Oxford History: The High


The Angel Hotel (formerly at 79–84)

The Angel Hotel

Remaining part of Angel Hotel

The above engraving shows the Angel Inn at its heyday in the 1820s. The two houses on the right formed its coffee room.

The Angel's trade must have seriously dwindled following the opening of the railways, and in 1876 most of the inn was demolished to make way for the Examination Schools.

The only part that survives today are the former coffee room on the right. These are now as follows:

The bus depot retains the hotel's original ionic columns on the first floor, while the has newer columns on the ground floor.

There was a small inn called the Tabard on this site in about 1391, but in 1510 it was enlarged by Magdalen College and its name was changed to the Angel. It was enlarged again and probably mostly rebuilt in 1663, so that its eventual frontage measured 110 feet.

The Angel was Oxford’s most important coaching inn, and the timetables show that as early as the eighteenth century coaches departed in all directions from 3 a.m. until midnight every day, including Sundays. Angel Meadow in St Clements provided fodder for the horses.

Anthony Wood mentions the Angel a number of times in his diaries. In 1650 he wrote, “This yeare Jacob a Jew opened a coffey house at the Angel in the parish of S. Peter, in the East Oxon; and there it was by some, who delighted in noveltie, drank.” On 11 July 1668, “a northerne man who came with a horse to one of Queen’s Coll died suddenly at the Angell – the scolars had given him too much drinke and meat”.

Wood records that many important visitors stayed at the Angel. On 3 May 1669 the Prince of Tuscany “came not till 12 of the clock this night, his lodging being taken for him at the Angell, for he had refused the vicechancellor’s offer of his lodgings at Chr.Ch”. John Seymour, 4th Duke of Somerset, stayed there in August 1672; the Prince of Neuburg with his retinue in June 1675; the Ambassador from the Emperor of Fez and Morocco in May 1682; and in May 1693 a “German prince ’tis said” arrived with a retinue of three coaches.

In 1823 Thomas Gellett is listed as the innkeeper here, and this is the name which is inscribed over the main entrance in the above engraving.

G. V. Cox in his Recollections of Oxford records that when Queen Adelaide visited Oxford on 19 October 1835, she stayed at the Angel:

Queen Adelaide paid rather a long visit to Oxford – long, that is, compared with other royal visits, which have been generally but flying ones. It was thought somewhat infra dig. that, instead of being received at the Lodgings of some dignitary, she should receive visitors at the Angel Hotel. There “she showed herself,” as she admired the view of the High Street from the balcony.

The Revd W. Tuckwell, in his Reminiscences of Oxford, describes what the hotel was like in its heyday in the 1830, when nine coaches a day left at 8 a.m. every morning:

The Angel was the fashionable hotel; the carriages and four of neighbouring magnates, Dukes of Marlborough and Buckingham, Lords Macclesfield, Abingdon, Camoys, dashed up to it; there, too, stopped all day post-chaises, travelling chariots, equipages of bridal couples, coaches from the eastern road; all visitors being received at the hall door by the obsequious manager Mr. Bishop, in blue tail-coat gilt-buttoned and velvet-collared, buff waistcoat, light kerseymere pantaloons, silk stockings and pumps, a gold eye-glass pendent from a broad black ribbon; and by Wallace, a huge mastiff, who made friends with every guest. All of it has vanished except the spacious coffee-room, which became Cooper’s shop.

At the time of the 1841 census the proprietor James Bishop lived here at the Angel Inn with eleven female servants and six female servants. Twenty people appear to have boarded at the inn on census night (including the servants of some of the boarders.

All coaching inns suffered from the effects of the railway, and on census night in 1851 (admittedly a Sunday night), only five guests were staying there: Sidney Herbert (a Member of Parliament) and his wife and two servants, and the Honourable F. Boyle, a student aged 36. Looking after them were 15 live-in members of staff: the manager (James Bishop, aged 61), together with a cook, housekeeper, second housekeeper, china-maid, housemaid, kitchenmaid, chambermaid, waiter, porter, plate-cleaner, bus driver, and three horse-keepers . Although there were two coaches still running to Oxford at this time (the Bath and the Cheltenham Coach) they were then horsed from the Railway Hotel.

In 1855 Samuel Young Griffith had put the declining Angel Inn up for sale, and while no buyer came forward for the main building, the grocer Francis Cooper paid £2,350 for the residue of a forty-year lease on Nos. 83 and 84.

This advertisement in the Oxford Directory of 1861 was a last attempt to revive the most famous of Oxford’s hotels:

ANGEL HOTEL, OXFORD. The Proprietor of the above old-established Hotel begs to return his sincere thanks to the Nobility, Gentry, and Public, for the distinguished patronage he has received for upwards of a quarter of a century, and has pleasure in stating that he has purchased the Hotel from the trustees of the late Miss Bully, and therefore hopes that he shall have a continuance of that liberal patronage which he has hitherto experienced. At this Hotel Families and Gentlemen visiting Oxford will find every comfort, so essential when absent from home, combined with economy. This Hotel is centrally situated, and will be found quiet and airy. Omnibuses from the Hotel meet every Train. Post Horses, Carriages and Flys of every description. A Night Porter always in attendance.

In 1860, John Murray’s handbook described the Oxford hotels as follows: “Inns: Angel, High Street; Mitre, High Street; Star, Cornmarket; King’s Arms, Broad Street,—all bad, comfortless, and very hich in charges. Mortimer Collins (1865) said,

“I don’t agree with his verdict. Of course Oxford hotels are rather above the average in charges; their class of customers makes them so. But the Mitre and Angel I have known for years, and can praise their cleanliness and comfort, not to say luxury. Few family hotels can surpass the Angel; and what Oxford man will not back the Mitre for a dinner against all England. The Angel is doomed: the lease has expired, and the University has purchased it.”

Later in 1865 the Angel was closed down and converted temporarily by the University into shops. In 1876 the main part the Angel was demolished to make way for the Examination Schools.

Advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 12 July 1828

List of coach departures in 1790s and in 1823

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 29 June, 2018

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