagecoach room.

“One of the advantages of having so many rooms is that these events can take place in one section, while the restaurant and dining room remains undisturbed,” says Angela.

The pub re-opened to the public from 7pm on Wednesday, June 25.