Kitty Towers was a woman ahead of her time, commanding a hotel famous for its luxury and discreet service to the rich and famous. She inherited the grand Swan Hotel from her husband William after his unexpected death in 1893. Her fierce ambition saw her create a hotel with a reputation that went far beyond Leighton Buzzard’s borders – all while raising her three children.
It was frequented by the rich, the royals and the landed gentry. They would talk of the quality of food and wine but above all the excellence of the customer service.
Kitty had to be tough, talented and tactful. The service often extended to being highly discreet about the activities of ‘gentlemen’ away from their wives for a weekend.
The Swan Hotel was also used by visiting theatre acts to Leighton – including showgirls performing at the nearby Corn Exchange Theatre. The hotel’s handsome leather-bound guest book makes for illuminating reading.
It was preserved by Wally Randall, one of the town’s oldest residents whose father-in-law, Will Tofield had saved it from a rubbish bin when he’d worked as a porter at the Swan.
The first entry on 25th May 1893 by GR Hunt recorded the remark: “I have never been more comfortable or better attended.”
On May 26, 1901, the Duke of Clarence wrote “very good lunch, but not enough cherry pie,” though another member of his party was more effusive, saying “capital lunch, cherry pie splendid.”
Visitors came from all over the world to sample the famous lunch, tea and board. During the Second World War a large number of RAF personnel stayed, among them the First World War heroine Baroness Elizabeth de T’Serclaes.
The Swan dates back to the 1600s and on 27th June 1827, local banker Francis Bassett used its balcony for his victorious speech to 2,000 people upon his election to MP. Kitty arrived at the Swan with her husband in 1884 and was there until 1924, leaving a rich social history and legacy of luxury long before it became fashionable.