York Civic Trust Plaques

The Black Swan, Peasholme Green

Location of plaque: beside the main door into the pub

THE Black Swan today is perhaps best known, to Yorkies at least, as the home of the Black Swan Folk Club. Run by Roland Walls, this meets every Thursday evening in an upstairs room at the pub, and regularly brings some of the best names in folk for a foot-stomping evening of great music and beer.

It is also a fine pub in its own right, of course, with some decent beers, two beer gardens, an open fireplace for those cold winter evenings, and - if you really must think of your belly - a wood panelled restaurant.

It is obvious to anyone who goes there that this is an old building. But do you realise just how old, or how important?

The building is believed to date from the 1400s. It was originally one of the finest timber-framed houses in York, and was home to a succession of MPs and Lord Mayors - some of them very colourful characters.

Take the wool merchant William Bowes. He had several properties in Peaseholme Green where, in the 1400s, there were water meadows bordering the King's Fishpond.

He was elected MP for York in 1416, and became Lord Mayor in 1417. In 1420 he was reprimanded by none other than Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (the brother of King Henry V) for 'polluting the king's fisheries': through negligent management of his properties, the water had become silted with debris and fish stocks had declined.

This didn't stop him being elected MP for York four more times, in 1421, 1422, 1426 and 1431. He paid for the rebuilding of St Cuthbert's Church opposite what is today the Black Swan, and was buried there in 1439.

His son, another William Bowes who also became York MP and Lord Mayor, inherited both his father's wool business and his property. He got caught up in a trade war with the Hanseatic League, a federation of merchant guilds and market towns in northwestern Europe. A ship containing his wool was seized by the Hanseatic League in 1422, and he also got into trouble for debt at home: at one point he was assaulted by a group of men led by John Wady, a York draper.

The money Bowes owed to Flemish merchants led to him being held prisoner in Calais until he paid his debts off. He struggled against debt for much of his life. He was pardoned in 1461 but had to resign as an alderman and leave York, and died intestate in 1476.

Another member of the Bowes family of Peaseholme Green who achieved distinction was Martin Bowes. Born at what is now the Black Swan in 1496 or 1497, he became first a goldsmith and then was appointed to run the Mint at the Tower of London. In 1545 he was elected Lord Mayor of London.

During his time as the capital's first citizen, he was involved in the 'examination' of the Protestant martyr Anne Askew. She was tortured on the rack in the Tower of London, and refused to name other Protestants even though her limbs were pulled from their sockets. Because she couldn't walk, she was carried on a chair to Smithfield where, on July 16, 1546, she was burned at the stake.

It was this Martin Bowes who, in 1560, rebuilt what is now the Black Swan. The central section with its twin gables facing Peaseholme Green dates from the late 1500s. Other, brick additions were made by Sir Henry Thompson in 1670.

To read the stories behind more Civic Trust plaques, visit https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/