Ghosts at the King's Arms, Oxford
30 October 2023
Many extravagant claims have been made about The King's Arms in Holywell Street, including that it is Oxford's oldest pub and that when crowded it boasts the highest IQ per square foot of anywhere in the world.
While some of these claims are more easy to substantiate than others, one fact that often gets brushed under the carpet is that the pub may also be one of Oxford's most haunted!
Oxford's most educated ghosts?
For a pub that boasts about the intelligence of its clientele, it's perhaps appropriate that the ghosts that haunt the King's Arms are apparently also extremely highly educated. The ghosts, which are only heard but never seen, are said to be two elderly gentlemen. Their voices can sometimes be heard in one of the pub's bar, conversing not in English but in Ancient Greek!
A classics student who worked behind the bar is said to have heard the voices and been able to translate. Unfortunately, their conversation did not provide many clues as to their identities, the pair were apparently merely discussing the quality of the pub's port wine! The voices are said to rise in tone as the discussion becomes heated, before there is the sound of a blow and the voices fall silent.
What to make of all this? Their age and education suggest a pair of elderly dons, and the King's Arms was a very popular drinking den for academics in the past. The pub has a back room known as The Don's Bar, which until 1973 was the last bar in Oxford that permitted only men, a throwback to the previous century before women were allowed to take degrees at Oxford.
Could the ghostly voices, raised in argument, be the relic of some long forgotten conflict between rival academics?
Skeletons at the King's Arms
In early 1923, the King's Arms made the headlines when two complete human skeletons were unearthed beneath the adjoining garage by men digging a pit for a new petrol tank.
The discovery was announced in the Oxford and Reading Chronicle on Friday, September 21, 1923, but I haven't been able to find any other information, such as whether study of the bodies offered any additional information about their identities.
Could the two voices heard speaking in the bar be the spirits of the two unfortunates whose bodies were found buried close by?
- 'Haunted English Pubs' by Donald Stuart (Self-published/CPI Group Ltd, 2011)
- Oxford and Reading Chronicle, Friday 21 September 1923
- King's Arms, Oxford (wikipedia.org)