If you went out looking for sailors, Woodstock would hardly be your first port of call, being about as far from the sea as it is possible to get on these islands.

But apart from Captain James King, who accompanied Cooke on his last voyage around the world – and, so his memorial in the church states, wrote the history of that celebrated navigator here – news has broken that the real live Ancient Mariner hailed from Woodstock too.

This extraordinary discovery has been uncovered by Coleridge scholar Robert Fowke and is revealed to the world at large in his new book The Real Ancient Mariner (Travelbrief Publications, £15.99).

Mr Fowke, who must surely rank alongside Inspector Morse when it comes to detective work, told me: “This is of particular interest to Oxford and the surrounding area since I have discovered that the original of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner came from Woodstock – and the house is still there with his parents’ initials on a drainpipe.”

The real Ancient Mariner, it transpires, was a certain Mr Simon Hatley, born in Woodstock in 1685. While woefully depressed, he shot an albatross from the deck of a ship called the Speedwell while rounding Cape Horn. “We were a ghastly crew,” comments Coleridge’s AM – who shot the albatross in the poem. Scholars have long known that Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) heard Hatley’s yarn from fellow poet William Wordsworth during a walk near Nether Stowey, in Somerset, but until now no one seems to have properly identified him in real life.

Wordsworth told Coleridge of a book called A Voyage Round the World by way of the Great South Sea, published in 1726, in which the author, Captain George Shevelocke, describes the following occurrence: “We observed that we had not had the sight of one fish of any kind since we came into the southward of the straights of le Maire, nor one sea bird except a disconsolate albatross, who accompanied us several days, hovering above us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, my second Captain, observing in one of his melancholy fits, that the bird which was always hovering near us, imagined, from his colour, that it might be some ill omen . . . he after some fruitless attempts at length shot the albatross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it . . .”

The Hatleys seem to have been a fairly prominent family of traders in Woodstock in the 18th century. All the same, Mr Fowke’s hunt for the ancient mariner was a long one; the scent on the trail finally leading him to Woodstock via Madrid!

He discovered that Mr Hatley was arrested at one point in his long career and taken to Lima aboard a Spanish ship, where he was tortured. Mr Fowke had a hunch that his maltreatment might have had something to do with the Spanish Inquisition and, sure enough, in Madrid he found a reference to a Simon Hatley born in “Yudstock” (which he guessed meant Woodstock).

Hatley also sailed on another voyage with Alexander Selkirk, the original of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Also among the crew on that voyage was William Dampier, mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (who incidentally often stayed and wrote at Cokethorpe Park, now a school near Witney, as a guest of Lord Harcourt).

Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner some 70 years after the voyage of the Speedwell. He would have been alive when James King wrote his account of Cook’s voyage.

And if Hatley had lived to be truly ‘ancient’, he too might have met the King in Woodstock and riveted him with his tale. But that is a flight of fancy.