Thursday, April 30, 2015

Okehampton, Devon


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I seem to have come across a lot of pubs and inns called the White Hart recently. This is not surprising, as it’s apparently the fifth most common pub name in Britain. But a fair number of the examples I’ve noticed have been large establishments – White Hart Hotels – and several have had imposing three-dimensional signs, like this large-antlered beast in the centre of Okehampton.

The white hart, emblem of Richard II, goes back a long way, so it’s not surprising that a lot of old inns and hotels are named after him. This one is a 17th and 18th-century building with a portico consisting of a row of painted columns of local granite (in the Tuscan order) and a large balcony above. There the hart stands, surveying the main street below. He must have seen a lot in his time up there – the comings and goings of travellers, early and late arrivals at countless balls and assemblies, ins and outs of the Town Hall across the road. I was told that the place also played its role in elections. Okehampton was a rotten borough until the Reform Act of 1832, electing two MPs. Apparently the candidates used this balcony to address the populace in the street below. Before, no doubt, disappearing inside for sustenance with their friends. The social media of the day.

9 comments:

Bill Nicholls said...

No doubt a lot of MP's used establishments like that, even one we know today

Eileen Wright said...

Ah, another one on my list of towns to visit when I'm able. I love these three dimensional pub signs and glad to see another local one in Devon.

Hels said...

Usually pubs have a name that reflects something relevant about the time, the place or some connection with famous customers eg The Railway Hotel or Robin Hood or The Prince of Wales. So if the white hart was emblem of Richard II (1367–1400), what was it about Richard II that encouraged hotels to be named after him? Was he a noted boozer?

E Berris said...

If it's opposite the Town Hall, it may be where I stayed as a child en route to Devon. My mother would have told me about the White Hart and Richard II, but all the family could remember was a sleepless night as the Town clock struck every quarter of an hour. So this splendid exterior was rather wasted on us.

Linda said...

You have a fascinating blog. Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Hels: I'm not sure why the White Hart name caught on so widely. Richard II was not, as far as I know, a noted boozer?! I wonder if the name began, in some places, as a tribute to this king, and caught on because of its associations of hearty dining on venison. But I really don't know.

Jenny Woolf said...

I am wondering if I have seen this white hart. I was in Devon a couple of years ago but Okehampton is a blur to me, I can't get a handle on what it looked like... I'll have to go through the photos. A wonderful white hart though. And I did see one somewhere!!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jenny: there's also a White Hart in Launceston, over the border in Cornwall. I'd blog him too, but, as my readers may get fed up with a diet of venison, I may move on to some other beast...

historo said...

Regarding the popularity of the "White Hart" name for pub and hotels. It seems to be quite an universal symbol among communities living in temperate climate, forested environments. The white deer is a genetic mutation, which might have produced an impression whenever it occurred. There is even a site dedicated to it, which makes reference to its symbolism in the British Isles: http://protectthewhitedeer.com/whitedeer-in-myths-and-legends