It was as if the last two years hadn’t happened – no pandemic and no closure of The White Swan in Deritend.
But the classic Victorian pub built in 1899-1900 by James & Lister Lea is back in the real world and serving its first pints again since the building was sold by Marston’s brewery to developer SevenCapital in July 2019.
Closed for two years and two months in total, the Bradford Street pub looked distressed when BirminghamLive illustrated how daubed with tagging it had become by January this year.
Boarded up and robbed of its hot water tank – leaving water to flood the cellar – the redbrick and terracotta masterpiece seemed to be feeling very sorry for itself and far removed from the real ale palace it has just become.
Especially as the pub was where the first meeting was held in 1996 to revive the St Patrick’s Day Parade more than 20 years after the Birmingham Pub Bombings, and where New York firefighters were based post 9/11 on a fundraising mission which raised £250,000 for the families of lost colleagues.
Now redecorated, repainted and with a springy new carpet in the rear snug, The White Swan is back to its sparkling best again ahead of two key events.
December will be the 30th anniversary of its original Grade Il listing.
And it will also be open for visitors from around the world to enjoy a pint once the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are underway in late July next year.
To whet your appetite, take a look at our pictures from the private party opening night in our photo story below.
How The White Swan was saved
Real ale experts Nigel Barker (The Wellington on Bennetts Hill) and Will Young (The Woodman) were aghast when they read our story in January about the pub being in danger of falling into disrepair – never mind missing out on the chance to be a star on the Commonwealth Games’ tourist trail for 2022.
So the business partners bandied together and persuaded SevenCapital to let them reopen the pub on a short-term, year-long lease with a view to being asked to keep it going permanently after that if both parties were happy.
Nigel told BirminghamLive during a Facebook Live tour of the building on opening night : “It’s a pub I’ve loved for many, many years and to see it in such a sorry state really upset me. I just had to save it.
“The place has been badly vandalised. We’ve had to do a lot of work to get it what it should be but I’m really proud of what we’ve done.
“I’ve been in the trade for 45 years and have a real passion for pubs, not just for the beer but for the architecture including The Bartons Arms. It all comes from the heart.”
Nigel’s first drink was Wheelie Pale from Blackheath brewery Fixed Wheel that will sit on the bar alongside four changing guest beers.
What’s the secret of a great pint?
“Get a nice head on it start with, and then just fill it up nicely to the top. Cheers!” said Nigel as he topped up his first drink.
“It’s all about passion and caring about what you sell. Caring about customers being happy with the product and if they are happy, they come back.
“The good thing about the cellar here is that it’s absolutely massive and it would be nice if, one day, it was absolutely full of beer.”
Our next video features the Creaton family who ran the pub for 50 years until 2019 – the video was made by West Midlands Fire Service watch commander Paul Smith to mark the pub’s last night in business
What are The White Swan’s greatest indoor features?
“We’ve got a very, very long original bar but the most interesting things are the tiles on the wall which are absolutely superb,” said Nigel.
“The piece de resistance is the passageway that goes down to the toilets which is just a work of art, it’s beautiful.
“There hasn’t been a time in the last 25 years when there hasn’t been a smile on my face when I walk down that passageway.”
Business partner Will Young said: “It’s been really quiet this summer at The Woodman, but this weekend is Freshers’ Weekend and our busiest of the year and another reason we are opening here as well – a double whammy!
“It’s much nicer to be too busy than to be too quiet, especially after the year-and-a-half that we’ve just had.”
Local pub expert and publisher Andy Maxam said: “When I was here (at The White Swan) two years ago just before it closed, little did I think it would reopen again quite so soon.
“It’s fantastic to see that what is such a difficult time for pubs that (Nigel and Will) have made a fist of it.
“I am sure it’s going to be very popular with the people of Birmingham who appreciate their heritage.
“It’s the first time the pub has been a free house in its 120-year history – before that it’s always been Ansells, Banks’s or Marston’s.
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“We really have got some fantastic breweries in our region and now Nigel and Will can offer beers from all of the fantastic local, regional and national breweries that are out there.
“We are living in a golden time for the choice and quality of ales.
“There has never been a better time to be a real ale drinker and to drink it in a pub as sumptuous as this, which has such a rich history, it’s absolutely fantastic. “
Bearwood-based Andy, who used to be the pub preservation officer for Birmingham CAMRA added: “I’m made up, I really am – too many national brewers still dominate the scene when it would be nice for them to offer guest ales because the customer loses out it the end.”
There might be no sign of SevenCapital building any new apartments next door yet – when the plan is to give The White Swan a proper beer garden.
But the revival of the pub alone should help to guarantee renewed interest in the potential of the area which is just five minutes’ walk from the Custard Factory and Birmingham Coach Station.
Our BirminghamLive Facebook Live viewers included Robert Kelly who recalled: “My first there in 1962 – great family-run pub” while Russell Cafferty noted: “Love what the team have done with the place!”
Dawn Hainsworth said: “Good luck Nigel and Will! Fabulous pub. So happy you have saved it,” while Buddy Quinn added: “Great little pub. Best of luck from an old Irish customer in Ireland.”
Alan Rooke, who used to work across the road at Harrison Drape, said: “Many a happy time.”
Julian Saunders added afterwards: “It was a great night last night. Congratulations to Nige (Barker) & Will Young and a fine interview with a great advocate for historic Brum pubs, Andy Maxam.”
The White Swan is at 276 Bradford St, Deritend, Birmingham B5 6EP – telephone 0121 622 2586
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