Hotel's new owner unveils £1.5m redevelopment plan
The new owner of Congleton's historic Lion and Swan Hotel hopes his £1.5m redevelopment plan will be the “catalyst” for the town centre's regeneration.
The hotel has been bought by Andrew Pear, chair of Pear Hospitality Group, which also owns Pecks restaurant in Moreton and the Wheatsheaf in Sandbach.
Among the plans are an Italian restaurant, which Mr Pear told the Chronicle would be similar to Piccolino in Alderley Edge, a “smart” cocktail bar and at least 20 guest bedrooms.
The Wheatsheaf has been a success story since the group took over the 19th century coaching inn and gave it an extensive refurbishment and restoration.
It has gone on to win an AA five-star gold award and Mr Pear said he believed the investment the Wheatsheaf has helped bring to Sandbach can be repeated in Congleton with his plans for the Lion and Swan.
The hotel at the top of Swan Bank, itself a former coaching inn, had been up for sale, the company who previously owned it having collapsed owing nearly £½m.
The Lion and Swan had been marketed for sale by the LPA receiver, a receiver acting under the Law and Property Act, for £1.1m. Pear Hospitality Group bought it for £500,000, “a fair price given the condition” according to Mr Pear.
He told the Chronicle on Friday that he'd had his eye on the Lion and Swan “for decades”.
“It's the only property I wanted in Congleton. It's a shame it's lost the cachet that it once had,” he said.
Explaining the main aspects of the redevelopment work, Mr Pear said: “The back, where the function room opened onto the car park, will be redeveloped into a really nice Italian restaurant, similar to Piccolino in Alderley Edge, with an outdoor and indoor dining terrace and retractable roof.
“The main area of the hotel will be a really smart cocktail bar. There will also be two dozen hotel rooms.
“The Wheatsheaf's occupancy level is more than 90% and with the restaurant it is a winning formula. We want to do at the Lion and Swan what we've done there and focus on quality and value.”
He added: “There is a very substantial amount of work to do, which will be very much weather-dependent. We will take our time and get it spot on and hopefully open in spring 2021.
“The building is in dire need of expert restoration. The frontage is ancient wattle and daub construction. We will be using heritage engineers, and scaffolding will go up so it will be hidden from view for a while.”
He said the “history and heritage of our buildings is very important”, adding: “It's the back of the building we want to change, which is a more modern structure.”
Mr Pear, who grew up in Congleton, remembered having “many wonderful evenings” at the Lion and Swan. “I've been there for weddings, funerals, birthdays and held staff Christmas parties there,” he said.
Referring to the success of The Wheatsheaf he said: “The Wheatsheaf was in a dreadful condition and the amount of money we put into redeveloping it helped to encourage others to invest in Sandbach as well. I firmly believe that will happen in Congleton on the back of what we will do to the Lion and Swan.
“If we invest a couple of million quid and it's successful, it will encourage other investors to invest in empty places.
“Post-covid prices are much lower and I am confident the economy will bounce back.”
The new-look Lion and Swan will be run Mr Pear's son Jake, the managing director of Pear Hospitality Group and operations director Chris Baldwin.
Mr Pear said of his company's latest acquisition: “I hope it will be the catalyst to the regeneration of Congleton town centre and will provide some excitement and interest that will help to bring new investment into town. I hope people in Congleton will support us. Every message we've had so far has been supportive.”
Although most of the Lion and Swan's contents have already been sold, one treasure has already been returned by someone who bought it - but it will not be leaving again. It is a painting of a woman called Caroline, a prostitute allegedly murdered at the hotel.
Mr Pear said: “The story goes that the painting is cursed and that anyone who moves it carries the curse. The chap who took it brought it back yesterday; his girlfriend had left him and he lost his job in the four days that he had the picture at home!”
Mr Pear added: “We will be making sure we stay in Caroline's good books. We are not quite sure where she will live yet and she might have to be moved around.
“She was apparently murdered in room 20 and her picture is reportedly cursed. There were a number of people murdered at the Lion and Swan and we might look at getting a local author to write a book about the hotel's history.”