“I’m going to miss the customers the most,” said the landlord of a historic pub after making the ‘tough’ decision to retire.

Mark Butcher – known to locals as ‘Baz’ - has been running The White Hart pub, in Wytham near Oxford, for over eight years.

However, the 64 year-old decided it was time to ‘hand over the reins to someone younger’ and has put the Grade-II listed building up for sale.

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The White Hart has stood for more than 300 years and parts remain almost unchanged since 1720, including its walled courtyard, despite the addition of a weather-proof canopy and bespoke Covid-safe dining pods – declared open by Oxford vaccine team leader Dame Prof Sarah Gilbert.

The pub acquired a reputation as a cultural magnet under Mr Butcher’s stewardship. It hosted musical events including jazz concerts, a thank you event for NHS staff and then staged its own literary festival with speakers including food critic Jay Rayner – who admitted to being a huge supporter of the pub.

Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood was also a fan, having previously opened its revamped courtyard.

Mr Butcher, who previously ran the St Giles Cafe, said: “I’ve worked here for eight years. Before that I ran the cafe in St Giles, and my bones are starting to ache. I’ve worked here for eight years.

Oxford Mail: The White Hart Pub in WythamThe White Hart Pub in Wytham (Image: n/a)

“It’s a very demanding job and I needed to have a careful think about what to do. I ‘ummed and ahhed’ about it for a long time but I just thought maybe it was time to find someone younger to take the reins.

“I never really thought about retiring but something was telling me I needed to think about my wellbeing.

“You work 70, 80 and sometimes 90 hours a week as that is the nature of the business. It has been a fantastic career and I love it.”

The landlord said he will miss his customers the most as that was ‘the high’ of the job.

“Everyday I meet one or two people who are just lovely to speak to,” he said. “You learn a lot about their lives and their stories.

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Oxford Mail: The White Hart Pub in WythamThe White Hart Pub in Wytham (Image: n/a)

“It’s the highs of the job, welcoming someone into the pub and giving them an exceptional time – it’s a real joy.”

His ‘number one objective’ is to now help find a new operator to ‘build on’ his work at the 18th century pub which has been featured everywhere from Inspector Morse to the romantic comedy Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mr Butcher said: “It’s a pretty iconic pub for so many people and a lot of our customers come in because they were at university in Oxford, met their partners there and were returning to the pub after 20 or 30 years.

“It’s an important part of these people's lives – it’s a very special place.”

Mr Butcher now hopes to go travelling across Europe with his wife, Joanna, once the pub has been sold on.

“I’ve missed not being able to travel,” he said. “My wife and I are calling it the grand tour and we’re going for three to four months and will look at the places we could potentially stay permanently - as well as partaking in my love of eating out.”

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The pub is now on sale with Fleurets, a property specialist, with the price is available upon application.

Oxford Mail and Oxford Times food writer Tim Hughes said Mr Butcher’s departure was a blow not only to Wytham but to the wider cultural and culinary life of Oxfordshire.

He said: “Baz took what had once been a rather dowdy and unwelcoming pub and turned it into the treasure it always deserved to be.

“He fizzed with energy and was a gastronomic genius, making this quaint stone pub a destination not just for discerning diners but music and literature lovers.

"He is irreplaceable and his departure is a real loss.”


Read more from this author

This story was written by Gee Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a senior multimedia reporter.

Gee covers Wallingford, Wantage and Didcot.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Gee.harland@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @Geeharland

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