A local hostelry owner Charles Stokes built the original structure that is now the main part of The Whately Hall hotel in the mid 17th century. It was originally called “The Three Tuns Inn” and its license is on record from 1677.
Charles Stokes, the then owner/operator of the Unicorn Inn, (still open today) Market place, Banbury, had “The Three Tuns Inn” built to be the best hostelry in town. His dream came to pass with the inn becoming the centre of social life in Banbury during the 18th century.
Hosting through this time, business meetings, assemblies, concerts and balls, and of course wedding receptions many of these types of events are still held here today.
At one time the local post office was based out of the Three Tuns Inn, providing a much needed service to the townsfolk.
The Three Tuns Inn is now only part of the modern hotel you see today, the original main building of the hotel runs from the steps down to the Horton bar, across the front lounge, to just past the reception desk and admin office. The section of the building just past reception, including the corridor leading to the staircase to the 70’s was added on circa 1955 whilst the newer section containing the rooms 70 – 142 was started in the late 1960’s.
A copy of an original probate document containing many interesting facts can be seen in the Horton bar, the original of this document dates from 1722.
The building used to include an underground or basement cocktail bar, this was a popular meeting point, and unfortunately was closed in the nineteen eighties due to modern building regulations. The cellar that contained the bar was actually part of the underground tunnel system in Banbury at one stage; interestingly there are voids under the cross and other important buildings all over Banbury.
The Cellar Bar as it was known is located under the front lounge with a staircase under the main stairs and one now covered over, just in to the left of the main entrance. The staircase was surrounded by wrought iron railings, as was the stained glass tiled window, which looked up through the floor just in front of the reception desk. Both of these features are now located under the green sofa’s and tables.
It is a matter of record that on the 2nd September 1687 King James II visited Banbury and stayed in an upstairs room in the hostelry. This room is the current bedroom of the suite now numbered 52 or the Fathers Dyneing Room, the separate sitting room of 52 was actually a secret meeting room back in 1687, but more on that later.
During this visit of the king, his royal entourage included “Papist” priests; it was the priest’s role to ‘Touch for the Kings Evils’.
There are also known links with William Shakespeare and Benjamin Franklin.
The hotel has a great connection to Jonathon Swift, the author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’’ published in 1726. Swift was staying here when writing the book and took the name of his hero from a tombstone, which stood, on the north side of the church. The name Gulliver may still clearly be seen on a plaque in the churchyard in memory of the original as time has taken its toll to this stone.
As mentioned before room 52 has a sitting room, this room during the 17th century was a secret meeting place for a group of local catholic clergy.
The sitting room was served by a secret passage that started in a cupboard in the room, leading down to room 20).
This then led down to the Harness room from there the escapee could make their way to the well entrance behind the building
This well leads down to a tunnel system via a small cast iron ladder set into its wall; the tunnel system is known to have led to a church, St Mary’s or St John’s and the cross. It is also rumoured to go much further perhaps as far out as far as Broughton Castle.
The priests and innkeeper had an alert system to announce the arrival of any persecutors of the catholic faith; a bell was rung by means of a pulley in the hall entrance. The priests would then head for the tunnels.
It is alleged that four days after the royal visit, on the 6th September 1687, during a meeting, kept secret due to religious intolerance’s of the day, a cruel trick was played.
John Heuston, a member of staff of the Inn returning worse for wear from a lengthy session at the famous Cattle Mart, pulled the emergency cord.
This prank set the priests into action, but the combination of narrow space, darkness and fear caused one priest to suffer a terror attack. This priest Father Bernard literally was so scared he stopped his heart, ending up dead at the base of the stairs.
It is believed that Father Bernard took to walking the passageways for the last 300 years in search of the prankster. It is fateful that Heuston in turn died a violent death by stabbing. This is thought to have occurred when co-workers and patrons of the Inn found out about the awful prank gone wrong.
The secret staircase within the building was blocked at each level over 100 years ago, the tunnel system under the town has suffered collapses at certain points over the years with only two known entrances still uncovered. The well in the garden and under the church, for pictures please look at the display oppose the main stairs.
Late in the year 1913 a guest by the name of Michael Murray and his wife stayed in room 52. Whilst having supper in the sitting room saw the room to the door open, revealing a robed figure. A chill was said to have settled over the room, which lasted during the figures presence. After a minute the figure is said to have dissipated. New marks were noted to have appeared on the doorframe, which Mrs Murray believed were due to the prayer beads in the figures hand.
This door incidentally is one of the few doors and frames that has not needed to be replaced, in almost 100 years, since this sighting.
Perhaps the father found his prankster as he has been quiet over the last few years or perhaps he is just watching and waiting.
17 - 19 Horse Fair