Oxford History: The High

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The Bear Inn in the High Street

123, 124, & 125

Until 1801 the Bear Inn was at 123 & 124 High Street on the south-east corner of Alfred Street (which was confusingly called Bear Lane in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). It was largely rebuilt in 1792, but it is hard to see how much of the new inn building survives, as on 13 March 1842 a serious fire is reported as having completely destroyed the two shops that were later carved out of the inn.

(The Bear Inn should not be confused with the Bear Public House to the south, which was originally just an ostler's house attached to this inn. In 1774 it became a pub in its own right called the Jolly Trooper, and it only adopted its present name after the Bear Inn closed down in 1801.)

By the mid-sixteenth century Royal Commissions and circuit judges regularly met at the Bear Inn.

In 1606 the leaseholder of the Bear Inn was Richard Bryan; in 1623 John Doubey; in 1665 Ralph Flexney; and in 1676 Robert Gilkes.

Anthony Wood records that when the vinter Anthony Hall was elected Mayor in September 1679, he stated in his speech of thanks that “he could not speak French or Spanish, but if they would walk to the Bear they should find that he could speak English” (when ordering his beer).

In 1686 Philip Ashton paid tax on twenty windows at the Bear Inn here at 123/124 High Street. He died in 1697, and the parish burial register for St Michael's Church reads: “Phillip Ashton Inholder att ye Bear In the Parish of Allsaints wass Buryed in this Parish Church Decemr ye 29th.”

In 1703 the innholder was Henry Tash; in 1717 Richard Cobb; and in 1731 Robert Ackerley.

By the mid-eighteenth century the Bear had become a coaching inn. In 1765 the coachmaster based at the Bear Inn was Stephen White (who is probably the Stephen White of All Saints parish who married Elizabeth Grimmett at All Saints' Church on 29 February 1772). As well as providing a regular coach called The Oxford Machine via Henley to London three days a week at 6am for two shillings, he could also supply a hearse or mourning coach, as this advertisement in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 20 April 1765 shows:

JOJ 20 April 1765

On 3 February 1770 the landlord of the George Inn at Stroud in Gloucestershire advertised the Stroud Water Coach, which offered a twice-weekly service from both Stroud and London to the Bear Inn at Oxford and back.

Stephen White died at the age of 50 on 3 May 1772, and his death notice in the newspaper described him as a coachmaster. Elizabeth White (presumably his wife or daughter) continued to run the coach service from the Bear to London, as this advertisement on 5 August 1780 shows:

JOJ 5 Aug 1780

In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771. According to H. E. Salter, a Mr Brockis then occupied the Bear Inn on the site of 123 and 124 High Street, and its double frontage measured 14 yards 2 feet 4 inches. This was Thomas Brockis, who on 3 January 1784 announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal that because of ill health he had declined business in favour of his former waiter Thomas Rackstrow.

Rackstrow announced on 9 July 1785 that the inn was “now refitted and new furnished in the most commodious Manner”, and then on 25 July 1789 that he had also enlarged the inn:

JOJ 25 July 1789

On 7 April 1792 Rackstrow went further and said that he had rebuilt the Bear Inn.

On 7 August 1799 Rackstrow inserted the following advertisement, announcing that he had fitted up two rooms in the Bear as a card and dancing assembly:

JOJ 7 August 1799

Rackstrow remained landlord until his retirement in 1800. The following advertisement about the sale of the inn appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 31 May 1800:

JOJ 31 May 1800

The inn did not sell immediately, and the following three auction notices (which give a good picture of this thirty-bedroom coaching inn) appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 28 February 1801:

JOJ 28 February 1801

This time the Bear Inn sold, and it has been divided into two shops since 1801. Both are Grade II listed:

  • 123 High Street on the left has its own List Entry (1145862)
  • 124 High Street has a joint List Entry with No. 125 (104725)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 January, 2022

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