Since the 16th century travellers on the road from London to Oxford and beyond will have welcomed the sight of the Kings Arms in Stokenchurch after their long climb up Dashwood Hill.

After the massive fire during the night of October 8 the building, which is now known as the Kings Hotel, is just a blackened shell. Here we take a look back at some of the events which have taken place at the former coaching inn during its long history.

Why the “Kings Arms”

The Kings Arms is a popular name for a hostelry, ninth in the list of the most popular. However the one at Stokenchurch has a particular reason for bearing that name. It was known originally as The George when on March 14 1680 King Charles II, on his way to London to attend Parliament, stayed there. He judged it an unsuitable establishment for Queen Catherine, so she was accommodated in a tent pitched on the Common.

However it is reputed (according to the village people) that he had no such scruples in regard to his mistress Nell Gwyn. Praised by Samuel Pepys for her comic performances as one of the finest actresses on the English stage, “pretty, witty Nell” became well-known for being a long-time mistress of the King.

The inn was subsequently renamed the King’s Arms and a memorial hung in a chamber where the King dined stating “Our Gracious Sovereign King Charles II was pleased to make this place his dining room upon 14th day of March 1680”.

The Civil War

During the English Civil war, being situated between Royalist Oxford and Parliamentarian London, Stokenchurch and its coaching inns were commonly used as resting places for troops from both sides. The village is mentioned no less than twelve times in the journal of Scoutmaster General Sir Samuel Luke between 1643 and 1644 and on two occasions (on 5 December 1642 and 17 June 1643) skirmishes broke out when both sides arrived at the village together. The Kings Arms would have featured prominently in all this activity.


In the 19th century inquests into unusual deaths were normally held in a prominent local public house. For example, in High Wycombe the Red Lion in the High Street was commonly used. In Stokenchurch it was usually the Kings Arms. A typical such inquest was held on February 5, 1851 under the direction of Coroner Mr J H Cooke “on the body of John White, aged 60 years”. The main witness was his housekeeper Jane Lawrence who testified that “he had for his supper the previous night two large boiled Swede-turnips. He then went to bed at 8pm”. She continued: “I was woken by him at just after midnight. He was complaining of a violent pain in the lower part of his stomach, saying that he felt ill and must die”. The doctor was sent for, who gave him some medicine, “but it did not relieve him and he died a few hours afterwards”. At the inquest the doctor stated that in his professional opinion, “White’s death was caused through eating the turnips, which produced an undue extension of the stomach, with inflammation of the intestines, and probably rupture”. After a short consultation the jury “returned a verdict to that effect”.


Over its near 600 year history the Kings Arms will have had many proprietors/licensees. It is not possible to list them all in this article, but just to give an example. In the 1750s the proprietor was Samuel Carter. He died in 1760, leaving his estate to his wife Margaret. In May 1769 Edward Harris advertised in the Oxford Journal to announce that he had succeeded his mother-in-law Mrs Carter as proprietor of the King’s Arms. He stated that the inn “will be immediately new fitted-up, and rendered every Way commodious; and where the best Accommodations of every Kind [will be available], and civil Treatment may be depended on”.


For over 100 years from the 18th century to the early 20th century the Kings Arms was the venue for many auctions. One of the most important took place on Wednesday May 21 1788 when the estate of Edward Harris (the same Edward Harris whose mother-in-law was Margaret Carter), was to be auctioned because Harris had been declared bankrupt. Harris’s estate, which he would have inherited from his mother-in-law, was so large that it was divided into 26 lots. It consisted of the Kings Arms and extensive holdings of property in the parishes of Stokenchurch, and Crowell in Oxfordshire. In the auction prospectus the Kings Arms was described as “now in full business, with extensive Stabling, and other requisite Conveniences, with a Kitchen Garden and Pleasure Ground adjoining and another Kitchen Garden on Stokenchurch Common”. At that time the inn was “let to Thomas Gibbs, as tenant from Year to Year at £30 per Annum”.

The future

It is to be hoped that the Kings Hotel can “rise from the ashes” following the disastrous fire and be restored to its former glory. It is not the first historic hotel in the locality to be gutted by fire.

That fate fell to The Bell Hotel in Beaconsfield on August 26, 1959.

Now known as the Bell House Hotel it has long been a thriving establishment.