Oxford History: The High


102: Brora

102 High Street

No. 102 (on the corner of Oriel Street) was built with No. 103 next door in about 1714 by William Ives, a wealthy mercer. The pair of houses are Grade II listed (List Reference No. 1047251), and were a single shop until the 1950s, but have now separated again.

The window on the first floor has an ionic column each side, and the building is grander than its three neighbours, its high ceilings allowing it to have only three floors to their four.

102 and 103 in 1814

The 1772 Survey of Oxford shows that Mr Towsey occupied No. 102 (frontage 4 yards 2 ft 9 in) and Stevens No. 103 (frontage 6 yards 2ft 9 in).

Mr Costar, a grocer, had a lease on Nos. 102 and 103 in 1799 and 1818, but he appears to have let the two shops, as they are marked as occupied by West and Loder respectively in an Oriel College plan of 1814 (left).

Richard J. Spiers took possession of this shop on 6 March 1834. The Revd W. Tuckwell, in his Reminiscences of Oxford describes the shop in the 1830s:

In 1835 the house of Wood, the apothecary, at the entrance to Skimmery Hall Lane [Oriel Street], was translated into Spiers’, now itself extinct, but for nearly sixty years inseparable from Oxford life, better served and more artistic in its merchandise than any shop in England. Its display of papier mâché and of ceramic ware, surrounding a beautiful cardboard model of the Martyrs’ Memorial, was one of the features in the 1851 Exhibition.

Hunt’s Directory for 1846 has two advertisements for Spiers: one is for ornamental hair, and the other lists some of the novelties for sale, namely: writing desks; inkstands; envelope cases; blotting portfolios; cases of French writing paper; card cases; memorandum tablets; ornamental paper cutters; glove boxes; work boxes, dressing cases; musical boxes of all sizes; richly ornamented papier mâché goods, with views of Oxford; silver baskets, card cases, and vinaigrettes, with views of Oxford in relief; bagatelle tables; chessmen and boards; mantelpiece and drawing-room ornaments, in French porcelain, Bohemian glass, bronze, &c.

At the time of the 1851 census, the upstairs premises of Nos. 102 and 103 were occupied by Spiers’ employees, headed by William Harvey, the manager of the shop, and his wife. There were also three counting house clerks, two shopmen, a stationer’s apprentice, and a general servant.

In 1861, the upstairs of the two shops was occupied by three employees: the accountant William Sylvester, who described himself as the supervisor; cabinet goods salesman; and a china salesman.

In 1871 the upstairs premises were occupied by Spiers's manager and commercial clerk Alfred Bannister and his wife.

Spiers' shop at 102

The picture of Spiers’ shop at 102 High Street shown above was drawn by Cuthbert Bede for his book The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green, published in 1853. Verdant is taken in by the joke that Wordsworth wrote “Oh ye Spires of Oxford” in praise of the shop, which shows how the name Spiers was pronounced. Mr Green ended up buying the following “remembrances of Oxford”: a fire-screen to be prepared with the family coat of arms for his father; another with a view of the High for his aunt; a netting-box, card-case, and a model of the Martyrs’ Memorial for his three sisters; and a paper-knife for himself.

In 1891 Nos. 102 and 103, together with Nos. 1, 2, and 3 Oriel Street, were fitted out specially as a large tailor’s shop for Messrs Adamson. Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 17 October 1891 (p. 8b) reports that the work was done by Knowles & Son, directed by the Surveyor to Oriel College, the owners of the property. The premises were divided into business and domestic sections, the sanitary arrangements were overhauled, and a water heating system and baths were fitted. The premises were also redecorated and electric bells installed.

Occupiers of 102 High Street


Spiers & Son, Stationers, desk & dressing-case makers, and general fancy warehousemen
[also at No. 103 from 1861]


Adamson & Co., Tailors
[also occupied No. 103 and 1–3 Oriel Street]




Greenaway & Morris, Photographic dealers


Morris Photographic Centre



©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 August, 2016

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