Oxford History: The High


The Angel Inn & Hotel (formerly at 79–84)

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 Hotel

The above engraving shows the Angel Inn at its heyday in the 1820s. As it was a coaching inn, its trade seriously dwindled following the coming of the railways in the 1840s, and in 1876 most of the inn was demolished to make way for the Examination Schools.

83-84 High Street


The two houses on the right of the engraving formed the Angel's coffee room, and still survive today. These are now as follows:

The bus depot retains the hotel's original ionic columns on the upper floors and some of the stone frontage on the ground floor. The Grand Café is very different on the ground floor, but the upper storeys remain the same.

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

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.

On 4 August 1764 Jackson's Oxford Journal advertised the sale of “The Angel Inn, in the City of Oxford; with the Meadow Ground held therewith” (part of Angel & Greyhound Meadow).

Boswell in his Life of Johnson records that in 1776:

Upon our arrival at Oxford, Dr. Johnson and I went directly to University College, but were disappointed on finding that one of the fellows, his friend, Mr. Scott, who accompanied him from Newcastle to Edinburgh, was gone to the country. We put up at the Angel inn, and passed the evening by ourselves in easy and familiar conversation.

William Costar (formerly of the Cross Inn in Cornmarket) announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 30 January 1779 that he had taken over the Angel Inn.

William Bulby was the innkeeper here in 1791.

The Universal Business Directory of 1794 listed the following coaches from the Angel Hotel in the High Street:

A new and elegant post-coach every morning, at eight o'clock, to the Bell Inn, Holborn
A ditto every morning at seven o;clock, to the Golden Cross, Charing-cross
A coach at seven o'clock every morning to the Swan, Briminham, Sundays excepted
A post-coach, at six o'clock, to the Coach and Horses, Southampton, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, morning
A mail-coach to Bath and Bristol every morning at five o'clock to the White Hart, Bath, and Bush Tavern, Bristol; by Messrs Coster and Co. Oxford
— Boulton, Golden Cross, Charing-cross
— Gilbert, Old Bell, Holborn
— Pickworth, Bath and Bristol.
N/B. A whole coach to London at any hour
Likewise a mail-coach to London at half past ten in the evening
A ditto to London at elevn o'clock
A ditto to Worcester at four in the morning
A mail to Gloucester at four in the morning
Also a post coach to London at five in the morning, and one to Birmingham at twelve at night.

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

By 1832 the innkeeper was Samuel Young Griffith.

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 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, but Samuel Young Griffith continued to hold the licence.

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 the declining Angel Inn, which was described as being leasehold under Magdalen, University, and Oriel Colleges,was put up for sale, It was described as follows in the auction notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 24 March 1855:

This property has a frontage to the High-street of 102 feet, and extends in depth from the High-street to Merton-street (326 feet), forming altogether one of the largest and most commodious Hotels in the kingdom.

If not sold as a whole, it will immediately be offered in the following lots:—

Lot 1 will comprise the splendid COFFEE ROOM [now 83/84 High Street], 43 feet by 20 feet, 6 sitting rooms, 17 sleeping apartments, 2 water closets, china closet, kitchen, larder, extensive cellars, coach-house, and garden.
This lot would form a very superior Private Residence, or would be well adapted for a Collegiate Establishment.

Lot 2 comprises so much of the Property as originally constituted the ANGEL HOTEL, and contains the entrance hall, bar, 8 capital sitting rooms, 27 best bed rooms, 3 water closets, housekeeper's and waiters' rooms, kitchen, larder, extensive cellarage, coach office, and entrance gateway; the tap in yard, smoke room, large cellar, 8 servants' sleeping chambers, laundry, ostlery, coach-house, granary, stables for 25 horses, and 3 men's bed rooms over; also a Piece of enclosed Ground, let to Messrs Cooke and Cartwright, with a back entrance thereto from Merton Street.

Lot 3 comprises the DWELLING HOUSE, known as the ANGEL COTTAGE, with garden attached, and two large coach-houses, with an entrance thereto from Merton-street.

Lot 4 comprises SEVEN STABLES, with Granary and Lofts over, and has a frontage to Merton-street. These Buildings would form excellent Workshops or Warehouses, or might be converted into Dwelling Houses, with an entrance thereto from Merton-street.

The grocer Francis Cooper paid £2,350 for the residue of a forty-year lease on Nos. 83 and 84, and this part to the right survives today as the Oxford Bus Company rest room and a shop. It appears that a Miss Bully bought the inn itself, and then in 1861 following her death Samuel Young Griffith, who had run the inn since 1832, bought it, and inserted the following advertisement in the Oxford Directory of that year:

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.”

On 4 February 1865 the following advertisement for the forthcoming auction of the Angel Hotel taking place two weeks later on 9 February was published in Jackson's Oxford Journal;

JOJ 4 February 1865

At that auction in 1865 the University of Oxford purchased the Angel Hotel and 83 High Street for £1,800, with £169 for the fixtures. They closed the hotel down immediately, and let out Nos. 77–82 temporarily as shops..

By 30 March 1869 the University had demolished the stables, coach-houses, offices, and workshops at the back of the Angel Hotel, three cottages in the yard, ten cottages and extensive workshops in Angel Passage, and four of the houses at the front (80, 81, and 82 High Street to the west, but the fourth is uncertain), as their building materials were offered by auction that day “on purpose to clear the ground for the intended New Erections”.

The eastern part of the Angel Hotel continued to be let out by the University as shops until 1876, when the University demolished what remained to make way for the Examination Schools.

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 12 November, 2023

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