Tuesday, September 21, 2021


Hunting the Hart

During our recent stop in Buckingham, the town’s White Hart Hotel was looking particularly attractive with its hanging baskets, so I paused to take the photograph above. I wanted to show not just the flowers but also some detail of the Doric porch, which acts as a platform for the statue of the eponymous white hart with the traditional gold coronet around its neck. Although the White Hart is a very common name for an in or pub in England, relatively few have a three-dimensional image of a stag as their sign. I’ve seen a number of these in my time – a splendid standing stag in Okehampton, for example, with a magnificent pair of outstretching antlers, and another high up on the White Hart Hotel in Salisbury, which can, in the right light, be dramatically silhouetted against the sky.*

The White Hart symbol became well known during the reign of King Richard II (reigned 1377–99), who adopted it as his badge. He is said to have based it on the heraldry of his mother, Joan, Countess of Kent, whom the chronicler Froissart called ‘the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving’. The king’s retainers and followers would have worn the badge, and it appears several times on the Wilton Diptych, the superb portrait of the ruler now in the National Gallery.

Like many White Hart Hotels (and indeed numerous other urban hotels), the one in Buckingham is early-19th century in appearance – the flat front, symmetrical facade, and classical porch are all standard features of the coaching inns of the late Georgian and Regency periods. In those days Buckingham was a good stopping point on the journey between the Midlands and London, or between Oxford and Cambridge, and the White Hart was one of several inns in the town. And it was in earlier times too – the inn’s history is said to go back further than the Georgian era. It’s still a good place to pause when making the cross country journey from Oxford to Cambridge – or, as it was for us the other day, from the hills of the Cotswolds to the flatlands of the Fens.

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*See my Instagram account, @philipbuildings and scroll past recent posts, to see images of these.

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