Pub of the Month: The Royal Oak, Winchester – Mystery Guides
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Pub of the Month: The Royal Oak, Winchester

Have a pint at a former royal palace!

The Royal Oak exterior

Step back in time in the basement of the Royal Oak...where you'll find the remains of an Anglo-Saxon palace...

The Royal Oak has stood in the heart of Winchester since 1002 – 64 years before a Norman duke named William landed on the south coast and made short work of the Anglo-Saxon Army. It was first used as a palace for the Anglo-Saxon Queen Emma – William’s Great Aunt, and the only woman in history to have been Queen of England twice!

If you head down the stairs in the pub, you can sit amongst the walls of her palace, built over 1000 years ago.

Emma of Normandy
Source: British Library

Across the road from her palace was the Royal Mint - it's thought that at least 24 million silver pennies were minted here between the 9th and 13th centuries. In the early 12th century, around 150 coiners were suspected of making false coins - and punished by having their hands chopped off! 

Interestingly, the largest collection of Winchester pennies is now in St Petersburg - they ended up in Russia having been used to pay the "Danegeld" - protection money paid to Vikings by Anglo-Saxon kings. Queen Emma's first husband, King Aethelred, was the first English king to pay the Danegeld - unfortunately it didn't work - the Vikings took the gold and invaded anyway! In fact Emma's second husband, King Cnut, was a Viking invader who went on to rule England for almost 20 years.

Boscobel House and oak tree
Source: British Library

…to Royal Oak

The building was first used as a pub in the 14th century, and is one of many pubs in England that claim to be the oldest in the country. Whilst this is hotly disputed, it is believed to have the oldest functioning bar!

The pub became known by its current name in the seventeenth century, when it was a favourite of Royalist sympathisers during the Civil War. The future Charles II, on the run from Parliamentarians after the execution of his father, spent a night hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House in Shropshire – and the oak leaf became a popular symbol of support for the monarchy. 

The Royal Oak is now the second most popular pub name in the UK, after the Red Lion. When Charles’ grandfather, Scottish king James I, ascended the throne he ordered that all important buildings display the red lion of Scotland – including pubs!

The Royal Oak interior

Haunted Happenings

Unsurprisingly for a building with over 1000 years of history, the Royal Oak is popular with ghost hunters – paranormal activity is said to have included objects flying around, dark shadows flitting across the room, and mysterious glowing orbs in the pitch dark basement. 

If ghost hunting is your thing, Winchester is allegedly home to a host of spooky spirits, including a procession of phantom monks at the cathedral, a ghostly Labrador at Tun Bridge, and the restless spirit of Lady Anne Lisle – the last woman to be publicly beheaded in England, who was executed outside the Eclipse Inn in 1685.

Axe in wood
Source: Pixabay

The Royal Oak is the perfect place to soak up the history of Winchester and have a tankard of ale – as you solve the Mystery of the Bishop’s Golden Tankard!