Oxford History: George Street


Old YMCA, George Street

YMCA, George Street, May 2009

The Oxford branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association was formed in 1847 and had various venues until 1891, when it opened in their first purpose-build premises, St George's Hall at the north-east end of George Street.

The YMCA used the whole No. 10 as well as the upper floors of the shops at Nos. 6, 8, and 12.

The building suffered a serious fire in 1917 and members moved to temporary premises in Cornmarket Street in 1917.

By the 1950s the YMCA had financial problems and sold this building to the Elliston & Cavell department store (later Debenham's) for £57,500. In 2012 the structure behind its whole façade was demolished and rebuilt.

Debenham's closed permanently in 1921 and the part of the building above the shops remains empty.


See Oxford Mail, 20 June 2012: “City centre building set for £6m revamp

Detail of YMCA building


The carving on the column between the upper-floor windows of No. 10 (shown in detail on the left) incorporates the entwined initials YMCA in the middle panel and the date 1891 in the lower one.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 14 March 1891 reported: “The memorial stones of the new buildings for the Oxford Young Men’s Christian Association in George-street, will be laid on Thursday next, March 19, at 3 p.m. The Master of University College, George Williams, Esq., of London, the Mayor (Ald. Buckell), and other gentlemen, will be present on the occasion.” The following week’s edition devotes almost four columns of tight print to the event.

The five-storey building was opened by Lord Kinnaird just eight months later on 26 November 1891. It was designed by F. W. Albury of Reading and built by Mr Hutchings. The cost (including the site and furnishings) was c.£5,000, funded by public subscription.

On the ground floor were three shops divided by flat pillars of polished granite, with moulded capitals and bases, and the rent from these went to the YMCA. Above that was a lecture hall seating 350 people, and above that again a gymnasium. There was also a library, committee room, classroom, and lavatories.

It was built with a three-light oriel window spanning two floors with a pyramidal turret above surmounted by a wrought-iron corona with a flagstaff. The window still exists, but the top floor, the turret and corona were destroyed in a serious fire in the building (then the Clarendon Restaurant) in June 1966.

The YMCA in George Street closed down on 14 June 1957.

For a photograph of 1913 showing campaigners outside the YMCA in George Street, see Malcolm Graham and Laurence Waters, Oxford Yesterday and Today, p. 24.


Earlier history of Oxford YMCA

The Oxford Branch of the YMCA was formed in 1847 by a group of young men met in a room in Wheeler’s Yard in Norfolk Street, St Ebbe’s. They soon moved to a larger room at the rear of 114 High Street, and then to 58 Cornmarket Street. In 1868, the Oxford association was dissolved, as it was not adequately supported.

On 20 October 1871 a meeting was held in the Council Chamber when it was resolved that “A Young Men’s Christian Association be formed in Oxford on the London basis”. It met in the Town Hall Committee Room until 1873, and then moved to King Edward Street for two years.

In 1878 it moved to 1 St Aldate’s, in 1884 to Cornmarket, in 1885 briefly to the Queen’s Theatre in George Street, and finally to New Inn Hall Street (St Michael's Street), where it remained until this new building was opened in 1891.





©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 17 July, 2023

Headington home Small Shark Oxford History home