“… [Clarissa] was rowed to Chelsea, where she breakfasted; and after rowing about, put in at the Swan at Brentford-Aight, where she dined; and would have written, but had no conveniency of tolerable pens, or ink, or a private room…”

Samuel Richardson, ‘Clarissa, or, The history of a young lady. Vol. 8. LETTER XXIII’
Samuel Richardson by Mason Chamberlin. Public Domain courtesy of Picryl.

In December 1738, Samuel Richardson the author of the novel Pamela leased a house called the Grange in North End Road in west London. The Restoration period property with its grotto and high-walled garden, was the country retreat where Richardson created his epistolary novel Clarissa, and where he entertained good company from ‘Saturday to Monday.’

He was a familiar figure in the neighbourhood of Fulham: a widow who kept a public house on the corner of North End Lane, recalled “a round, short gentleman, who most days passed her door,” and whose family she would serve with beer.

Richardson moved to Parsons Green in 1755 and the Grange was later acquired by Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, who was said to have been impressed by its atmosphere.

Richardson did not complete the novel Clarissa until the October of 1746, the year Stephen West died and passed the ownership of the Swan to his brother Henry (my 4x great grandfather). Records show that Stephen had been granted a licence for the Swan in 1729 and had managed to grow a favourable reputation for the hostelry through skilful planning.

By the time Henry had taken over managing the Swan Tavern, the water bailiff Roger Griffiths wrote that the Brentford Ait was “a very pleasant Spot of Ground, on which is a Publick House inhabited by a Fisherman, who, of later Years, has greatly improved this Spot, by making therein several Fish Ponds, and other Ornaments, for the more agreeable Reception of those who shal make use of his House…”

The Swan Tavern became famous for it’s wine and dressed fish, particularly the local eels. See Dining in Brentford . According to Griffiths, the fat of the eel could also be used for curing piles, growing hair, softening smallpox scars and helping with hearing loss (don’t ask me).

Lamprey eels were also used for bait and the fisherman of Brentford exported them to the Netherlands annually from November to February in vessels containing 60,000-90,000, mainly to be used for catching cod. It is likely that Henry received a lot of business exporting lamprey for bait and eels for medicinal purposes.

Lowering eel bucks. Public Domain. Courtesy of Picryl.

But the main attraction of The Swan for the local inhabitants and travellers was its food, atmosphere, and later on, links to the court of George III. It is not known how often Richardson the author frequented The Swan, but his account of Clarissa’s experience reads as a very person one; we can only guess that the author visited the tavern and perhaps did not find things to his satisfaction: no private room, no tolerable pens of ink etc.

One thing is for certain, Richardson immortalised the Swan on the Brentford Ait. He and all the others who have cared to write about it have created a ripple down the centuries that found its way to me and all the descendants of Henry.

(c) 2023 Mish J. Holman. Do not reuse without permission.


Griffiths, Roger. (1758) A Description of the River Thames, &c. London: T. Longman.

Bailey, William. (1772) The advancement of arts, manufactures, and commerce ; or, descriptions of the useful machines and models contained in the repository of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. London: W. Adlard for the author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *