Oxford History: The High

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115: Hobbs Outfitters


115 High Street

No. 115 dates from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is a Grade II listed building (List Entry No. 1047255).

The Wyatt family sold prints here for most of the nineteenth century. The building was a favourite haunt of the pre-Raphaelites: Sir John Everett Millais (1829–96) once stayed here, and in 1849 painted a well-known picture of James Wyatt with his granddaughter.

James Wyatt the elder (1774–1853) was the son of Oxford baker Thomas Wyatt, and was apprenticed to the carver and gilder Robert Archer in 1790. In 1805 he established himself as a carver and gilder at this shop., and by 1811 he had begun to deal in pictures and prints, and in 1823 is listed in Pigot’s Directory as being only a printseller in the High Street. He was also a prominent figure in Oxford’s public life, serving as councillor and alderman for nearly 40 years and as Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1842–3.

At the time of the 1851 census, James Wyatt the younger, who was born in this building and continued his father’s business as a printseller, lived in the house with his wife and two daughters (Mary, aged 5, and Sarah, aged 2), plus three servants. (The child in the picture of 1849 is probably Mary, who would then have been three.) James Wyatt the elder, then aged 77 and an alderman, continued to live with his son in the house, as did his unmarried daughters, Ann and Elizabeth.

In 1861 James Wyatt the younger was the head of the household here with his wife and three daughters (Mary, Sarah, and Florence Mildred) and his son James, as well as his unmarried sisters Ann and Elizabeth. By 1881, when he was 70, he was described as a JP and printseller, and was still living over the shop with his wife and his youngest daughter Florence.

In 1885 Rowell & Son, jewellers, moved from 20 High Street to these premises, where they remained for over a hundred years. In 1986 the jewellery business was closed by the then owners (the Goldie family, who were related to the Rowells), and the premises were taken over by the Liberty retail company. Former employees of the original firm started up a new jewellery business called Rowell’s in Turl Street, retaining the old name-plate.

R. A. H. Spiers wrote about this shop in Round about “The Mitre”at Oxford (1926):

The large shop in the High Street now occupied by Messrs Rowell & Son was formerly Tom’s coffee-house. The front portion … was the general room, but the back room was the sanctum of dons, and Mr Wyatt (who formerly occupied these premises) used to point out the Chippendale chairs which had been there more than a century, and tell how the room was always known as ‘The House of Lords’, set apart for men like Tom Warton or Dr Johnson. The chairs had been sat on by many a learned talker, while he and his listeners enjoyed their pipes and coffee. In the seventeenth century these premises were known as the King’s Arms. They were occupied in 1751 by a Captain Jolly, a well-known coach owner, who probably also rented the adjoining Coach Offices.

This shop used to have a large room at the back, known as the Long Room, which was accessed from a passage at the side. From about 1829 the Long Room was the first proper home of the Oxford Union Society (founded in 1823), and debates took place here until they moved into their new premises in St Michael Street in 1857. The Long Room was sold to Lincoln College in 1969 and demolished and replaced with student accommodation.

Occupiers of 115 High Street since 1811

Before 1811–1885

James Wyatt, later J. Wyatt & Son, Printsellers & Publishers, Carvers & Gilders

William Angelos, Fencing Master, listed here in 1839

1887–1892

Rowell & Harris, Watchmakers, jewellers, & opticians

1893–1986

R. S. Rowell (later Rowell & Son Ltd), Watchmaker & jeweller

1986–1997

Liberty

1997–present

Hobbs Outfitters

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 August, 2016

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