The White Hart in Oxfordshire is a pub with an unusual history. It was built in the reign of Henry VI by the executors of Sir John Golafre, lord of Fyfield Manor who died in 1442, leaving money for the establishment of a charity to be known as the House of St John the Baptist. This was intended to provide accommodation for a Chantry priest and five almsmen (poor men). The priest was required to say masses for the soul of the founder in the Chantry chapel attached to the parish church and he was also to act as the Master of the almshouse.
The Chantry House
In 1548 all the chantries in England were abolished and their properties were confiscated by the Tudor government. Among those dissolved was the Fyfield Chantry whose charitable functions did not secure its exemption. The ‘Chantry House’ was put up for sale and in 1580 became the property of St John’s College, Oxford, who already owned most of the land in the parish. The college leased the building to tenants but reserved the right to occupy it if driven from Oxford by pestilence!
Throughout history, tenants used the White Hart as a public house, sweet shop and farm house. The original character of the building was obscured by numerous alterations, until 1963 when extensive renovations were carried out by St John’s College. Most notably, the inserted floor in the main hall was removed in order to expose the magnificent Fifteenth-Century arch-braced roof to full view.
The White Hart still retains many original features, including the great hall with flagstone floors and three storey high vaulted ceiling, the minstrel’s gallery and a tunnel which runs to Fyfield Manor (thought to be an escape route for priests at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries). The building is well worth a look in its own right!