Old Swan & Minster Mill
Whether you are a first time visitor to the Cotswolds or a regular patron, the Old Swan and Minster Mill in the village of Minster Lovell is a joy to visit. Set alongside the beautiful river Windrush, with a complex, medieval building history it is a microcosm of the Cotswolds; charming, beguiling and true to Cotswolds life. While in its history the occasional army or King has passed by, stirring the area out of its sleepy haze, things rarely change for long.
History of the Old Swan & Minster Mill in the Cotswolds:
Built circa 1445, the Old Swan is one of Minster Lovell’s oldest buildings and retains a grace and allurement of a time long forgotten. The Mill is a lot newer by comparison, barely a hundred years old but built on the foundations of a thousand year old mill that was documented in the Domesday Book of 1086. There has always been a mill in the village and the new building serves to enhance the heritage of the area. Between the two, there is a witchery that has attracted many esteemed clientele.
The Cotswolds is a special place that has hardly changed in appearance despite the many upheavals of British history. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Minster Lovell is the subject of quite a few stories. Some historic and some ghostly, the old Manor, a contemporary of the Old Swan is the focus of many of these stories.
Built in 1431 by Sir William Lovell, an aristocrat and veteran of the Hundred Years War, the manor was caught up in a mystery associated with one of England’s most turbulent periods.
During the civil war known as the Wars of the Roses, the Manor passed into the ownership of Sir Francis Lovell. Francis was a favourite of the Yorkist King Richard III who had usurped the English throne in 1483. Ruling as Richard’s right hand man, Francis received wealth and honours from his association with the King.
While touring his new Kingdom, Richard visited his loyal accomplice at Minster Lovell, with the Old Swan playing host to Richard and his retinue. Years later, Richard’s nemesis Henry Tudor would also stay in the village and surrounded by the mediaeval buildings, the modern visitor can easily imagine the Kings plotting the politics of war alongside the peaceful river Windrush.
Yet by 1485, Richard lay slain on the battlefield as Henry Tudor claimed victory at the Battle of Bosworth. Francis, destitute, was forced to flee. Two years later, he jointly led an invasion attempt of England with the intention of placing a pretender on the throne to rule as his puppet. Again, Henry Tudor won the resulting Battle of Stoke and Francis was assumed killed in battle. However, a story persists that Francis escaped the slaughter and made his way to his beloved Minster Lovell. Hiding in a secret chamber, he would live out the remainder of his life here, guarded by one of his loyal servants. Some 200 years later, the chamber was re-discovered and a bejewelled, robed skeleton was found sitting slumped in a chair. Unable to deal with the the combination of enthusistic looters and the exposure to the outside climate the skeleton broke down into dust and alas, the story passed into folklore rather than history.
While the mysteries of Minster Lovell are certainly intriguing it is the hospitality and philosophy that will stay with you. Serving locally sourced seasonal food the owners have remained true to Cotswolds life. You would not be the first to want to capture that mix; amongst the list of visitors to the Old Swan include actors, prime ministers and aristocracy, all of whom have delighted in the setting and ambience. Despite occasional upheavals and events lasting the odd day or two, there is an unbroken continuity about Minster Lovell that keeps it completely timeless and absolutely charming. It is the classic English fantasy of peaceful country living.
Interesting facts about the Old Swan & Minster Mill:
1. In 1847, Minster Lovell experienced a sharp growth as Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor established a series of smallholdings. The Chartists were a group that lobbied for greater worker’s rights and freedoms during the period of the Industrial Revolution and while they achieved these in the 1839 charter, it was not enough for Feargus. He proposed a return to the land for industrial workers as the only way of dealing with the squalor and poverty of urbanisation. Despite his best intentions the plan would not succeed although the cottages leave a curious and charming legacy of his attempts.
2. The name of the village comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Minstre’ meaning church settlement. Given that the Saxons had become Christian just like the native Celts, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that there was intermingling between these two peoples, contrary to popular historical anecdote. This is further backed by the apparent continuity between the Romano-Celtic villas and Saxon estates that oversaw the administration of the town and land. Amongst some of the Saxon archaeological evidence is the stunning Minster Lovell Jewel, housed at the nearby Ashmolean Museum.