The Crown Inn's History

Let's get the name straight first. The jokers who separate the two syllables of Pishill into separate words are probably right. We have maps dating back many hundreds of years where there is an extra 's' in Pishill. The theory is that when horses and waggons climbed out of Henley-on-Thames past The Crown Inn, they stopped at the Inn, and whilst the ostlers had an ale the horses would relieve themselves.

These days there may not be much to Pishill besides the Church and The Crown Inn but eight or nine centuries ago there was a thriving monastic community here, and ale has been available at The Crown since the 11th Century. Our current building dates back to the 1400s, with the barn (used for functions) being some 400 years old. Recent renovations of the grounds revealed foundations to another barn and the field opposite The Crown is called Crown Field showing that the inn doubled as a farm.

Over the years the hamlet of Pishill has become smaller and the Parish has joined with neighbouring Stonor. Stonor park is about a mile down the road from The Crown and their histories have become entwined. Indeed parts of Stonor House date to the 11th Century and the main house that can be seen today dates back to the 1400s. The Stonor family have always been devout Catholics, who remained faithful to their religion even during the period of persecution which began under Henry VIII.

They refused to take the Protestant oath and for many years had to pay hefty fines, sometimes as much as £50,000 a year in terms of modern currency. But they continued to conduct their services in the little brick and flint chapel (which is still used to this day) and they gave shelter to other Catholics, including the Elizabethan Jesuit Edmund Campion, preacher and pamphleteer, who wrote his tracts in an upper room at Stonor Park until he was captured and finally martyred.

Eventually, there came a time when Stonor was too dangerous a refuge, and many Catholic priests were smuggled up the hill to The Crown and hidden in the priest's hole (reputably the largest in the country). One such priest, Father Dominique, met a sticky end whilst hiding out at The Crown. There are two versions of how and why he died, neither of which having anything to do with religious persecution. The first is that he allowed himself to be seduced by a serving wench, Elizabeth, and overcome with guilt he killed himself. The other is that he tried to protect the wench from a drunken assailant, and was murdered by the customer. Whichever version is true, his ghost still haunts The Crown on the anniversary of his death, but nobody is quite sure when that is.

Jumping forward several centuries to the 1960s, The Crown gained a totally different reputation - as the hottest nightspot in Oxfordshire. The barn was converted into club with its own bar, dancefloor and stage. It was the first venue in Oxfordshire to be granted a past-midnight drinks and music licence, and consequently became a favourite hang-out, with people travelling out from as far away as London to see performers such as George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Dusty Springfield perform. Today the barn is used for private functions and still retains a 2am drinks and music license.

Thanks to Timpson's 'English Country Inns'