Oxford History: The High

The Mitre (17/18 High Street)


The Mitre

In 1310 several houses in the High and Turl Street were converted into an inn, and their thirteenth-century cellars still survive. The inn came into the ownership of Lincoln College in the fifteenth century, and it was probably then that it was named after the mitre of the Bishop of Lincoln that is depicted on the college's coat of arms. It was an important coaching inn, and as early as 1671 there were coaches running between London and the Mitre on three days a week.

The present Mitre building (apart from the cellars) dates from around 1630. It is a Grade II* listed building (List Reference No. 1369357). It was in the parish of All Saints until that church was deconsecrated in 1971. It is now in the parish of St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church.

It ceased to be an inn in 1969, when Lincoln College took over the upstairs rooms for student accommodation. The Mitre restaurant & bar is downstairs.

The coloured engraving of the Mitre Inn by J. Fisher shown below dates from c.1825 and shows the Defiance coach, which ran between Oxford, Henley, and London.

Old print of the Mitre

The Mitre’s central position meant that it was a good picking up and setting down place for long-distance coaches. Anthony Wood writes of a coach service in 1671 that ran from the Mitre to the Greyhound in Holborn, London at 6 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, returning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. By the end of the eighteenth century, there was a daily service: the Universal Business Directory for 1794/5 announces:

From the Mitre Inn, High-street:- Messrs. Slater and Gray’s heavy-coach sets out every morning, at seven o’clock, through Henley, to the Bell Savage, Ludgate-hill, London, Sunday excepted; inside fare 14s., outside 8s. W. W. Sydenham, proprietor, at Oxford.

Paradoxically, the Mitre’s coach business seems to have increased after the coming of the railways, presumably because of the closure of the Angel Hotel. So while Pigot’s 1823 directory mentions only two services from the Mitre (to Bristol and Bath), Gardner’s directory for Oxfordshire in 1852 lists the following six:

  • Birmingham: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, at quarter past 11; through Shipston and Stratford, for 7 o’clock, trains to Liverpool, Manchester &c.
  • Cheltenham, day, 3, through Witney, Burford, and Northleach
  • Chipping Norton, day at 1, afternoon half past 5
  • London, Prince of Wales, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning at 11; through Tetsworth, Wycombe, and Uxbridge
  • Witney & Burford Magnet, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, afternoon, half past 5
  • Worcester, through Moreton, Bourton, and Evesham, day at 1.

The Mitre was not as grand as the Angel, and probably catered more for people who arrived by public coach than those who came with their own horses. Nevertheless Anthony Wood records that when Prince Maurice of Nassau came to see the library and colleges “he layd at the Miter”. It was also popular with local residents, both town and gown, and in February 1691 Wood records how John Forster, Fellow of All Souls College, “died at the Miter Inn late at night, after immoderate drinking”.

For a chronological table of Owners and Tenants of the Mitre from 1230 to 1917, see R. A. H. Spiers, Round About “The Mitre” at Oxford (second edn, 1929), pp. 18–19.

The following auction notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 13 April 1803 (when Mr Palmer, the proprietor, stated that he was about to retire from the business) gives a good description of the inn:

The Premisses comprise excellent Cellaring, the Beer Cellars being sufficiently large to contain near 12,000 Gallons, a spacious Coffee Room and a large Parlour in Front, two back Parlours, large Kitchen, Bar, Pantry, and Scullery on the Ground Floor, two capital Dining rooms in Front, and ten very good Bed Chambers on the second Floor, with fifteen Attic Chambers and Closets.–The Out-Houses consist of a large Brew-House, lately fitted up at a considerable Expense on the most improved Plan, granaries, Stabling for upwards of forty Horses, with excellent Lofts over the same, Shed, &c. spacious Yard, with a Back Gate for carriages, leading into Lincoln Lane [Turl Street], Pump, and every other Conveniency to render the Whole complete.

Palmer evidently did not retire as early as he had hoped, however, as eight years later on 16 March 1811 Palmer put it up for sale by private contract. He stated that the inn had recently been new fronted. Then early in 1815 Palmer attempted to retire again (on account of ill health early), and on 4 March that year another auction advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, stating that the Mitre was famous for its home-brewed beer and ale.

On 23 December 1815 Thomas Peake announced that he had taken over the Mitre, having left the Blue Boar, which had shut up as an inn.

At the time of the 1841 census Margaret Peake was the only family member at home at the Mitre. Thomas Peake died at the age of 75 just weeks after the census, and on 11 June 1841 Jackson's Oxford Journal advertised an auction of the inn, which was described as follows:

The house consists of 36 convenient and airy bed rooms, and is capable of making up about 50 beds; 7 sitting rooms; coffee, traveller's, and market rooms; bar, bar-parlour, a spacious and well fitted kitchen, and well arranged pantry, scullery, laundry, water closets, large coal cellar, and other offices. The cellars are vaulted, roomy, and dry, and capable of carrying on, independent of and in addition to the business of the Inn, a considerable trade in the wine and spirit business. The stabling is well arranged and sufficient for accommodating 50 horses, with lock-up coach house, and spacious sheds; together with the Tap, which comprises a cellar, tap room, sitting room, and 3 bed rooms. The Premises are substantial and in good repair, the interior ornamently papered and well arranged, with handsome and convenient staircase and vestibule, and are altogether well worth the attention of any person desirous of a respectable and lucrative occupation.

The Mitre was bought by Arthur Venables, who inserted his first newspaper advertisement on 16 October 1841. The 1851 census shows Venables, a widower of 59, living at the Mitre with his unmarried son William. Only nine guests were in residence (but Sunday nights were perhaps quiet, and it was out of term): there were two solicitors, a linen manufacturer, a draper, and a young man of 22 of no occupation. Looking after these nine guests was a staff of 17: a barmaid, a housemaid, a china maid, three chambermaids, three waiters, a “boots & ostler”, an ostler, three grooms, and two general servants.

In 1861 James G. Venables, Arthur's son, was the hotel keeper with his wife Sarah Jane, and there were eight guests, three waiters, a porter, a sitting room maid, two chambermaids, a housemaid, kitchenmaid, scullery maid and boots. In 1871 Mrs Sarah Jane Venables, now a widow, was the hotel keeper, assisted by thirteen servants. There were eight guests in residence.

Slatter & Rose

As can be seen from the above Frith & Co postcard of 1907, in the early part of the twentieth century the Mitre’s rooms extended over the market frontage. The main building is on the right, but its rooms extend westwards across the covered market’s frontage above Slatter & Rose.

At the time of the 1901 census Kate Thornton (43), the hotel manageress, lived at the hotel with a housekeeper, two still-room maids, a linen keeper, four housemaids, a vegetable maid, a kitchen maid, a chambermaid, a kitchen porter, four waiters, a plateman, two porters, and a bookkeeper and office assistant. This staff of 22 had only three guests to look after (presumably Sunday nights out of term were quiet).

In 1911 the widow Mrs Mary Foster (80) was the hotel keeper, and Miss Ada Marion Slater (48) the hotel manageress. Also living at the hotel were 21 other members of staff: the housekeeper, two bookkeepers, a linen keeper, a chambermaid, four housemaids, two stillroom maids, two kitchenmaids, a plateman, three porters, and three waiters. There were nine guests staying on census night.

In 1926, the Mitre ceased to function as a coaching inn and became simply a hotel. The stables in Turl Street behind were converted into the Turl Bar.

In 1967 the ground floor of the hotel was taken over by the Berni Inn chain and turned into a restaurant; and in 1969 the Mitre ceased to be a hotel altogether when Lincoln College took all its other rooms over to provide accommodation for 50 students. Whitbread took over the Berni chain from Grand Metropolitan in 1990, and the ground floor of the former hotel then became a Beefeater Restaurant. It then became the Mitre restaurant & bar.

In 2020/21 the Mitre was closed for extensive refurbishment.

The Mitre Coffee Room

Above: Mr Bouncer and Mr Verdant Green in the coffee room at the Mitre, an illustration
from The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green, published in 1853.
The shops on the south side of the High that can be seen through the window
are accurately named: on the left is Parsons & Foster, hatters, mercers, & tailors;
Foster & Co, drapers & mercers, and James Russell's music shop (123, 124, & 125).


No. 18 High Street (the shop that is now the east side of the Mitre)

No. 18 was originally the number given to the shop on the corner of Turl Street that is now part of the Mitre (on the right in the photograph above). It has an eighteenth-century front on an older building. It is jointly listed with the Mitre and the former coaching office to the west, and all are given the number 17. It was a grocer's shop from the early eighteenth century to the late 1860s, and had a separate private entrance in Turl Street.

At the time of the 1841 census the grocer Richard William Richardson was living here over his shop with four others and a servant. He was still here in 1851 with his wife Eliza Ann, their first six children, and four servants. Following his wife's death in 1854 and his own death in 1855, his executors announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 13 October 1855 that they would continue his business for the benefit of his eight orphan children.

The following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 26 September 1868:

Extensive & valuable BUSINESS PREMISES,
Adjoining the Mitre Hotel, High Street, Oxford,
WITH POSSESSION,
TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION,
By Mr. R. PIKE,

At the Mitre Hotel, Oxford, on Tuesday, October 6, 1868, at Three for Four o’clock (by direction of the Trustee acting under the Will of the late Mr. Richardson), under conditions then to be produced.
All those Extensive BUSINESS PREMISES, situate No. 18 High-street, and 1, Turl-street, Oxford, comprising on the ground floor double-fronted shop (with private entrance from Turl-street), back parlour, and kitchen, scullery, and sugar warehouse; on the first floor—drawing room, back bed room, and w.c.; on the second floor—sitting room, 2 bed rooms, and 2 dressing rooms; on the third floor—3 bed rooms and 2 attics; with 3 capital arched cellars in the basement under house and shop, and large vault or arched cellar, extending under the High street 20 feet, and in breadth 19 feet, including the walls thereof.

The House and Premises are held by Lease under the Rector and Fellows of Lincoln College, for a term of 40 years, from 10th October, 1836, at a reserved rent of £10 and half-pound of pepper, and land tax £3 8 s. 4d. per annum.

The arched vault or cellar under the High-street is held by Lease under the City of Oxford, for a term of 40 years, from Michaelmas, 1853, at a reserved rent of 7s.

The Business of Tea-dealer and Grocer has been carried on upon these premises for upwards of 150 years. The situation may be fairly considered the very best in Oxford for that or any other Business.

In 1883 part of the premises of Thomas Sheard (the grocer at No. 21) in a court adjoining All Saints’ Church behind No. 19 was separated off and converted into a tutor’s residence for Brasenose College. It was allocated the number 18, which was going spare, but is now simply known as Brasenose House.

Occupiers of 18 High Street, 1846–1895

1839–1867

Richard W. Richardson, Grocer

1869

William S. Plowman, Tobacconist

1871

John Palmer

1877–1895

Charles Foster, Wine merchant

In 1895 the Mitre absorbed the shop on the corner of Turl Street, so that its number, 18, became spare: in 1912 it was reallocated to Brasenose House, which in 1883 had been built behind No. 19 on the other side of Turl Street and All Saints’ Church.

The Mitre today sometimes gives its number as 17 (but this actually belongs to the shop to the west that it used to hold).

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 16 July, 2021

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