About Us

2018 marks our 280th anniversary, and to celebrate we want to share our celebrations with you! Stay tuned for exciting news and events throughout the year, and send us your memories for a chance to win a £50 gift voucher in our prize draw (more info here)!

Boswells has been trading in Oxford since 1738 and is one of the oldest family owned independent department stores in the world. As well as being Oxford's largest independent department store. We specialise in Cookwares, Homewares, Toys, Gifts, Luggage & Travel Accessories, Beauty & Cosmetics and unusually for a department store a Pharmacy.  In November 2015 we added a very popular Tea Room.

We are known in Oxford for stocking a far wider range of goods than many of our chain-store competitors. Our fully trading website displays most, but not all of the goods available in our store due to the speed of stock turnover, but we are always adding more. If we don’t have what you are looking for online please ask as we may have it in store.

We are a small company with big ideals. All of us at Boswells know that you are our greatest asset and we will do our best to please you with a smile. Our aim is to offer you a good selection of quality products at the best prices in Oxford. We try very hard to provide the best service in Oxford and we intend to do the same with our online business.

We are located in the heart of Oxford’s shopping streets, but still near many of Oxford’s famous landmarks, including St Michael’s Saxon tower the oldest building Oxford practically next door.

Our History

Boswells 19th century advertsOriginally Francis Boswell started selling travel goods at 50 Cornmarket Street in 1738 and it is rumoured that Captain Cook took Boswell suitcases on his voyages of discovery. By the mid 1800s several members of the Boswell's family were using separate but nearby premises for related businesses to do with cabinet making (Henry), leather working & travel products (Francis) , Coopers & Turners (Carol/Charlotte).

Henry Boswell was also a noted bryologist (that's a biologist specialising in mosses, liverworts, and hornworts fact fans) and his herbarium was located at Oxford's Botanical Gardens and his papers are now located at the Natural History Museum in London.

The business remained in the Boswell family until the line of direct succession ended in 1890. Following this the business was passed to Arthur Pearson, the then owner of the Oxford Drug Company a friendly neighbour of the Boswells store on Cornmarket St. Boswells and the Oxford Drug Company are still owned by the Pearson family, and have therefore been under the same ownership since 1890. This is also the cause of the integral pharmacy business within Boswells.

The current Pearson family members are the Managing Director and Company Secretary and are involved in the business every day.

our historyBoswells moved into Boswell House on Broad St in 1929 the time that the drawing on the right was created. Here they were soon recognised as “Hardware merchants” and later as “Hardware & kitchen equipment, refrigeration engineers, leather & travel goods, cutlery, silverware & fancy jewellery & household linens. In truth pretty much everything has been sold at Boswells at one time in our history reflecting changing trends and local competition. Despite this 60 year financial connection it was only in 1958 that the 2 buildings containing the Oxford Drug company on Cornmarket and Boswell House on Broad St were physically connected. Creating the current united buildings today. Indeed we surround the Waterstones bookstore on the corner, which leads some to assume we own this illustrious company too, sadly no.

Being such a long standing business Boswells has seen massive amounts of change, good times and bad times in the world and in business. Our staff have met and married whilst employed here and sometimes generations have worked alongside each other.  The same is of course true for our customers many of whom move from excited youngsters keen to get to the first floor toys department, to young men & women buying presents and suitcases to travel the world, to parents stocking their home from our cook and homewares departments and trying to handle their children who are keen to get to the Toys department and the cycle goes on. On one memorable occasion a customer even gave birth in store! Which may be taking the customer lifecycle a bit far. We look foward to continue serving the people of Oxford and around and via this website the rest of the UK and overseas.

Read our blog find out a bit more about our long history here in Oxford!

See our Opening Times & Location

Read more about our store departments