The imposing Swan, standing stately by the crossing of the Ouse, is one of the most handsome of the purpose-built inns of the 18th century. Records of an earlier
inn on this site go back to 1507 and in the 17th century it was used as chambers by judges on circuit. In 1674 a warrant was issued here for "one John Bunyan, tynker", for preaching against the
Church of England. Bunyan was convicted and incarcerated in the County Gaol which stood a few yards along the High Street from the Swan.
At first it was thought that the sentence would last for a few weeks but months went by and Bunyan's wife Elizabeth tried to get his case reopened. She pleaded with Sir Mathew Hale, the Lord Chief Justice of England, when he stayed at the Swan Chambers. Her appeals were in vain and in all Bunyan spent 12 years imprisoned here during which time he wrote Pilgrim's Progress - regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature. Translated into more than 200 languages it has never been out of print.
The new Swan was commissioned by the 5th Duke of Bedford, to take the coaching trade away from the rival Red Lion. No expense was spared. You can see from the photograph the fine porch with a balcony and great pediment resting on four ionic pillars and, to the right, one of the two large bow windows overlooking the Ouse. An elegant staircase with twisted balusters was installed inside. Dating from 1688 this was taken from the ruins of Houghton House, the model for Bunyan's House Beautiful, which was Christian's first resting place.
The idea of a tynker (tinker) is inevitably linked with tramps and thieves but Bunyan, who had been his father's apprentice, was in fact a skilled metal worker. The nearby Bunyan Museum has a beautiful metal violin made by him. As part of their work, the father and son team often called at Houghton House to mend pots and pans.
Although the Bedford Swan Hotel is a magnificent grade II listed building with sumptuous décor and furnishings, it is not pretentious. The Sunken Lounge and Bar where light meals and snacks are served is a relaxing and informal place to drop in for a drink. And the River Room Restaurant serves an array of modern cuisine freshly prepared.