John Fothergill was a pioneer of the privately owned country hotel and the first celebrity chef. To say he was an eccentric restaurateur is an understatement. He
combined the flair and passion of Gordon Ramsey with the business acumen and people skills of Basil Fawltey. However, his cuisine and flamboyance attracted the glitterati of the day including
artists, actors and writers like Shaw, Wells, Waugh and Chesterton etc. He was a terrible name-dropper and could be a bigger snob than Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket and yet he had an evocative and witty way
Fothergill's ten years at the Spread Eagle in Thame (see separate entry) were to bring him fame with 'An Innkeepers Diary'. The book is great fun and filled with picaresque tales and anecdotes cleverly exaggerated for comic or dramatic effect. In November 1934 (after a brief period at the Royal Hotel, Ascot) Fothergill arrived here by car, along with four Chow dogs, four puppies and 25 budgerigars! His attire was often a scrubby smock, and always a pair of silver buckled shoes.
He was to be landlord at the Swan for twenty years and during this phase he published a further volume of reminiscences 'Confessions of an Innkeeper', in 1938; 'John Fothergill's Cookery Book' in 1943; and one final volume 'My Three Inns' in 1949 which includes humorous happenings at the Swan. Fothergill was finally persuaded to retire at the age of 77 and a TV programme about his life as an eccentric landlord was screened on BBC2 in 1981 (his character was played by Robert Hardy). A portrait of Fothergill hangs in the bar that now bears his name.
The Inn dates from 1517 when it was known as 'Ye Sygne of Swanne'. The second and third Swans were added later, when it became known as Swannes, which it remained for over 200 years. This fine hotel's façade has changed very little over the last few hundred years. The elaborate gallows sign (shown in the picture) is considered to be one of the finest examples of 18th century wrought-iron craftsmanship. Today the hotel's interior décor is dated but the important elements efficient service, good food and clean rooms, are all in place. There are two dining rooms; the elegant Swans Restaurant, and the excellent Swans Nest Conservatory. And for a relaxed lunch time snack there is the Contemporary Bistro.