Thame Local History
The Saracens Head

The Saracens Head circa 1988
The Saracens Head circa 1988

The eighteenth century gabled exterior of the former Saracen's Head hides a timber framed building that dates back to at least the fourteenth century.

Recent work carried out at the premises, when converting it to the current estate agents office, established the likely felling date of the main timbers as being about 1315.

The current building (No 7) with its gable end fronting the Buttermarket, forms the cross-wing of a much larger property that encompassed the building now to the west (No 6).

The whole was in all probability a medieval open hall house of cruck construction, No 6 being the open hall with the cross wing (No 7) housing the service apartments on the ground floor with a single chamber above. This large chamber occupied the whole of the three bays of the upper floor and was open to the roof. It was also jetted to the front and the evidence of the dragon beams suggests that the floor projected to the sides also, giving a chamber 10 metres long by 5.3 metres wide.

The building is reputed to have had a vaulted medieval cellar that may have dated back even further. Lupton, in his History of Thame, suggests the brewers who owned the house, removed the vaulting before 1860 in order to gain more room for their casks. He also points out that the house close by, at the corner of North Street, also showed a gothic arch in its cellar. This co-incidence led him to suggest that the three houses from North Street to the Saracen's Head stood on the large vaulted basement of an important building which he thought might have belonged to some religious order.

Lee, however, has pointed out that a Saracen's head was the crest of the Oxfordshire branch of the Marmion family, who lived in Thame until the fifteenth century. Although the site of their home is not known he advances that their mansion covered these groined cellars on the north side of the Butter Market and that later the Saracen's Head inn was built on part of its site and adopted the Marmion crest as its sign.

All this is speculation but we know for certain that the accounts for Thame School in 1575 give the tenant as one Richard Pitman paying a rent of 26s 8d per half year to New College Oxford. Much of the property in Thame that was administered by New College had been acquired to support Lord Williams' foundation of Thame School and there is no reason to suppose that this was not the case for the Saracen's Head.

Thame School continued to own the premises until 1877 when it was sold, along with other property, and bought by the then licensee Francis Seymour. Halls Brewery purchased it in 1913 and it continued as a popular town centre pub until it finally stopped selling beer in 1992.

In the early twentieth century the Saracen's Head gained a reputation as a centre for the sporting fraternity and was at one time the headquarters of Thame Association Football Club.


Thame United Football Club website

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  Thame, Oxfordshire, England