Oxford History: The High


115: Vacant

115 High Street

The present No. 115 dates from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1047255). It was in the parish of All Saints until that church was deconsecrated in 1971, and is now in the parish of St Michael-at-the-Northgate.

R. A. H. Spiers wrote about this shop in Round about “The Mitre”at Oxford (1926):

The large shop in the High Street now occupied by Messrs Rowell & Son was formerly Tom’s coffee-house. The front portion … was the general room, but the back room was the sanctum of dons, and Mr Wyatt (who formerly occupied these premises) used to point out the Chippendale chairs which had been there more than a century, and tell how the room was always known as ‘The House of Lords’, set apart for men like Tom Warton or Dr Johnson. The chairs had been sat on by many a learned talker, while he and his listeners enjoyed their pipes and coffee. In the seventeenth century these premises were known as the King’s Arms. They were occupied in 1751 by a Captain Jolly, a well-known coach owner, who probably also rented the adjoining Coach Offices.

This shop used to have a large room at the back, known as the Long Room, which was accessed from a passage at the side. From about 1829 the Long Room was the first proper home of the Oxford Union Society (founded in 1823), and debates took place here until they moved into their new premises in St Michael Street in 1857. (The Long Room was sold to Lincoln College in 1969 and demolished and replaced by student accommodation.)

James Wyatt the Elder and Younger

The Wyatt family sold prints here for most of the nineteenth century. James Wyatt the elder (1774–1853) was the son of Oxford baker Thomas Wyatt, and was apprenticed to the carver and gilder Robert Archer in 1790. In 1806 he set up his own business in this shop. He should not be confused with the shoemaker also called James Wyatt, who had a shop very near until 1816; but he obviously was at the time, as this announcement in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 3 February 1816 indicates:

JAMES WYATT, Carver and Gilder, High-street, Oxford, has just seen a Circular Letter, from Mr. T. Sadler, which states that Mr. Sadler “intends shortly to recommence the trade of Chemist and Druggist, in the premises now occupied by Mr. James Wyatt, opposite All Saints' Church.” It is very probable it may be imagined that J. Wyatt, Carver and Gilder, is about to relinquish his business, or to remove to other premises; he therefore takes this early opportunity of acquainting his Friends and the Public, that Mr. Sadler is going to the house now occupied by MR. WYATT THE SHOEMAKER, and J. Wyatt, Carver and Gilder hopes for a long continuance of the favours of the University and City, in the house he now occupies.
High-street, Oxford, Feb. 2d, 1816.

In 1823 James Wyatt the elder was listed in Pigot’s Directory as being a printseller in the High Street. He was also a prominent figure in Oxford’s public life, serving as councillor and alderman for nearly 40 years and as Mayor of Oxford in 1842/3.

At the time of the 1841 census James (67), described as a gilder, lived over his shop here with his wife Mary and their three grown-up children: James Wyatt the younger and his wife Eliza, and Ann and Elizabeth, plus two female servants. His wife Mary died later that year at the age of 78, and was buried at St Mary the Virgin Church.

John Everett Millais (1829–96) stayed here several times between 1846 and 1849 painted a well-known picture of James Wyatt the elder with his granddaughter Mary (born 31 August 1845) in this house.

At the time of the 1851 census James Wyatt the Elder, a widower of 77 described as an Alderman, lived here with his unmarried daughters Ann (41) and Elizabeth (40) and his son James junior (39), who now ran the business, his daughter-in-law Elizabeth (36), and his grandchildren Mary (5) and Sarah (2), plus three servants.

James Wyatt the elder died in 1853, and in 1861 James Wyatt the younger lived here with his wife and three daughters (Mary, Sarah, and Florence Mildred) and his son James, as well as his unmarried sisters Ann and Elizabeth. By 1881, when he was 70, he was described as a JP and printseller, and was still living over the shop with his wife and his youngest daughter Florence.

In 1885 Rowell & Son, jewellers, moved from 20 High Street to these premises, where they remained for over a hundred years. In 1986 the jewellery business was closed by the then owners (the Goldie family, who were related to the Rowells), and the premises were taken over by the Liberty retail company. Former employees of the original firm started up a new jewellery business called Rowell’s in Turl Street, retaining the old name-plate.

In 1901 John Harris (61), a college servant, lived above this shop with his wife Kate and their daughter.

At the time of the 1911 census Herbert George Walker (33), described as a jeweller's shop assistant, lived in the nine rooms above this shop with his wife and son and their servant.

In October 2019 Lincoln College obtained planning permission to change the first floor of the shop at No. 115, together with that of Nos. 113 & 114 next door, from retail to office use: 19/02284/LBC

Occupiers of 115 High Street since 1806


James Wyatt, later J. Wyatt & Son, Printsellers & Publishers, Carvers & Gilders

(William Angelo, Fencing Master, was also listed here in 1839)


Rowell & Harris, Watchmakers, jewellers, & opticians


R. S. Rowell (later Rowell & Son Ltd), Watchmaker & jeweller




Hobbs Outfitters [moved to Westgate Centre]



©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 18 August, 2021

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