Oxford History: The High


90: Vacant

90 High Street

No. 90, which is attached on its east side to University College, was built in 1612 by the apothecary John Williams. It was refronted in 1812, when an extra storey was added. It is now owned by University College, and there is student accommodation upstairs.

It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1369387). It marks the start of St Mary-the-Virgin parish, and has always been in that parish.

In Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 15 April 1769 Joseph Fortnom advertised that he was “removed to a more commodious shop, late Mr. Chettoe’, Mercer, opposite All Souls College; where he has laid in a large and fresh Assortment of all Kinds of Mercery, Woollen and Linnen Drapery; likewise a large Stock of Hosiery, and London Beaver hats”. He stated that he also sold “Printed Linnens and Cottons; figured, plain, and clear Lawns; Quiltings; flowered Modes and Sattins, with various other Articles in the Haberdashery”. In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771. No. 90 was duly recorded as being in the occupation of a Mr Fortnom, and its frontage measured 12 yards 0 feet 3 inches.

In early 1775 John Parsons took over Fortnom's business, inserting the following announcement in Jackson's Oxford Journal:

OXFORD, January 7th, 1775
JOHN PARSONS, having taken to the Shop and Trade of Mr. Fortnom, Mercer, Hatter, Hosier, &c. (who has declined Business in his Favour) begs Leave to solicit a Continuance of the Commands of the Nobility, Gentry, and other Friends of Mr. Fortnom, as well as the future Favours of the Public in general, and his own Friends in particular, whom he begs Leave to inform, that the purposes to carry on the Trade in all the different Branches, and to make it his constant Study to keep Goods of the very best Manufactures, and render them on the lowest Terms, so as to merit their Encouragement, which will be most gratefully acknowledged.
     N.B. As he intends to lay in a large and fresh Assortment of Goods of all Sorts, the present Stock will be sold off at prime Cost, consisting of a Variety of Superfine, Second, and other Broad Cloths, yard-wide Forest Cloths, Hunters, Beavers, &c. &c. with many other Articles in the Linnen and Woollen Way.
     N.B. Funerals furnished.

As an undergraduate Parson Woodforde had visited Fortnum’s hatter’s shop many times, and when he came back to Oxford when he was in his thirties, he continued to visit Parsons, writing on 8 July 1775: “Had a New Hat of one Parsons who succeeded Fortnom in his Business—I owe him for it—1:1:0.”

Charles James Adams took over as a cabinet maker and upholsterer here by 1837, and he let lodgings here for the accommodation of the Judges and their suite during each Assizes. He went bankrupt, and his house had to be sold. The advertisement notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 10 August 1839 gave the following description:

The truly-valuable HOUSE and PREMISES for many years in the possession and occupation of Mr. Adams and his late father, and always used as the Lodgings of the Judges at the Oxford Assizes; comprising a superior FRONT SHOP, with a private entrance on each side; a counting house; six excellent sitting rooms, four of which are fronting the street, and have handsome antique chimney pieces and ceilings, each room 21 feet by 16 feet, and the other two look into the garden, and are of larger dimensions; a VERY SPLENDID ROOM, 50 feet by 30 feet, and 14 feet high, used as a Reading Room by the Members of the University Union Society; butler’s pantry, china closet, store room, sixteen bed rooms, most of them large and airy, three stair cases, two water closets, and numerous other convenient closets; two capital kitchens, brew-house, laundry and mangle room, meat larders, three cellars, and a large arched vault; court yard, with coal house, knife house, and shoe house. A pleasure garden at the back of the house, planted with choice standard roses and evergreen shrubs; a green-house and pits, with hot water apparatus, &c. &c.

These Premises are situate in the CENTRE of the HIGH-STREET, and contain a frontage of 36 feet near the street; and from their extent and importance, both as to the capabilities for carrying on any business requiring room and PUBLIC SHOW, and for LODGINGS, by which a very large income is now made, are considered to have no equal in the City of Oxford.

The Property is held by Lease under Christ Church, for 40 years, from Michaelmas (Old Style) 1826, at a trifling Quit Rent.

Also the Workshops, Shed, Stable and other Offices, at the bottom of the garden, occupied by Mr. Adams; with a communication from the street leading out of Grove Street [Kybald Lane].

The premises were taken over by Joseph Vincent (who in about 1820 Vincent had established a bookshop in St Mary’s Passage which soon expanded to become an important publishing house, printing many university brochures as well as famous lampoons). When John Ruskin was an undergraduate at Christ Church (1836–40), his mother took on the lease of the upstairs part of 90 High Street so that she could keep a watchful eye on him, and his father joined her every weekend.

At the time of the 1841 census the bookseller Joseph Vincent junior (son of the founder) lived here at No. 90 with his wife Louisa and their children Louisa (15) and Joseph Henry  (2), plus four servants.

In 1851 Joseph Vincent junior was still living at No. 90 with his surgeon son Cyril and a general servant. In 1852 Joseph bought the old established Oxford University and City Herald, and it remained in the hands of his family and was published here at No. 90 until 1892. He still lived here in 1861 and 1871.

By 1881, William Vincent (described as a newspaper proprietor) lived over his shop here with his wife, daughter, undergraduate son, and granddaughter, plus a printer’s apprentice and a housemaid.

In 1892 the firm was incorporated with Baxter’s Press at 126 High Street, where it survived until 1968.

Vincent’s Club was founded in this building in 1863. It moved to 6/7 High Street in 1894, and to its present address in King Edward Street in 1931.

Manchester New College (now Harris Manchester College) also had temporary premises here until it moved to its present site in 1893.

From 1925 to 1966 this shop was Oxford Valet Services.

Top hatTop hat sent by Oxford Valet Services to the Revd Julian Llewellyn Dove (1856–1948) to his address at 16 Stephen Headington, where he lived from at least 1935 to 1947. Reproduced by permission of the owner, Katy Hagan

Occupiers of 90 High Street


Charles J. Adams, Upholsterer & Cabinet maker


Joseph Vincent, Publisher, Bookseller, & Printer


Shepperd Bros., Tailors &c. [to 1893]

J. Vincent, Bookseller &c.


Charles Bates, Florist (1898 only)

Spencer, Son, & Co., Cycle agents

Upstairs: Lodging house


The Layton Garage


Oxford Valet Services


Chiltern Dry Cleaners Ltd.


Betjeman & Barton Tearoom

By 1998–2008

Agnès b


Patisserie Valerie



©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 July, 2021

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