Oxford History: The High


130A: Chiang Mai Kitchen (former Kemp Hall)

Kemp Hall in 2020

Kemp Hall is on the west side of the passage that runs along the left-hand side of No. 130 High Street. The building is numbered 130A today, but in the past it has variously been numbered 129 or 129A. The house at 130 and Kemp Hall were originally two halves of the same property.

Anthony Wood offered two theories as to the origin of its name: (1) that it was named after Alderman Richard Kent and should in fact be named Kent's Hall; or  (2) it was an early university hall named after John Kemp, Archbishop of Canterbury, who studied there. The former is now generally accepted.

The original Kemp Hall dated from about 1500, but the present five-gabled building was erected in 1637 by Alderman William Boswell (who lived at  130 High Street at the front). The stone mantles inside date from that year, and there is a seventeenth-century fireplace.

It is a Grade II* listed building (List Entry No. 1145872) and now belongs to Oxford City Council. 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 Church.

For a brief history of Kemp Hall and all its leases, see H. E. Salter, Oxford City Properties (Oxford Historical Society, 1926), pp. 132–4)

Left: Kemp Hall, looking up towards the High

Below: The date 1637 in white lettering over the door

Date over door of Kemp Hall

Carter’s passage

William Boswell only enjoyed the new Kemp Hall for a year, as he died in 1638. He left it to his son, Dr William Boswell. In 1682 it was passed on to Miss Jane Boswell (Dr Boswell's niece), and then in 1687 to Thomas Boswell.

In about 1700 Kemp Hall was sold to Lord Harcourt.

By 1730 it was owned by Francis Heywood.

In 1731 Dr Radcliffe presented Kemp Hall along with other properties to Brasenose College, to compensate for the land they lost in connection with the building of the Radcliffe Camera.


Right: Kemp Hall in 1835, looking southwards from the High Street. The alleyway was at this time known as Carter’s Passage, after the fishmonger at No. 130. The building that can be seen at the end of the alleyway was built in 1611, but has not survived.

Police Station at Kemp Hall, 1870–1897

In 1868 Kemp Hall was bought by Oxford City Council, and in 1870 it was altered by Honour & Castle for use as the headquarters of Oxford City Police. (Prior to that, the police station had since at least 1843 been based in an office on the corner of Queen Street and St Aldate's.)

Jackson’s Oxford Journal in October 1870 reported thus on the move:

The headquarters of the Oxford City Police are now transferred to Kemp Hall, High Street…. The premises, though rather out of the way, being down a passage, are central, and in the rear of the Town Hall having communication with the Superintendent’s residence, and with the City Court. On the ground floor is a spacious office and library (the books for which remain to be contributed) and above are dormitories for 14 constables. Inspector Barratt and P. S. Barrows will live on the premises. There are three good lock-up cells, in one of which are the remains of old carvings; also cellars and necessary appurtenances.

Historic England photographs of Kemp Hall Police Station, taken in the 1890s by Henry Taunt:

CC54/00317              CC54/00318               CC54/00319               CC54/00320

When the new Town Hall complex was finished in 1897 the police moved to purpose-built premises in Blue Boar Street, but the alleyway leading to Kemp Hall was still known as Blue Lamp Alley in 1937, forty years after the police had left.

Kemp Hall Press

From 1906 to 1925 the building was occupied by the Kemp Hall Press.

Cafés and Restaurants at Kemp Hall

Sorbonne advertisement

Kemp Hall first became a place to eat in 1928, when Mrs Daisy Hoare opened tea rooms here. By 1930 both she and her business had gone up in the world: she was Mrs D. Hoare MBE, and the tea rooms were now the Kemp Hall Restaurant, with the telephone number 3458. This continued until at least 1938.

In 1943 this was the Stowaway Café, described as Anglo-Chinese and run by S. R, Crawley. This was still listed here in 1960.

In 1962 the restaurant had gone Indian, and was called the Moti Mahal. This survived until 1966.

In 1966 André Chavagnon opened La Sorbonne here. His chef in the early days was none other than Raymond Blanc, now the owner of the famous Manoir au Quat’Saisons. It was the best restaurant in Oxford, and people who dined here included Princess Anne, Diana Princess of Wales, Edward Heath, and Paul McCartney.

La Sorbonne closed in 1992, and the restaurant that has in its time been Chinese, Indian, and French is now the Chiang Mai Thai restaurant.

Right: Advertisement in Kelly's Directory for 1967

Occupiers of 130A High Street (Kemp Hall)


John Keeley (Baker)
W.H. Salter (Bookbinder)


Thomas Laycock, Bookseller


Kemp Hall Police Station


Darbishire & Howarth (Oxford Geographical Institute), Map makers


Fox, Jones & Co printers (Kemp Hall Press)


Kemp Hall Restaurant (Tea rooms in 1928) (Mrs Daisy Hoare)


Stowaway Cafe, Anglo-Chinese (1943–1960)


Moti Mahal, Indian Restaurant


La Sorbonne, French restaurant

By 1995–present

Chiang Mai Kitchen, Thai Restaurant

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 25 July, 2021

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