Memories of Boswells

Memories of Boswells

To kick off our 280th birthday celebrations, we’ve been gathering up memories of Boswells from staff and customers alike. We’ve been learning all sorts of fascinating things about our own history along the way, and so we’d like to give you a little taste of what we’ve learned so far…

 

Fond Childhood Memories 

A little childhood magic can really forge fond memories. We’re truly honoured to hear that we are a part of so many of your wonderful, early memories!

Whitey ImageJan Barnard sent us this picture of a toy she got from Boswells as a child. We’re told that he’s called Whitey, and it looks to us like he’s had a long, happy life. Here’s Jan’s memory of getting Whitey: “My parents used to take me to the toy department in the 60’s when we lived in Oxford. You used to walk down a big wooden staircase into the toy department that was magnificent and enter a magical world. When I broke my arm and had to have it set at the old Radcliffe Mum took me there to treat me to a toy and I picked a toy dog which I still have. Wonderful childhood memories.”

We’ve also been hearing lots of magnificent tales of trips to see Father Christmas in store. Susan Walters sent us this fantastic memory of a visit to the North Pole (via Broad Street, of course):

“I am 70 years old and this is my most favourite memory of my childhood. The Father Christmas train ride to meet him. I honestly thought we were on a train as we sat in a carriage and watched the land go by through the windows. Then when we arrived, we went to the end of the carriage to see Father Christmas to get a present. Never dawned on me when we went out of another door that we were still in the shop but hadn't travelled back! Wonderful magical memory.”

 

Entering the World of Work

Boswells 1960s Image

There’s nothing quite like your first job to prepare you for what life has to offer, and so we’re very proud to have been somewhere where so many of you could make your first ventures into the working world!

Matt Muller got in touch to tell us about his first job, working as a Saturday boy in 1962:

“I can’t remember exactly when I started, but I recall looking forward to earning real money in order to indulge in my passion–pop records. Mr Piper was my boss. He was in charge of Linen and Leather. I have fond memories of Mr Piper, he was a small man, kind and supportive of his staff, thorough but someone you would not mess about! I met my longest standing friend in Boswells, John, another Saturday boy who now lives in Holland.”

Mary Anne Brown, who worked for Boswells in 1982, also fondly remembered her time here:

“Working in the upstairs office at Boswells was my first job after leaving school in 1982. I counted the takings each day in a time when credit cards were used much less and people often paid with cheques and cash. We had no computers. All accounts were recorded in ledgers. We worked at decades old wooden desks and chairs; it was quite a big deal when we had wheeled office chairs bought for us! I remember the two brothers that owned/ran the store; Mr. Tony and Mr. Christopher. Their first names were used since they shared the same last name, which would be confusing; but they were still always referred to as ‘Mr.’ In fact, all the department heads were called ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ –never by their first name.”

Things have changed quite a lot around here since 1982, although the novelty of the wheeled chairs still hasn’t worn off…especially in those parts of the store where the 1920s flooring isn’t quite close to level…

 

First Impressions

Cookshop Team ImageThe staff here at Boswells have been sharing some of their memories of what the store was like when they first started working here.

Linda in our Cookshop has been with us for an impressive 27 years and has seen the shop change a lot in that time.

“I was amazed at how big the store was. The Gift department had a large till in the middle of the shop floor which was very busy, went in to the China department, which is now the Pharmacy. There was lots of large stands with many different manufacturers names on and full of all sorts of china.” Getting to grips with the size and scale of the store is something that a lot of Boswells staff remember finding tricky at first, but the building really does have its own special charm!

Laura in our Luggage Department started working at Boswells 10 and a half years ago and has worked in most departments at one point or other.

She told us that her “First week consisted of Saturdays at the beginning. My first day I was quiet, shy maybe. I had a lot to learn, I started on a department that is no longer there. Also, the building at the time was a maze to whoever didn’t know where they were going.” Laura quickly got the hang of things and is now quite skilled at helping newer members of the Boswells team come out of their shells.

 

Expect the Unexpected...

Sometimes it’s the amusing, but unplanned moments that stay with us. Marion Rea sent us this fantastic memory about when she first came to Oxford:

Gifts Image

“As newly arrived students my friends Lisa, Jane and I bought a casserole dish together in Boswells in order to recreate the tastes of home that we were all missing. We proceeded to blow it up—even Pyrex isn't able to withstand being heated on a hob—causing a spectacular shower of glass across our shared kitchen, a fire alarm, and a long-standing reputation for domestic incompetence. But... we learned our lesson and the replacement Boswells casserole dish is still going strong, nearly 30 years later, and we three students remain great friends.”

Strange and unexpected things have also been known to happen to our staff. Lorraine in our Gifts Department recalled a time when a “Pigeon flew into the Broad St window and while everyone else was trying to rescue it Phil [who worked in Luggage at the time] went and got his camera to photograph the people running around.” Jen from Gifts informs us that in the middle of this kerfuffle, the pigeon actually landed on a member of staff, and stayed there long enough for Phil to get his camera! 

 

Fun and Games

Emma Meets the Queen ImageEmma in our stock room has been telling us about the celebrations the staff held for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. “We all dressed up in red, white and blue costumes and had a tea party in our staff room. I won the prize for best costume, as pictured, and won a giant chocolate gold medal!!!” Unfortunately Her Majesty was rather busy that day, so a cardboard "lookalike" stood in to do the honours...

Serena in our Cookshop has worked for Boswells for 32 years, and so unsurprisingly has plenty of stories to tell about her time here. This one particularly made us chuckle:

“[In the old lift] you would slam the inside door and there was a little window, and you could see when the lift was coming up. And when it literally died, my old boss, Mavis, put a bunch of flowers in there, put in there ‘R.I.P’. Of course, everyone, when the doors opened, thought somebody had died in there. She didn’t do it for that. It was because the lift was gonna be taken out…so it was like ‘goodbye’ to that lift. It served us well.”

 

A Little Piece of History

Boswells Building Design ImageAnd finally we were delighted to recently hear from Janice Bridges, who has a very special family connection to Boswells…

“I remember when I was a child that every time my mother and I shopped at Boswells she would say my Grandfather built this shop. Indeed, she was correct; E Organ and Sons created a fabulous piece of architecture for Oxford… Stand back and look up at the building next time you are shopping at Boswells. My family are so proud of the connection with such a wonderful store.”

 

How to Enter Our Memories Competition

We’re very lucky to have been surrounded by such wonderful people for the past 280 years! Boswells is the world’s second oldest independent department store, and made up of all of our stories, memories and experiences of it. With our memories, we all get to be a part of Boswells’ heritage, and we think that’s really quite wonderful.

A huge thank you to everyone who has entered our Memories of Boswells competition so far. I you haven’t entered it yet, we’d love to hear your recollections too!

The winner of our prize draw will win a £50 gift card, and have their memory included in our very own time capsule! To enter, all you need to do is send us your memories or photos of the store during May (more info on how to enter and the full terms and conditions can be found here).

So, what are your fondest memories of Boswells?

15th May 2018

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