Today is not only St George’s Day, it is also and, possibly more cause for morris dancing, Shakespeare’s birthday and World Book Night. It seemed appropriate then that Oxford opened its doors today to one of the city’s rarest treasures – the Painted Room. This remarkable place is hidden above Oxford’s most slighted and abused main shopping street, Cornmarket. Above a clothes shop and leaning against an upper floor betting shop are the uneven and creaking remains of a medieval inn, known at various times through its long history as Pate’s Inn, Somenour’s Inn, the Bull Inn and the Crown. Interestingly, the Crown is now located across the street.
Sometime during the later 16th century, the main chamber was adorned with paintings and, in the early years of the 17th-century, the tenant John Davenant (a man who was never known to laugh) invited his good friend William Shakespeare to stay. One can speculate and indeed one does that his room was none other than the Painted Room. It was that room which was opened today. A Shakespeare Commemoration Ceremony used to be held soon after the paintings’ rediscovery behind 17th-century wooden panels (now preserved on rollers) in the 1930s but that practice has been forgotten. Perhaps until now.
Intriguingly, the similarity of John Davenant’s poet son William to his godfather Shakespeare was commented upon at the time.
Above the fireplace is the Greek symbol for the name Jesus Christ – a bold statement in those late 16th-century days.
I was grateful to be part of the very first tour today, most ably led by the doctor of the house. There is still time to see the house. It’s open for five days, hosted by Oxford Castle Unlocked. Having been born in Oxford and lived here for much of my life, I had no idea what was hiding just above such a familiar bit of street. You never know…
You can read more details here about the house.
The work of the Oxford Preservation Trust to maintain these and other wonderful treasures in the the city for future generations is to be celebrated.
(Photos by me, Kate Atherton)