Thursday, April 30, 2015
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.