Nos. 1–3: Boswells of Oxford


The first five shops of Broad Street proper were demolished in 1928 to make way for Boswell House, a six-storey building comprising a department store for H. Boswell & Co. Ltd, including offices and a restaurant upstairs and two additional small ground-floor shop units (4 & 5 Broad Street) to the left. It was built by E. Organ & Son in 1929, and is owned by Oxford City Council

Boswell’s department store moved into the large corner premises immediately in 1929, and has been there ever since.

Plans for City Drug Stores, 1927

The above drawing shows the 1927 plans for the “City Drug Stores” produced by A. S. G. Butler, who acted as consulting architect on behalf of the Oxford Preservation Trust. The Trust’s Second Annual Report 1927–1928 explains why it had become involved in the project:

Broad Street. Some years ago the City Council let out on building lease to Mr. Pearson a large section of the southern frontage at the west end of Broad Street, opposite the eighteenth-century part of Balliol College. Mr. Pearson’s intention is to build on this site a number of shops with offices in the upper storeys, and his architects (Messrs. North, Robin & Wilsdon, of 35 Maddox Street, London, W.1) prepared plans, skilfully designed in their interior disposition, to meet the purpose which Mr. Pearson had in view. These plans came before the Town Planning Committee of the City Council for consideration, and the Committee felt that, in view of the importance of the site, the question of the design of the elevation was one of capital importance.


Francis Boswell originally started selling travelling goods at 50 Cornmarket Street (just north of Frewin Court) in 1738, and his business remained in the Boswell family until 1890, when Henry Boswell sold it to Arthur Pearson of the Oxford Drug Company, and until 1928 Boswell’s remained just a small shop at 50 Cornmarket, described in directories as “Portmanteau makers”. But when they moved into the present Boswell House in 1929, they soon became “Hardware merchants”, and from 1952 they were listed thus: “Hardware & kitchen equipment, refrigeration engineers, leather & travel goods, cutlery, silverware & fancy jewellery & household linens”.

Oxford Drug Company

Arthur Pearson had also bought Alderman James Stanley Lowe’s shop at 31 Cornmarket back in 1882, and ran his own ironmonger’s shop there until 1912, when he moved his premises to George Street. By 1889 Pearson had also bought the Oxford Drug Company on the corner of Broad Street, but when it was demolished to make way for William Baker House in 1915, Pearson moved his business round the corner to 31 Cornmarket Street, which he had rebuilt in 1912 and which now forms the western section of Boswell’s.

Although Boswell’s and the Oxford Drug Company in Cornmarket Street had been united in common ownership in 1890, it was only in 1958 an opening was made to join the two buildings, and they remain united today. They form Oxford’s largest independent department store.

Boswell’s of Oxford is still owned by the Pearson family, and have thus been under the same ownership since 1890 (albeit that they were each in different shops in Cornmarket until 1928).

Businesses that have occupied Boswell House


Boswells of Oxford
(formerly Boswell & Co & Oxford Drug Company)
Department Store and Chemists



Kemp Hall Cafeteria (”The Kemp”)


Vintage Car Restaurant



By 1983–1995

Chit-Chat Restaurant


Soprano Restaurant


Restaurant du Liban


Embassy (Oxford) English School

Among the building which had to be demolished to make way for the present Boswell’s was William Baker’s old premises (for more details see the page on William Baker House) and the eighteenth-century North Star pub at 2 Broad Street. At the time of the 1851 census the North Star pub was occupied by John White and his wife and four young children; in 1861 by John Marsh with his wife, son, and niece; and in 1881 the publican was a widow, Mrs Eliza Smith, who lived there with her two sons.

The Boswell’s site incorporates the Martyrs’ bastion of the city wall.

Pictures from English Heritage:

The advertisement below shows that in 1961 you could get a three-course lunch at The Kemp for 4/6

Advertisement for “The Kemp”

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Stephanie Jenkins

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