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Any Swan for Dinner?

Oulton Broad Philharmonic Society sounds harmonious. You could even say it sounds musical, but the society seemed to lose focus in the mid 1800s, accounts vary as to whether it was in 1862 or 1872, when its darker side emerged.  Originally the members of the society were, as the name suggests, primarily interested in music and they met regularly at the Wherry Hotel and gave concerts in the local area.  Things took a turn however in 1862/1872 when at its annual gathering a debate arose as to what roast swan would taste like.  The debate only concluded when Mr W S Everitt, who lived in Broad House, on what is now Nicholas Everitt Park, promised to present a cygnet for the next annual dinner and, true to his word, swan was duly served up at the following year’s annual dinner.

The poor swans had a hard time of it though as the members decided that from that date onwards roast swan would be the main dish of their annual meeting and the Philharmonic Supper, later known as the Tradesmen’s Dinner, was better known as ‘The Swan Banquet’!

Slowly the members’ interests in music declined, but long after the Oulton Broad Philharmonic Society had faded into memory the annual dinner continued. It became one of the great social events of the year and right up to the start of World War One the leading lights of Lowestoft met at the Wherry Hotel to dine on roast swan.  By the time the war finished in 1918 and normal life resumed it seems that the ‘delights’ of roast swan were forgotten, but the tradition was revived by the Oulton Broad Advancement Association in 1929 with a proclamation of

Extract from an unidentified newspaper, 6 Dec 1904

“Ye Old Swanne Banquette holden at ye Wherrie Hostelrie on ye Banks of ye Broad”

It was held on Monday 25 February 1929 and it initially looked like being a successful revival as it attracted 80 guests who paid ‘due gastronomic homage’ to the roast swan. Mr W G Jude, one of the organisers of the 1929 banquet explained to the Eastern Evening News in 1964 that

“The swan, as befitted such a noble dish, was carried around the room at the start of the meal, rather in the same way as a haggis is brought in for inspection at a Burns night dinner. Every menu card had a swan feather made into a quill fastened to it as an extra reminder of the occasion….

 When the dish was brought in to the strains of music the diners greeted the bird upstanding….

 It was stuffed in approved fashion and cooked to a turn, and sampled by the majority, many of whom had probably never tasted it before.  Indeed, there were not more than three present who were wont to meet for the swanne banquette when held at the old hotel….”

When the banquet was held the following year there were fewer people who wanted to sit down and eat swan. Not even the ‘free gift’ of a quill pen made from a swan feather could tempt the masses to take up their knives and forks and dig in to roast swan and the Swan Banquet of 1930 proved to be the last.  However reports in the press from the late 1960s recalled that roast swan had a ‘slightly muddy tang’, a review which certainly didn’t sell the main dish as a gastronomic delight which is odd seeing that they were considering reviving the banquet for a third time in an attempt to keep down local swan numbers.