BROAD STREET, OXFORD

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Nos. 1–3: Vacant, part of Boswell House

Boswell’s

The first five shops of Broad Street proper were demolished in 1928 to make way for Boswell House, a six-storey building comprising a department store for H. Boswell & Co. Ltd, including offices and a restaurant upstairs and two additional small ground-floor shop units (4 & 5 Broad Street) to the left. It was built by E. Organ & Son in 1929, and is owned by Oxford City Council

Boswell’s department store moved into the large premises at Nos. 1– 3 in 1929. This store was due to close permanently on 4 April 2020, but was forced to shut down earlier because of the CVD-19 outbreak. Consultation is now being held on turning the building into the Store Hotel.

Plans for City Drug Stores, 1927

The above drawing shows the 1927 plans for the “City Drug Stores” produced by A. S. G. Butler, who acted as consulting architect on behalf of the Oxford Preservation Trust. The Trust’s Second Annual Report 1927–1928 explains why it had become involved in the project:

Broad Street. Some years ago the City Council let out on building lease to Mr. Pearson a large section of the southern frontage at the west end of Broad Street, opposite the eighteenth-century part of Balliol College. Mr. Pearson’s intention is to build on this site a number of shops with offices in the upper storeys, and his architects (Messrs. North, Robin & Wilsdon, of 35 Maddox Street, London, W.1) prepared plans, skilfully designed in their interior disposition, to meet the purpose which Mr. Pearson had in view. These plans came before the Town Planning Committee of the City Council for consideration, and the Committee felt that, in view of the importance of the site, the question of the design of the elevation was one of capital importance.

Boswell House incorporates the Martyrs’ bastion of the city wall.

In1854 the cabinet maker William Herbert added the shop here at 1 Broad Street to his premises at 31 Cornmarket Street, and these premises are still combined today.

The original Boswell's shop at 50 Cornmarket Street had been in operation since 1798 and just sold luggage. In the 1890s the business passed to Arthur Pearson, who retained the name. His new shop in Broad Street was originally described in Kelly's Directory as “1, 2 & 3 Boswell & Co. portmanteau makers”, but later in the 1930s the description was “Hardware merchants”. From 1952 it was listed thus: “Hardware & kitchen equipment, refrigeration engineers, leather & travel goods, cutlery, silverware & fancy jewellery & household linens”.

Pearson already owned the Oxford Drug Company at 31 Cornmarket Street, but originally ran the two shops separately. It was only in 1958 that an opening was made to join the two buildings, making an L-shaped shop around William Baker House on the corner. The two shops remain united today, forming Oxford’s largest independent department store. Boswell’s of Oxford is still owned by the Pearson family.

The advertisement below shows that in 1961 you could get a three-course lunch at The Kemp upstairs in Boswell House for 4/6

Advertisement for “The Kemp”

Businesses that have occupied Boswell House

1929–2020

Boswells of Oxford (formerly Boswell & Co & Oxford Drug Company)
Department Store and Chemists

Upstairs

1934–1964

Kemp Hall Cafeteria (”The Kemp”)

1968–1976

Vintage Car Restaurant

1980

Quills

By 1983–1995

Chit-Chat Restaurant

1996–1999

Soprano Restaurant

1999–c.2004

Restaurant du Liban

2004–present

Embassy (Oxford) English School

The three demolished shops on the site of the present department store were:

1 Broad Street

On 2 September 1854 the cabinet maker William Herbert announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal that he had added the shop here at 1 Broad Street to his premises at 31 Cornmarket Street, and these premises are still combined today. (Herbert, who was Sheriff of Oxford in 1858, committed suicide at his private residence, Summertown Farm, on 23 May 1859.)

Three months later on 20 August 1859 another cabinet maker, William Baker, announcd that he had purchased both Herbert's business and stock in trade, and would be chiefly conducting his business here.The premises of the cabinet maker William Baker were here from 1859 to 1914, when he moved into the new building on the corner (erected fourteen years before Boswell House). For more details see the page on William Baker House.

2 Broad Street
This was the eighteenth-century North Star pub. A Mallam’s auction of pubs advertised in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 1 May 1830 included: “That well accustomed PUBLIC HOUSE, known by the sign of the NORTH STAR, situated in Broad-street, in the City of Oxford; containing a front tap room, bar, kitchen, scullery, cellaring, a small yard, dining room, four bed chambers, &c.; held by lease under the City of Oxford for 40 years from Michaelmas, 1829.

At the time of the 1851 census the North Star pub was occupied by John White and his wife and four young children; in 1861 by John Marsh with his wife, son, and niece; and in 1881 the publican was a widow, Mrs Eliza Smith, who lived there with her two sons. By 1914 the tobacconist Edward M. Staniland was here (photograph of his shop)

3 Broad Street
In 1914 this was E. M. Liddell's berlin wool depository.


The two pre-1929 shops that came together to form Boswell's

(1) Boswell’s at 50 Cornmarket Street: Luggage maker & seller (1738–1929)

Francis Boswell originally started selling travelling goods in 1738 at 50 Cornmarket Street (on the west side, just north of Frewin Court). He rebuilt the shop with its neighbours in 1874, and the business remained in the Boswell family until 1890, when Henry Boswell sold it to Arthur Pearson, who kept the old name. Until 1928 Boswell’s remained just a small shop at 50 Cornmarket,, described in directories as “Portmanteau makers”.
For more details, see page on 50 Cornmarket Street

(2) Oxford Drug Company at 31 Cornmarket Street (1912–2020)

Arthur Pearson had bought Alderman James Stanley Lowe’s shop at 31 Cornmarket Street back in 1882, and ran his own ironmonger’s shop there until 1912, when he moved his premises to George Street. He then had No. 31 Cornmarket Street rebuilt as the Oxford Drug Company.
For more details, see page on 31 Cornmarket Street

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Stephanie Jenkins

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