After the calamitous events of the Civil War, where it was said ‘the most barbarous outrages were committed in the town, and the inhabitants cruelly plundered’, a flood devastated Brentford in 1682. [1]

The weather had turned violent and a storm raged with bursts of thunder and lightning, followed by a swift release of flood waters cannoning through the town, carrying away its little houses and boats. A similar event would occur a century and a half later but more savage and deadly, killing some of the inhabitants, and laying to waste their habitations.

Such turmoil had been a feature of Brentford’s existence, whilst across the river at Kew, the genteel pursuits of gardening and estate building were being followed and forged, with brand new villas designed and built, and gardens planned and laid.

Earlier in the century in 1631, Samuel Fortrey a Flemish merchant had taken a mansion at Kew and rebuilt it, placing his own initials with that of his wife’s over the door, for many years the new villa would be known as the Dutch House. [2]


Fortrey’s neighbour, Sir Henry Capel had made an obsession of gardening and collecting unusual plants. John Evelyn, a frequent visitor to Kew observed that Capel’s ‘orangerie and myrtetum are most beautiful and perfectly well kept. He was contriving very high palisadoes of reedes to shade his oranges during the summer, and painting those reedes in oil’. [3]

Back across the river at Ealing, the baptism register of 1698 records the birth of Stephen son of Stephen and Ann West. The eldest boy is followed by a stream of offspring, there’s John and Mary, then Anne and Dorothy until finally Elizabeth and Sarah are baptised in 1713 and 1715 respectively. The 1753 Will of Ann West gives reference to two other children, Martha and Henry whose baptisms are not recorded by either Ealing or Brentford parish churches. [4]

The family had made a considerable fortune for themselves from fishing rights, leaving behind the begrimed labour of butchery and the increasing quest for trade. Fishing was more localised with buyers on their doorsteps, but there is a confusion as to which Stephen West, elder or junior, started the climb towards respectability.

A document exists at the London Metropolitan Archives for a 14 year Lease concerning the conversion of land into a kitchen garden, first to Lady Elizabeth Molyneux (great-niece of Sir Henry Capel) and second to Ann Lelly [sic] widow of Sir Peter Lely, with rights to Stephen West for landing passengers on the Kew side of the river in 1729. [5]

A map of the Brentford Ait.
National Archives (GB). MPI 1/545.

The very same year West is specifically granted a licence for the Swan Tavern. The hostelry was situated on the Brentford Ait and according to some sources was built by Stephen West himself. The extent of the plot can be seen on the 1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond shown in the image above; the actual acreage consisting of fishponds, orchards and buildings was in reality larger than that of the Dutch House on the opposite bank. 

The success and eventual notoriety of the Swan, would culminate in a period of glory years for the aforementioned Henry West brother of Stephen, who would sit and pose for his portrait, perhaps painted by one of the greatest miniaturists of the day.

That story is yet to be told.

(c) Copyright 2011-2021, Mish J Holman. No reuse without permission.


[1] Daniel Lysons, ‘Brentford’, in The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex (London, 1795), pp. 39-58. British History Online. : accessed 31 December 2021.

[2] Historic Royal Palaces. (2021) Self led external tour of Kew Palace. : accessed 31 December 2021.

[3] Loudon, John Claudius. (1850) An Encyclopaedia of gardening; comprising the theory and practice of horticulture, floriculture, arboriculture and landscape gardening. p. 243. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

[4] Ancestry. Search Birth, Marriage & Death, including Parish.

[5] Lease. 20 Dec. 1729; 25 Sept. 1730. LEASE FOR 14 YEARS, COUNTERPART; 1. RT. HON. LADY ELIZABETH MOLYNEUX, KEW GREEN, SY. 2. ANN LELY, DO. WID. Q/SHR/162/001 and Q/SHR/162/002. London Metropolitan Archives, London, England.

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