Back in the early 1980s when she ran the Duke of Devonshire in Carlton Road, Sue Bell became all-too-familiar with the strange superstition.
The story dates back to the beginning of the 19th century when a travelling gypsy in the area was caught after killing a swan – affirmed by law as the property of the Crown.
He was sentenced to death for a crime classified as treason and duly hanged.
Enraged by his execution, the gypsies were said to have placed a curse on the swans of Sneinton.
The hard luck story is embellished by Sue: “Count a swan’s tail feathers, and you will find there are 13.”
It became the word in Sneinton that if anyone produced a box of Swan Vestas, trouble would soon follow.
It sounds like an old wives’ tale but one night in the Devonshire, Sue became convinced it was true.
“The pub was empty and we were clearing up when I found an empty box of Swan Vestas.
“I said to my brother David Ogle – who now runs the Devonshire – ‘look what I have found. Thank goodness everyone has gone home.
“Just 15 minutes later, a couple walked past and the man put his fist straight through one of the windows… they had not even been in the pub that night.
“I would not sell Swan Vestas and I don’t think you could buy them in any pub in Sneinton.”
Sue, whose first pub was the Smiths Arms – known locally as the Lamp because of the red light outside the door – remembers another odd superstition, but never discovered the story behind it.
“The barrow boys and street hawkers would go mad if anyone mentioned the word ‘rats’, apparently they regarded it as bad luck. They always referred to them as ‘long tails’ – but I couldn’t tell you why.”
Another tradition which, Sue believes, exists to this day is one to keep a wary eye on.
“If you see someone turn a beer glass upside down on the table it means he wants to fight. I saw it happen recently in a city pub. I told the staff to keep an eye on the drinker and, sure enough, soon after it kicked off.”
Sue, with her late husband Brian, also ran the Jubilee at the top of Carlton Road before ending her pub days in the new Poets’ Corner in The Meadows.
“It was a hard pub and I was pretty tough. If I barred someone, they stayed barred. I don’t think I was very popular with certain people. Brian nicknamed me ‘The Rhino’!”
But her tough stance earned her the respect of the local police officers and her many law-abiding customers.
“We had some good times. There were a lot of good people. We had a fabulous football team, they were top of the Sunday league.” But after a couple of years, Sue suddenly decided she had had enough of the 24/7 lifestyle – just as a medium had predicted years before.
“A medium was due to appear at the Royal Concert Hall and I invited him to come to the pub. This was while I was still at the Duke of Devonshire.
“He told me I was thinking of moving, which was true, and then he said ‘you will wake up one morning and decide there is more to life’. He was right.”
Sue and Brian moved to the stewardship of the police training centre social club at Epperstone but, following Brian’s death in 2005, Sue became stewardess of the Nottingham Club in Castle Gate.
She looks back on her days at the Duke of Devonshire with the greatest affection. “It was a fabulous pub, a real community pub, and it still is. I think it will be the last pub in Sneinton to close.”
From The Nottingham Post