The Painted Room Oxford – Oxford, England - Atlas Obscura

The Painted Room Oxford

This hidden 13th-century tavern room has a few Shakespearean connections.  

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Oxford is a city with no shortage of curious corners and hidden histories. The city is forever entwined with the magical creations of Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Philip Pullman, it has inspired countless writers to look beyond the ordinary world and imagine what’s hidden underneath. Yet, this building remains something of a hidden gem.

A tavern has stood on this site since the 13th century, with its famous interior decorations added a few centuries later.

A narrow staircase inside leads to a series of timber-framed rooms. Here, the walls are adorned with red and gold coloring, almost as vivid now as the day they first painted over 400 years ago. However, a century later, these extraordinary relics were covered over with heavy wood paneling, before a chance rediscovery in 1927.

The wall displays some hasty alterations, a nod to England’s turbulent religious changeover in the years following the Reformation. Just visible above the medieval fireplace is the Catholic insignia IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator), thought to be associated with the brief reign of Mary I. 

Above it, a frieze runs across the top of the walls, swearing dedication to the Protestant faith and the king. When Mary’s younger sister Elizabeth took the throne, reverting the country once again to Protestantism, the tavern’s owners would have had to hastily cover-up the prominent insignia.

The room, the grandest in the tavern, is also believed to have been where William Shakespeare stayed during his trips to Oxford. He was friends with the tavern’s owners, John and Jane Davenport and godson to their son, William. It’s believed Jane and Shakespeare were romantically linked, although an affair was never proven.

Know Before You Go

The room is not usually open to the public, with the exception of the occasional small groups and educational visits. It's managed by the Oxford Preservation Trust.