A Theatrical Tragedy at the White Hart Inn, Witney
25 August 2021 (Updated 20 September 2022)
In 1653 the White Hart Inn in Witney was the scene of a tragedy that cost the lives of 5 people and injured 60 others.
The White Hart Inn was on Bridge Street, near where the Witney Physiotherapy Centre now stands. On the evening of 3 February 1653, an acting troupe from Stanton Harcourt rented an upstairs room for a performance of the popular Elizabethan play 'Mucedorus'
This was not the troupe's preferred venue. They had attempted to hire other public buildings in Witney but had been denied permission because such entertainments were frowned upon by religious authorities in Protestant England at the time.
Despite the religious disapproval, the play was a big hit, and the room at the White Hart was packed when tragedy struck an hour into the performance. The room was not designed for the 300-400 people in attendance, and the floor gave way under their combined weight, sending much of the audience crashing down into the busy taproom below.
Eyewitnesses described a horrible scene of panic, including 'a wailing and a weeping as if from hell'.
Local Puritan preacher John Rowe described the tragedy as an example of the 'hand of God' at work, punishing those in attendance for their intemperate ways.
Ghosts of the White Hart Inn
According to Joe Robinson in his book Oxfordshire Ghosts, supernatural echoes of the tragedy have been experienced on the anniversary of the event. The cries of the injured can be heard close to the site of the old White Hart Inn on the 3rd and 4th of February.
Robinson also relates the tale of John Hudson of Gloucester who in 1823 claimed to have witnessed a repeat of the tragedy. He describes 'a terrible accident unfolding before my very eyes', the whole street being smothered with dust, accompanied by 'loud cries for help [and] children's screams'.