Hidden away on one of the quieter streets of the city centre can be found the Bear Inn, said to be one of the oldest pubs in Oxford, with a history that can be traced back to around 1242. Yet it’s a more modern addition to this pub that I am interested in – their more unusual method of decorating the walls: the pub’s notable tie collection. Numbering in the thousands, it is listed along with the building itself.
The tradition of the Bear’s collection began back in1957 when the landlord, a man by the name of Allan, had a collection of 11 military ties kept in a case. Believed to be some of the oldest ties within the assortment, some even date back to the First World War. Over the years, locals and visitors donated ties in exchange for a pint of beer. As the collection continued to grow, the tradition was altered to only taking the tail end of the tie, so that the giver could take away the rest and still use what remained. In order to get into the collection, the tie had to come from certain origins: membership of an association, club, college, school, the military, police or sports teams. It seems to work: the collection now spans an impressive number of around 4,500 ties in total.
Walking into the back room you’re greeted by walls of ties upon ties, all in cases, some from as far away as the Hong Kong Police Force or Kamloops Rugby Club in Canada, some from as close as the many Oxford University colleges, clubs and organisations. A closer look at the University case reveals an interesting array of clubs hidden within colleges, such as the Goblin Club at Lincoln, and the Oxford University Tortoise Club. This is quite the goldmine!
Fittingly, the origins of school and club ties are actually credited to Oxford University, beginning when Exeter’s rowers tied their boater ribbons, proudly bearing boat club colours, around their necks back in 1880. The craze for membership ties caught on after the team ordered special, purpose-made versions for its members.
For those of you planning to head down for free pint of beer in exchange for a tie though, no such luck: sadly, this is no longer possible. Due to its impressive size, the collection itself has been listed and cannot be altered from its current state, meaning additions are no longer possible. However, keep an eye out – if the Bear finds any more space, I am sure it will be only a matter of time before the collecting starts all over again…