Our History

An Historic Coaching Inn

History Of East Ilsley and The Swan

East Ilsley lays a claim to be the site of the battle of Ashdown in AD871 when Alfred defeated the Danes. Chronicled by Bishop Asser "On the hill stood a solitary ash tree, revered for centuries by the druids before the Christians came," and as late as the Domesday Survey, Ilsley Hundred was known as"nachededorne" (Solitary Ash). Shortly after the battle a community must have originated bearing the name of "hildes laeg, or battlefield, this was then corrupted into" Hildesley" and then later Ilsley. In addition, there is a byway on the edge of the village known as Dennisford road. This is thought to be "Danesford" where the fleeing Danes were seen to be crossing the River Pang in disarray.

Geoffrey de Mandeville was granted lands in East Ilsley by The Conqueror: by the 13th century, the manor had passed to the De Bohuns, Earls of Hereford and Essex. In 1573 it passed to the House of Lancaster by the marriage of Mary de Bohun to Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. The swan badge was the crest of the de Mandevilles inherited by the de Bohuns and thus it was used by Henry V as derived from his mother. It is a possibility, therefore that the hostelry may have been named for this connection to the sovereign and could even have been Crown property.

An ancient origin is not unlikely for The Swan, but traces of any medieval structure have long since disappeared. The present Swan is largely 17th century though it may incorporate earlier structures. It was certainly standing in 1620 when documents show it as part of manor lands. In 1644 it was used to billet troops of King Charles Army when he himself dined at Compton.

By 1240 there was a substantial corn-market in the village, held every Wednesday and this was at its peak in the mid 1700s. The village had become known as Chipping or Market Ilsley and this was endorsed in 1620 by the granting of a charter to hold fortnightly Sheep Fairs. The Ilsley fairs grew in importance and notoriety. In 1724  Daniel Defoe said that East Ilsley was the greatest for sheep in the kingdom. The market was second only to Smithfield when it was recorded that up to 80,000 sheep exchanged hands in one day and in 1842 an average of 400,000 head of stock was sold in a year.

In the 18th Century, new notoriety came to East Ilsley in the form of racehorses. The Duke of Cumberland brought the new industry to the area and all racehorses are descendants of Eclipse, bred by the Duke in 1764. Training grew rapidly and a number of the innkeepers of The Swan were turning their hand to the new sport as well as managing a hostelry which was catering for an increasing amount of road transport as "a posting house with stabling for 50 horses"

In 1772 possession of the Swan came to the brewers Morland of West Ilsley when the pub was purchased from James Martin, thereby starting what became Morland's chain of public houses, which later became Morlands of Abingdon. In 1999 Morlands was purchased by Greene King who are the current owners, who still use the original yeast strain developed in West Ilsley to produce Morlands Original Bitter and Old Speckled Hen.

Our Landlords


  • 1815

    George Baker
  • 1847

    George Drewe
  • 1863

    Joseph Lowe
  • 1883

    George Birch
  • 1887

    Thomas Stimpson
  • 1899

    Edmund Jeffrey
  • 1909

    William Sneller
  • 1928

    Henry Rosher
  • 1935

    Lily May Attewelle
  • 1939

    Lily May Hurst
  • 1948

    Frank Holmes
  • 1953

    A.J.Pearson
  • 1962

    Ernest Herring
  • 1980

    Irene Herring
  • 1985

    Michael Connolly
  • 2004

    Andrew Venning
  • 2006

    Richard Vellender/Kim Ward
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