Six Degrees of Separation or Ride a White Swan
Let me take you back in time and tell you a little shaggy dog story. In the mid 18thcentury, one Charles Bossom resided in Twickenham and worked there as a gardener, quite possibly in one of the stately homes such as Copt Hill which was then adjoining the workers cottages in which he lived. In those days, Twickenham was deep in the country side and a day’s ride or so from London. Allegedly, it was where the fashionable nobility had their country seats. Charles Bossom’s parentage is not clear. It appears that he was the illegitimate son of a young woman by the name of Mary Bossom. Family folklore has it that she was most probably one of the many daughters of the Bossom clan of boat men and river gypsies who lived on Fisher Row in Oxford, from where they plied their trade. According to historian Mary Prior in her book Fisher Row, they were a rough lot and illiterate but nonetheless, Freemen of the City of Oxford on account of their economic influence. It is conceivable that young Mary would have travelled down river to Twickenham on one of the family’s barges to find employment in the area. One way or another, whether back in Oxford, or perhaps later working as a maid in one of the stately homes, Mary became a fallen woman.
Her son, Charles, went on to marry and have several children, one of whom was Edward, who also became a gardener in Twickenham and so the family saga continues. In the mid 19th century, Edward’s grandchildren were running a coffee house in theKings Cross area of London and, over the generations, the family very gradually climbed the social rungs to respectability. By 1881 it reached its pinnacle with the birth of Lord Alfred Bossom, who became a renowned architect and latterly a peer of the realm, credited with ‘being the father of skyscrapers’ in the USA. His political colleague, Winston Churchill, famously joked “Who is this man whose name means neither one thing nor the other?” This is where the tale comes almost full circle, for Charles Bossom is my great great great great grandfather and Alfred Bossom my great uncle.
What has all this got to do with the White Swan pub in Twickenham, you ask? Well, we know that the early gardening Bossoms were baptized and buried in St. Mary’s church in Twickenham. The White Swan pub has stood virtually beside this church since the mid 17th century. As this would have been the only such inn in the vicinity, it stands to reason to assume that the Bossom men were regulars 250 years ago or even before, quenching their thirst after a hard day’s labour. Fast forward six generations and here am I still frequenting the same watering hole because, quite extraordinarily coincidentally, I too live fairly close by, just along the river in Barnes.
Barely 30 minutes or so from the busy London city centre, this pub, directly on one of the prettiest stretches of the Thames, could not be in a more picturesque location. Ducks, geese and swans busily paddle between Eel Pie Island and the Twickenham and Petersham banks, the odd pleasure craft cruises by. The pub’s garden with its tables, green unbrellas and, at this time of year, mercifully provided heaters, flanks the river and is separated from the pub only by a narrow street. Time has stood still here in the original, almost rural, Twickenham waterside pocket.
Inside the pub, it’s a cosy affair with various comfortable nooks and crannies and many original features. There’s a large fire place with a roaring fire, a small library area, button backed leather banquettes, much dark oak, stripped floorboards and low ceilings all dominated by a central olde worlde bar area. This is an independent Free House, so many different beers and ales, including artisan brands such as Twickenham Tusk, DoomBar and Camden Hells are available to connoisseurs. The White Swan is so treasured by its community of locals, that when the brewery which owned it threatened to close it down some years ago, a group of locally resident business men friends clubbed together to buy it and, lovingly nurtured as it is, it has been thriving ever since.
The White Swan pride themselves on their food. All ingredients are sourced fresh from a local greengrocer, a local butcher and seafood from a London fishmonger. Everything is homemade featuring traditional pub grub and snacks but also more unusual specials and, on sunny summer days and rugby international match days, BBQs by the river. Sunday lunches here are legendary with great roasts and all the trimmings.
Three of us visited on a cold winter’s Sunday and very much enjoyed a shared starter of crispy squid rings with garlic mayo, followed by juicy, well flavoured and entirely non-greasy roast pork, roast chicken and nut roast respectively. All came with a large Yorkshire pudding which was crispy on the outside and wonderfully spongy on the inside, beans and baby carrots, both of which were cooked to perfection, retaining just the right amount of crunch, nice crispy roast potatoes, an absolutely excellent and very tasty gravy and cabbage. Now I mention this last because I normally absolutely hate cabbage, tasteless watery floppy stuff that it so often is, but this cabbage at The White Swan, well what can I say, I’m still shaking my head in wonder that I ate every last shred of it! It really was quite surprisingly wonderful! The different colours and textures on the plate were a pleasure for eye and palate. And everything was served piping hot! Honestly, it was a real proper Sunday lunch like granny made it. (And Granny was a good cook!)
The sticky toffee pudding afterwards was no slouch in the dessert department either and, thankfully, not overly sweet, but personally, I’d have preferred custard with it, rather than vanilla ice cream. Well come on, if you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta go all the way!
Our bill for three came to £86.60, including two small glasses of Rioja and three pints of beer but excluding service. At just under £30 per head this was just a tad more than Charles Bossom would have paid back in the second half of the 18thcentury for his ‘three penny ordinary’, a substantial meal with beer at The White Swan.
Summer or winter, the White Swan is always very popular, and it’s always advisable to book a table.
What I wore
True Blue: Dark denim ‘Hue’ leggings with an oversized electric blue Marks and Spencer V neck cashmere jumper, pale cream and blue checked scarf, electric blue Maison Martin Margiela ankle boots with stiletto heels, and a French navy Miu Miu Matelasse Bluette handbag with detachable shoulder strap.
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Kia aka Fizz of Life