Projects > The Painted Rooms, Cornmarket Street, Oxford

The Painted Room, Cornmarket
Images: copyright Chris Andrews


An Elizabethan treasure in the heart of modern Oxford

On busy Cornmarket Street, in the commercial centre of Oxford, concealed by an eighteenth-century façade, above a shop and bookmakers lies one of Oxford’s more secret historical treasures the Painted Rooms – the remains of the 14th century Crown Tavern with remarkable Elizabethan wall paintings.

There is also a Shakespeare link as he was friendly with John and Jane Davenant, the vintners, staying with them on way between London and Stratford-upon-Avon.  Jane is the only name linked to Shakespeare romantically, other than Anne Hathaway and the Davenant’s son, also William, who was his godson, became the first poet laureate, and liked to suggest he was the son and not godson to the Bard.

True or false it adds to the rich history and mystery of the Painted Rooms, and makes it remarkable that Oxford’s ‘place where Shakespeare slept’ remains hidden and inaccessible to the public.

In the 1930s OPT had our first offices here, and when the rooms became vacant in 2012 OPT stepped in once again, taking it over from the City Council until the end of December 2013.  We have since reached agreement with the new owners so that we now have time to look for a way forward which will open the rooms to the public and secure them forever.

In 2013 we revived the tradition of the Shakespeare Birthday celebrations raising a ‘toast to the immortal memory of Shakespeare ....’ in Malmsey and Sack (sweet wine) and simnel cake.  A Parade from the Lord Mayor’s Parlour to the Rooms was led by the town crier, with High Sheriff, the Deputy Lord Mayor, notable academics, OPT guests, and the children of Pegasus School at Blackbird Leys in train, the guests entertained by the children’s own poetry and songs written for the occasion.


We still have a long way to go but we will get there.  We are grateful to the William Delafield Trust and English Heritage who have provided funds to allow us to find out more about the house, the wall paintings, their condition and what needs to be done.  

Where to see more
There was another wall painting of a similar design in 3 Cornmarket itself, in what is thought to have been John Tattleton’s private chamber. This room was discovered, and demolished, in 1934, but a fragment of the painting can still be seen at the Museum of Oxford in St Aldate’s.
Two other painted rooms, of very different designs, can also be seen in the former Cross Inn, now Pizza Express, in the Golden Cross (visit in the afternoons). 

If you are interested in vernacular historic houses and domestic wall paintings why not visit Oxford Preservation Trust’s Medieval Merchant’s House at 26A East St Helen Street, Abingdon
This beautiful 15th century merchant’s house is open to the public by appointment (£4.00 or free to members). Its many original features include early tracery windows, decorated fireplaces, and stunning, and extensive 16th century wall paintings, testament to Abingdon as a thriving centre of medieval trade.  A rare 17th century child’s doublet is also on show, found concealed in the roof during the restoration works of the 1980s.