Boswells Blog

27th December 2018

Discover the Incredible Story of the Woman who Gave Birth in Boswells Department Store

Discover the Incredible Story of the Woman who Gave Birth in Boswells Department Store

When a store is around for quite as long as Boswells has been, it starts to collect stories and memories of unexpected things that have happened through the centuries. If you like, Boswells’ history is a sort of tapestry of people and their stories. As our 280th year draws to a close, we thought we’d share one of our favourite of these stories with you, which took place 21 years ago this month.

The Birth

Toy Department Image

In December 1997 a baby girl, Malaika, was unexpectedly born here in store in what was, at the time, our ladies changing room. Her mother, Viviane, had been in labour earlier that day, but was sent home from the hospital as she was only 2 cm dilated. Viviane already had 3 boys and so was sceptical about being sent home so she stayed with a friend, Valerie, who needed to pop into Boswells to pick up some bits from our Haberdashery. Of course, it was at that point that things started to happen…

Viviane suddenly felt a strong urge to push, and her waters finally broke. This was in the days when Boswells had a Ladies Fashion Department and so she dashed into a nearby changing room. These used to stand where we now keep our Keel soft toys, just along the wall, next to the ramp between the 2 parts of our Toy Department. Luckily, Viviane was still wearing a nightie, bed socks and a jumper, as she’d been expecting to stay in hospital, so thankfully she was conveniently dressed to give birth.

The birth happened very quickly, with baby Malaika being born straight into the arms of Valerie. By this time, as you would hope, our staff had rather noticed that there was a woman screaming in labour in the changing rooms, and so they sprang into action. A first aider attended from our Pharmacy, and one of our current Buyers, Marie, remembers closing off the area to other customers and sending colleagues to quickly get towels. As Valerie caught Malaika, Marie told them the time of the birth.

Eeyore Toy Image

Our staff stayed with both mother and baby until the ambulance arrived to take them to the hospital, and Viviane tells us that the changing rooms were a good spot to wait, as it had a calming low-light. She fed her daughter for the first time while she waited.

By the time the ambulance had arrived the news had spread and Viviane remembers a crowd of well wishers from the staff and customers shouting congratulations and best wishes, which is rather a nice memory to have don't you think?

A few weeks later Viviane visited the store with baby Malaika and we gave them a stuffed Eeyore toy and a large teddy bear to mark the momentous occasion. Eeyore is still sround today and they kindly brought him in for a photo.

Catching Up with Viviane and Malaika in 2018

We recently sat down to a cup of tea and a scone with Viviane and Malaika in our 1738 Tea Room to get their thoughts on the whole experience, and life since then.

Viviane and Malika 2018

For Viviane, we discovered, the birth was rather dreamlike; a true WOW moment in her life. She told us that she enjoys talking about it and visiting the store as it makes it all feel more real—although Malaika is also good proof of the event. In fact, Malaika’s birth certificate actually has 1-4 Broad Street listed as her birthplace, giving her a permanent connection to Boswells, and us to her as well.

Malaika uses the fact that she was born in a shop as a conversational icebreaker and when she was little she used to tell all of her friends about it. She’s currently studying for a Geography degree at UCL and is thinking of doing a Masters, possibly on Climate Change or other Global impacts.

Viviane went on to get a BA in Contemporary Art & Music. She is now a professional artist and has since done a picture of the outside of Boswells. She has worked with international fashion designers and her postcards of drawings of Oxford Town Hall are sold in the Town Hall shop. She goes to art fairs and sells online. Both Viviane and Malaika have continued to shop at Boswells over the years. They both like living in Oxford and Viviane thinks she will always live here.

To mark Malaika’s 21st birthday this month, we gave her a special gift of a birthday afternoon tea in our Tea Room and a Boswells gift card worth £210 (see what we did there), which she plans to put towards items for a semester studying abroad this year, possibly a suitcase. Happy birthday, Malaika! We’re very proud to be a part of your story, and to have you as a part of ours!

15th May 2018

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?

29th April 2018

Celebrating 280 Years of Boswells of Oxford

Celebrating 280 Years of Boswells of Oxford

In celebration of our 280th year, we’ve been exploring our archives, digging through old photos, and marvelling at all of the changes the store has witnessed over the course of its long and illustrious life. So, let us take you back in time through our archives, and show you a little of our history…

Read on to discover our story, or choose from one of the below links to find out about a particular era of Boswells history!









Celebrating Boswells

Key Dates 


Boswells' Beginnings (1738-1845)

Old Trunk Image
A trunk manufactured by F. Boswell, date unknown.

In 1738 Francis Boswell opened a trunk and portmanteau (luggage) shop at 50 Cornmarket Street, Oxford (where Clarks Shoes now is). He might have imagined that his small family business, making cases and leather goods for the people of Oxford, would offer him a comfortable enough living, and a stable inheritance for his son. It seems doubtful that he would have had any notion that Boswells would grow to what it is today.

We’re extremely proud to have kept the Boswells tradition of selling luggage going continuously for 280 years, and we hope that Francis Boswell would approve of the skilled craftmanship of the Samsonite and American Tourister cases we sell today!

In the 18th century it was quite common for children to learn their family trade, and so Francis’s eldest son, Henry, was taught how to make luggage—and very fine luggage we understand too! And so Boswells, and the skills of the trade, passed from one generation to the next. And the next…

Soon, Francis Boswells’ small start-up had become a well reputed family business, spanning generations. 

The Eighteenth Century (1846-1861)

Charlotte Boswell Advert 
An advert for Charlotte Boswell's shop at 48 Cornmarket Street, 1846.

By 1846 the 4th generation of the Boswell family inherited the family business, with three of the children each taking on a different speciality. The eldest son, Francis, inherited his father’s trunk making shop at 50 Cornmarket Street, and his sister Charlotte took on 48 Cornmarket Street. Charlotte became a cooper and turner, specialising in wood turning. Henry Boswell, the youngest of the family, moved part of the business from 48 Cornmarket St to 2 George Street, and worked as a cabinet maker and upholsterer.

Francis Boswell married a woman named Jane, and together they raised 6 little Boswells above the shop. They were to be the 5th and final generation of the Boswell family to take on the business.

Henry Boswell (1862-1890)

Boswells 1870 Image

Boswells in about 1865-70. We believe the men standing outside the shop may have been Henry Boswell and his employees. 

 When the business finally passed to the young Henry Boswell in 1862, the company name changed from F. Boswell to H. Boswell (and officially remains H. Boswell & Co. to this day). Henry Boswell was an ambitious man. He wasn't afraid to make changes to his great, great grandfather's company, and was a keen to modernise and grow the business. 

Around 1871, Boswells expanded into 49 Cornmarket Street, adding hosiery to its bag of tricks. In 1874 Henry rebuilt 47-51 Cornmarket Street entirely, and the buildings that are there today are the product of his vision and enterprise. Nice work Henry Boswell (we particularly like the little turret on the end)!

47-51 Cornmarket St in 2018 Image

47-50 Cornmarket Street today. The building was commissioned by Henry Boswell in about 1874.
Henry Boswell was also an Oxford graduate, specialising in a type of biology called bryology—the study of mosses. He wrote and published a number of articles on the subject, while somehow also running a successful business. Oxford Botanic Gardens still look after his collection of mosses, which is a rather lovely continuation of his work. 

Henry and his wife, Catherine, didn't have any children, and so the company passed to Arthur Pearson in 1890. While 152 years and 5 generations of Boswell family involvement had come to an end, this was the beginning of several generations of Pearsons who would take care of the company, and keep its long-standing family outlook alive and well, right into the 21st century. 

Enter the Pearsons (1890-1927)

Pearsons, date unknown image

Pearson & Co at 31 Cornmarket Street. Date unknown.

Arthur Pearson was a local business owner and pharmacist. He ran The Oxford Drug Company at 1 Broad Street, and had recently purchased Lowe & Co. Ironmongers at 31 Cornmarket Street. It seems that H. Boswell & Co. had such a good reputation locally that Boswells proudly kept its name. And here we still are!

Around 1913 The Oxford Drug Company (which is still Boswells’ Pharmacy) moved to 31 Cornmarket Street. Today this part of the shop is our Accessories and Games Departments, but 31 Cornmarket Street was a separate shop unit until the 1950s. The Cornmarket entrance to Boswells is the most historic part of the building, and its history is what helps create its “Tardis-like” illusion of being the frontage to something much smaller than it is (we do like to keep our customers pleasantly surprised!)

City Wall, Martyrs Tower Image

One of the few remaining parts of Oxford's city walls, Martyr's Tower. View from Boswells.

This older portion of Boswells is where the old city walls and moat once ran. We’re told that Cornmarket Street used to be called Northgate Street, because it was the Northern entrance to Oxford through the medieval city walls. Behind the store, hidden, we have lovely view of one of the few remaining parts of the city walls, "Martyrs Tower."

Apparently, when our basement was first dug out (we think around 1912/13) some remaining parts of the city walls were excavated. Unfortunately, these parts of the wall had been holding up St Michael’s church’s graveyard for hundreds of years, and when portions of the wall were removed, skeletons came tumbling into what is now Boswells Cookshop Department! We’re assured that these were swiftly removed and re-buried at St Michael’s…


The Move to Broad Street (1928-1991)

Boswells House Drawing Image

The original design for Boswells House, 1920s.

In the 1920s plans began to move Boswells to a new building on Broad Street. By the time ground was broken on the new site, it was Arthur Pearson’s son, Arthur Hearne Pearson, who was running things. In order to make way for the new Boswell House at 1-4 Broad Street, the existing buildings on the spot were demolished, including the dilapidated former home of the celebrated poet W.B. Yeats, and the end of the street was widened.

Boswells moved into its new home between 1928-29. When we revamped the 2nd floor in 2015, we discovered that some of the walls had been made from straw, which we can only put down to depression era resourcefulness! The builders had great trouble removing these, and it turns out that Straw is actually a very strong and stubborn building material!

Boswells 1960s Image

Boswells, late 1960s-early 1970s.

Boswells, having always been a company to embrace change—perhaps the secret to long life—continued to adapt, and in the 1950s The Oxford Drug Company and Boswells House were united by a passage, to form the building as it now is.

The store operated as a sort of arcade until the 1960s, when Tony and Christopher Pearson (the sons of Arthur Hearne Pearson) took on the company. This generation of Pearson's brought the departments together in a new way, forming the store we now know and love.

Many of our staff still fondly recall Tony Pearson handing out the wages in person, and stopping to chat with staff and customers alike. Its fair to say that as Boswells has grown and expanded, so has the Boswells family, and the staff of Boswells really are a big family, many of which have worked here for a decade or two.

Into the 21st Century (1992-2018)

Tea Room

Boswells 1738 Tea Room on the day of its launch, November 2015.

In the early 1990s, just over 100 years after Boswells had passed into the Pearson family, Jonathan and Sarah Pearson (cousins) took the helm, modernising things somewhat, but also retaining that old Boswells charm that has seen us through the centuries.

And, of course, we’ve not been idle since. We added a website in 2014,, our popular 1738 Room in 2015 and added our Broad Street Café this March. 

The company has been in the Pearson family now for 4 generations; that's 128 years, and still going strong!

Celebrating Boswells

Boswells Staff Photo 2016 Image

Some of the wonderful staff of Boswells on International Women's Day, 2016.


It’s probably fair to say, that in some ways we aren’t quite your typical old department store. We think that the thing that has become traditional about Boswells is not necessarily the building or what we sell, but Boswells itself. It's been passed from generation to generation of owners for 280 years, but it has also been passed down through generations of customers and employees. We proudly serve the community around us, knowing that it's the people of Oxford that have made our 280 years so special.

In that spirit, we welcome you to celebrate our 280th year with us! We’d love to hear your memories of the store! We’re offering you a chance to win a £50 gift voucher and for your memory to be included in our time capsule in our competition! Simply send us your memories or photos of the store this May to enter (more info here).

We’ll also be sharing some more treasures from our archives throughout the year, along with our staff’s recollections of their time here. Keep your eyes peeled for news of exciting 280th year celebrations throughout 2018!

Key Dates in Boswells' History

  • 1738 - Francis Boswell opens his trunk making shop on Cornmarket Street.
  • 1840s - The 4th generation of the Boswell family starts to branch out and take on new skills. Francis Boswell runs his great grandfather's original trunk making shop, while his sister Charlotte is running the shop 2 doors down as a cooper and turner. The youngest of the siblings, Henry, is a cabinet maker on George Street.
  • 1860s - Henry Boswell inherits Boswells. He is the 5th and final Boswell to own the company.
  • 1870s - Henry Boswell expands his shop into 49 Cornmarket Street, and after a few years rebuilds 47-51 Cornmarket Street. The building is still there today. 
  • 1890s - Henry Boswell has no heirs, and so Boswells passes to Arthur Pearson, who also owns the Oxford Drug Company, as well as an iron monger's shop, Lowe & Co.
  • 1910s - The Oxford Drug Company moves from 1 Broad Street to 31 Cornmarket Street (previously Lowe & Co.). When excavating the basement, parts of the old city walls are unearthed, along with medieval artefacts in what was once the city moat. Skeletons from St Michael's graveyard fall through into the basement during the excavation, and are reburied. 
  • 1920s - Arthur Hearne Pearson inherits the company. Boswells moves to its new home in Boswells House at 1-4 Broad Street, where it is today.
  • 1950s - A connecting passage is constructed, finally joining The Oxford Drug Company to the rest of Boswell House. 
  • 1960s - Tony and Christopher Pearson run the store, transforming it from being an arcade of departments into a more fully unified department store. 
  • 1990s - Jonathan and Sarah Pearson join Boswells. The building and technology are modernised, preparing Boswells for the new millennium. 
  • 2010s - Boswells opens its first fully trading website, its 1738 Tea Room and the Broad Street cafe. 
27th February 2018

Top Ideas for Planning the Perfect Mother's Day

Top Ideas for Planning the Perfect Mother's Day

Our mums are amazing people, well deserving of a special day where we recognise all the incredible things they’ve done for us. Finding the perfect way to thank the person that brought you into the world, and has run around tirelessly (or in many cases, tiredly) after you ever since, is not the easiest task. Where to even begin?

Mother’s Day is all about Mum, so the most important thing to consider here is what her interests are—what would she like to do? What does she enjoy? Once you’ve figured out this part, the rest should be much, much easier. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few suggestions to help get you on your way to making Mother’s Day really special.

Take in a Little Culture

If your mum is really into music, history or the arts, why not treat her to a day filled with cultural delights? One of the truly great things about Oxford is that it has no shortage of amazing things to see and do, even if you know the city well.

Make a trip to one of the city’s fantastic, free museums and take in the paintings at the Ashmolean, the dinosaurs at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, or the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Or maybe check out a little local history at the Museum of Oxford or Oxford Town Hall. If you both already know these places well, then why not try one of the latest exhibitions? There are tonnes to choose from, many of which won’t even cost you a penny!

Ashmolean Museum

Here are a few that are on Sunday 11th March

  • Archaeological Finds on the Berkshire DownsAshmolean Museum 10am-5pm (free)

If your mum loves a little music, why not check out the live jazz and swing trio on the 11th March at The Isis Farmhouse? For some beautiful choral music, Exeter College Chapel has Vox Chamber Choir that same evening. The ever-wonderful Holywell Music Room also has the Marman String Quartet playing Beethoven and Schubert over a little coffee the morning of the 11th, followed by Kitty McFarlane singing folk that evening. It all sounds extraordinary to us!

And, finally, taking in a little culture can be as straight forward as treating your mum to a trip to the cinema…her choice of film, of course! Just sit back, and let the silver screen take you away somewhere incredible.

Try Something New

Guitar ImagePerhaps your mum is active and adventurous, or maybe just yearning to learn a new skill. There are absolutely tonnes of lessons and activities available to try in and around Oxford, which could be a great way to treat your mum to something a bit different.

There are classes and workshops aplenty in this fair city, so there’s probably one out there to suit. This Mothering Sunday, for example, Oxford Playhouse are hosting their popular 40+ Acting Company. Or perhaps Mum longs to learn a language, or a musical instrument, so why not get her enrolled on that course she’s always wanted to take?

For those with a mum who’s shown an interest in yoga, for instance, you could take her along to her first session, and give her the courage she needs to try something new! There are tonnes of yoga classes out there to choose from, so there’s likely to be one near you.

Hot Air Balloon Image

If your mum has always wanted to take a hot air balloon trip, go rock climbing or learn how to ride a horse (or something else wonderfully exciting), but has never had the opportunity, this could be just the thing to make her day. Find out what sort of activities are on offer near you, and an adventurous, adrenaline fuelled Mother’s Day may well be on the cards!

Take a Trip

Blenheim Palace Image

There’s tons of amazing places within easy reach of Oxford, and so there’s bound to be one that would make a great day trip for you and your mum! Just remember to think about what Mum is interested in, and tailor your choices to that!

If you’d prefer not to have to go too far away, luckily Oxfordshire is full of great places to head off to for a day out. This leafy county boasts a wide variety of attractions, from Blenheim Palace in Woodstock to Crocodiles of the World in Brize Norton. For animal lovers there’s Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Millets Farm Falconry Centre, and Bicester Village is pure shopping heaven for the fashionable mum. Or if your mum has a very specific interest or hobby, perhaps something like a trip to Didcot Railway Centre, or a tour of Hook Norton’s historic brewery, would be just the thing to make her smile?

If you’d prefer to venture further afield, though, there are tons of exciting places to choose from within a relative stones throw, such as London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Winchester and Bath.

Spoil Mum Rotten

Pampering ImageIf your mum loves to be pampered, make this a day for her to put her feet up and just relax while you take care of everything. There are lots of ways to go about doing this, so make sure you plan ahead!

Start Mum’s day with breakfast in bed. Cook up a storm with something she loves, like a full English or a continental breakfast, and surprise her. Or, if she prefers her breakfasts to be unsurprising, how about a tea party or a picnic later in the day? And don’t worry, there’s no need to let the chilly Winter weather ruin your plans, improvising a picnic on the living room floor could be kinda fun!

Afternoon Tea Image

If you really want to help out, and let her relax for the day, find out if your mum has any chores or tasks that need completing on Mother's Day, and then take them off her hands by doing them for her…yes, all of them!

Alternatively, you could take Mum out for a special treat such as a trip to a spa, or for a special Mother’s Day lunch. Afternoon tea can be a fantastic way to make your mum feel appreciated…and also full of cake.

Pop into our 1738 Tea Room to try our Traditional Afternoon Tea for Two, or if you’re feeling especially extravagant, we definitely recommend a Sparkling Wine Afternoon Tea for Two. Be sure to book ahead on 01865 255531 to make sure we have space for everyone!

And that’s really all there is to it! Figure out how Mum would like to spend her day, and then make it one she’s bound to remember!

12th February 2018

February Half Term Activities in Oxfordshire

February Half Term Activities in Oxfordshire

We know how difficult it can be keeping the kids entertained during the holidays, so we’ve put together a list of our favourite Oxford activities that both kids and adults will love.

Crocodiles of the World

Here in Oxfordshire we’re very lucky to have the United Kingdom’s only Crocodile zoo. Just a short drive outside of the city is your chance to get up close with 14 different species of crocodiles, alligators and caimans from around the world.

Crocodiles of the World not only gives you the chance to view crocodiles swimming underwater, but there are also opportunities to feed and handle some of the worlds most feared predators. This is sure to be an amazing day out for the whole family, and not one that will be forgotten any time soon.

The Ashmolean MuseumAshmolean Museum

One of our favourite Oxford museums, the Ashmolean has an extensive range of collections from across the ages, exploring art and archaeology. You can learn about ancient Egypt in one room, and then have a look at Renaissance Italian art in another.

On the 14th and 15th February the Ashmolean are hosting a Chinese New Year Party between 1-4pm, which is not to be missed. Apart from being the oldest museum in the World, one of the amazing things about the Ashmolean is that it’s free to visit (excluding some exhibitions).

(Image Credit)

The Story Museum

The Story Museum is always a fun place to visit, with loads to see and do for the whole family, as well as having a great little shop and café. The Story Museum gets even more exciting during the school holidays.

This half term, along with all the usual fun and educational activities that are going on, there are loads of extras including The Science of Magic and a book signing with author Lauren Child.

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Another firm Oxford favourite, the Pitt Rivers museum is just as well known for its shrunken heads as it is for its amazing educational programme of events. From learning about the freezing Siberian regions to seeing 17th century masks worn by actors in Japanese Noh dramas, there is always something exciting to see and do at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

There are all sorts of family trails that you can download or pick up when you visit to guide you and your family around the museum collections. There's also object handling sessions on Saturdays between 11am and 1pm, to get a little closer to some of the fascinating items on display.

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Rhinos, giraffes, meerkats and penguins might not be what you would usually expect to find in the Oxfordshire countryside, but just outside Burford you will find all of these exotic animals, and many more, at the Cotswold Wildlife Park. With a huge range of animals spread out in the beautiful Cotswold gardens, this is the perfect place to spend the day for both young and old.

With restaurants and cafes on site as well as a great adventure playground, you really can spend the whole day exploring the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

(Image Credits)

Oxford Castle Unlocked

The Oxford Castle is a must for anyone visiting Oxford; you can explore the history in the Castle and Crypt, you can climb the mound or you can simply relax in one of the many restaurants. The Oxford Castle Unlocked experience is a great way to learn, have fun and meet some interesting characters this half term.

Didcot Railway Centre

Didcot Railway Centre ImageThe Didcot Railway Centre is a great place for visitors of a wide range of ages, after all you're never too young or too old to enjoy a ride on a steam engine. Located right by Didcot station, the Railway Centre is easy to get to, and easy to find. The Centre will be running their usual weekend Steam Days this half term, with two different lines open to take a trip along, and an impressive collection of locomotives and coaches to take a peek at. There should be plenty to keep the family occupied here, and you could also pick up a quiz and puzzle sheet for the kids.

During half term they're open on Wednesday 14th Feb for an extra Steam Day, so there's no need to miss out if your half term weekends are starting to look a little busy with all of the other exciting activities taking place.

(Image Credits)

Millets Farm Centre

Located just a short drive out of Oxford, Millets Farm Centre is another family favourite. At its falconry centre, for example, you get a great chance to see over 80 different kinds of birds of prey and they have some wonderful flying demonstrations and hands on experiences that are sure to make this a fun day out for all. At the Millets Farm Zoo you can go say hello to farmyard favourites such as cows, pigs, sheep and horses, not to mention they have some rather special alpacas too! While you're there why not also check out the Meerkat Experience and the farm shop and garden centre. 

This half term there are plenty of great activities going on at Millets Farm Centre for the kids get stuck into, such as the Children's Jewellery Making Workshop and a magic show.

Oxford PlayhouseOxford Playhouse

Currently showing at the Oxford Playhouse is The Little Match Girl (and other happier tales), which is inspired by the tales of Hans Christian Anderson.

Hurry though, performances end on 17th February, and tickets are selling very fast!

(Image Credit) 

If you can think of any more great Oxford activities that we've missed, let us know!

28th September 2017

Hurrah for the 10 Oldest Brands at Boswells!

Hurrah for the 10 Oldest Brands at Boswells!

For a company or a brand to survive for centuries is no easy task at all, and, we think, worthy of a little recognition. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the 10 oldest labels you can currently find here at Boswells, all of which are well over 150 years old (and yes, we did include ourselves!).

10. Deyongs 1846

Deyongs Duvet Set Image

The youngest entry on this list is a “sprightly” 171 years old. This long established company has a certain knack for coming up with exciting and modern designs, so it’s fair to say that Deyongs is looking pretty good for its age.

The company has been producing gorgeous looking textiles for home furnishings since 1846, and today they cater to everything from city to country, bed linens to bath towels. Rather impressively, Deyongs have spent their long history seeking out the best suppliers so that they can create fantastic products at very good prices. And, as luck would have it, the latest Deyongs lines have just arrived in our Linens Department!

9. Kilner 1842

Kilner Double Drink Dispenser ImgaeIn 1842, the year that income tax was first introduced and the word “dinosaur” was created, John Kilner began his glass bottle and jar company. 175 years later, income tax is still going strong, dinosaurs still fascinate us, and we still use Kilner bottles and jars.

Around 1900 the company released the first vacuum sealed jar, which introduced an innovative new means of preserving and pickling food. It was an invention so useful that you may very likely have one of these ingenious objects sitting in your kitchen right now.

Nowadays Kilner produce a great number of really useful, and suitably stylish, glass bottles and jars, many of which can be found in our Cookshop. We particularly love the Drink Dispenser and handled jar glasses!

8. Taylor’s Eye Witness 1838

Taylor's Eye Witness Cheese Knives ImageIn 1838 John Taylor founded Taylor’s Eye Witness as a designer and manufacturer of knives and scissors based in Sheffield…and they’re still there to this day.

As you might imagine, close to 200 years of Taylor’s Eye Witness perfecting their production technique and knowledge has led to an impressive level of craftmanship, and some truly sleek looking designs too.

Of course Taylor’s Eye Witness knives aren’t simply for show, as well as looking very stylish many of these utensils are extremely practical, featuring hardened blades with anti-bacterial coating too. Sounds like a win-win to us! 

7. Limes Farm 1826

Limes Farm Produce ImageA mere 25 miles from Boswells, Limes Farm has been cultivating organic produce using traditional methods for the last 191 years. The farm has remained in the same family for the whole of its lifespan, and as well as rearing livestock, the farm grows and makes its own range of produce. More recently, Limes Farm have opened their own farm shop and tea room, and supply us with some of their fantastic produce too!

With a keen interest in letting nature take the lead, Limes Farm focuses on producing high quality, natural harvests. And very tasty the results are too! A trip to our Tea Room will give you the opportunity to try some of Limes Farm's lovely chutney's and jams.

6. Colgate 1806

Colgate Mouthwash Image

This household name has been around for longer than you might think. Colgate had its beginnings in New York in the early 19th century, originally specialising in starch, soap and candles and is the only entry on this list not to have originated in the UK. In 1873 the company introduced its first toothpaste—which it sold in jars—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Colgate has become something of a giant, selling in more than 200 countries worldwide, with the brand being underpinned by over 2 centuries of accumulated expertise. And so, of course, you can find a selection of Colgate’s time-honoured dental care products to choose from in our Pharmacy!

5. Kent 1777

Kent Shaving Set ImageThe 5 oldest brands on this list all emerged from the 18th Century, that’s older than either electricity or the steam engine!

Number 5 on our list is Kent brushes, who have been around since the latter half of the 18th century. If that isn’t impressive enough on its own, the company have also been Royal Warrant holders for the last nine, consecutive, British monarchs! It’s fair to say, then, that Kent brushes have maintained a very high level of quality through the years, and remain fit for a king or queen.

Kent is still a family owned business, even after all of this time, and continues to manufacture it’s brushes right here in the UK. You can find a brilliant variety of Kent’s fantastic hair brushes and shaving brushes in our Cosmetics Department!

4. Woods of Windsor 1770

Woods of Windsor Image

Woods of Windsor began its life as an 18th century apothecary, Woods Pharmacy, catering to the people of Windsor, as well as to royalty.

The current Woods of Windsor ranges are based on recipes that date back to the original pharmacy, which has stood on the spot since 1770. This means that many of Woods of Windsor’s products bring traditional fragrances into the present day…it’s about as close to sniffing the past as you’re likely to get…

Woods of Windsor’s fabulous room scents and bath and body treats can be found enjoying pride of place in our Cosmetics Department, and lovely gifts they make too!

3. Spode 1767

Spode Morris & Co. Jug ImageSpode is the 3rd oldest brand on our list, celebrating its 250th birthday this year. Spode have been recognised as innovators in the pottery business since the company was first founded in Stoke on Trent 1767. The company is responsible for the invention of bone china, originally named Stoke china, which was first developed by William Spode II in the early 19th century. Around this time Spode also became potters to The Prince Regent.

Spode remained a family owned business until 1966, and is now part of the equally celebrated Portmerion group. Needless to say, Spode china is still beautifully designed, crafted and decorated, with many of their traditional designs still on the market today. In our Gift Department you may just find a rather special collection of Spode wares featuring Morris & Co. designs!

2. Boswell & Co. 1738

Boswells 1959 ImageAh yes, 1738, we remember it like it was yesterday… Ok, well maybe not quite, but we’d like to think that Francis Boswell would be proud to see his business still alive and well at the right old age of 279.

Francis Boswell opened his portmanteau and luggage shop at 50 Cornmarket Street, Oxford in 1738 (approximately where Clarks Shoes now stands), decades before Captain Cook's exploration of the Southern Hemisphere, and 17 years before Dr Johnson's dictionary was first published…we really have been around for a very long time indeed!

The company remained in the Boswell family until 1890, when it passed to Arthur Pearson, who owned the Oxford Drug Company at 31 Cornmarket Street (which is now the Cornmarket entrance to the store).

In 1929 Boswells moved to Broad Street, into brand new, purpose built premises, and there you’ll find us today!

Boswells remains an independent, family owned store to this day, and, according to Russell Ash’s Top 10 of Britain, we’re also the second oldest established department store in the UK! Yes, Boswells has had the very great pleasure of serving generations of Oxonians, and we certainly look forward to being here for many many more generations to come!

1. Twinings 1706

Twinings Tea Room Image

We’re very proud to present a company even older than Boswells in our top spot! In fact, Twinings first began selling tea on London’s famous Strand a year before England, Scotland and Wales joined to form Great Britain!

Although it seems difficult to now think of a time when tea was not a common drink, it was still fairly new to the country at that time, and Thomas Twining was something of a pioneer of his trade. Soon, Twinings became extremely popular and successful, gaining a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria herself in 1837.

Twinings continues to make excellent blends of tea, which are enjoyed the world over—you’ll even find them in our very own 1738 Tea Room. A word of caution though: you may find yourself struggling to decide between the Elderflower and Apple Darjeeling and the Nutty Chocolate Tea, or maybe even the Rosy Fig White Tea. Oh it’s just so hard to choose!

A wander around Boswells’ departments will also reveal plenty of other brands of 100 years vintage, or more, such as Steiff (1880), Widdop Bingham (1883) and Mason Pearson (1885). These fantastic brands give us something superb to share with our predecessors, and to pass onto the next generation—something wonderfully continuous. So hurrah for these long enduring brands, and all the ages of people that they’ve delighted! Long may they continue!

7th July 2017

10 Amazing Things to See and Do in Oxford This Summer

10 Amazing Things to See and Do in Oxford This Summer

Summer is most definitely here! Whether you’re visiting Oxford for the first time, or looking for ideas to keep your guests entertained this Summer, here are a few of the top things to see and do in Oxford.

Live Music and Theatre                                                  Punting

Quirky Oxford                                                                 Literary Oxford

Pubs, Glorious Pubs                                                      Historic Oxford

Dreaming Spires and Side Streets                                 Museums

Parks and Meadows                                                       The University of Oxford

10. Live Music and Theatre

Holywell Music Room ImageHolywell Music Room, Holywell Street

There’s always something great going on in Oxford, whatever kind of entertainment you’re into. The city has a wide variety of brilliant live music to keep you happy, whether it’s classical music at Holywell Music Room or rock at the O2 Academy. You can usually find fantastic live music at The Town Hall, The Bullingdon on Cowley Road and The Half Moon on St Clements Street too.

There are also some fantastic plays and musicals to get stuck into at The New Theatre and Oxford Playhouse, all year round. Be sure to catch a little Shakespeare as well, with outdoor plays at the Castle, Twelfth Night at Oxford Playhouse and a very special part Shakespeare/part Crystal Maze rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream being put on especially by The Creation Theatre this Summer.

Keep your eyes peeled for performances held by The University of Oxford, too, as it can be a brilliant way to see some great talent and a few extra colleges at the same time!

9. Quirky Oxford

The Headington Shark ImageThe Headington Shark

While the museums and spires are must-see attractions, with good reason, no visit to Oxford would be quite complete without experiencing a few of our fair city’s little idiosyncrasies.

Those with an interest in appreciating the slightly odd would do well venture up to Headington Shops, where, if you’re paying close attention, you may just spot a gigantic shark tail poking out from the roof of someone’s home, fin and all. What can we say, it’s something of an Oxford icon. 

Cowley Road Carnival Image

   Cowley Road Carnival, 2017

Amongst the fabulous, boutiquey shops of The Covered Market you may discover an unusual tourist attraction dangling in the window of M. Feller, Son & Daughter…none other than the world’s oldest ham. This year the ham will celebrate its 115th year, having spent its younger days touring North America. You may, understandably, think we’re pulling your leg, so why not go and see for yourself!

And finally, Oxford has many weird and wonderful traditions and events, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for what’s on. May Morning, Cowley Road Carnival and St Giles Fair are just a few of our favourites. We also recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the occasional unicyclist or Morris dancer jingling about town, and, from time to time, students covered in confetti and cream.

8. Pubs, Glorious Pubs

The Turf Tavern ImageThe Turf Tavern

There’s a reason why Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse spent much of his time sampling the pubs in this part of the world—it’s that we have so many fantastic ones to choose from. In fact, many of Oxford’s pubs are so iconic, and so historic, that they've have become tourist attractions in their own right.

If you can find it, tucked down its little passageway, a trip to The Turf Tavern is a must. The pub dates back to the 14th century, and has welcomed many a famous face through its doors over its long history, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Bill Clinton and Stephen Hawking. Fans of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien will find happy refuge in The Eagle and Child on St Giles, where these authors would regularly meet to discuss their writing. We also recommend popping into The Chequers on The High Street, which operated as both an inn and a zoo during the 18th Century.

7. Dreaming Spires and Pretty Side Streets

Elephant Gargoyle Holywell Street ImageOxford Martin School

As a city that’s famed for its dreaming spires, impressive sandstone buildings and little winding back streets, it’s fair to say that Oxford’s overall architecture and layout is massively appealing to visitors from far and wide. While there are so many things to see here, it can often be worth just having a wander, and seeing where your feet take you—you may well discover something interesting that you never knew was there!

A stroll down Magpie Lane, for example, will take you to sleepy Merton Street, just slightly away from the usual bustle of the city. On Merton Street, you’ll discover one of Oxford’s most picturesque, cobbled streets, and more than likely find it hard to resist taking a few photos.

Merton Street Image

Merton Street

If you’ve been off enjoying the wonderful Hertford Bridge (Bridge of Sighs), why not duck under the bridge and along New College Passage, just behind it? The street meanders between the colleges, eventually leading you out to St Edmund Hall and onto The High Street.

We also recommend ambling down Holywell Street, which still features picturesque gas style lampposts and some truly gorgeous old buildings on either side of the street. If it’s dreaming spires you crave, though, these are best enjoyed from the top of South Park, where you can get the perfect view of the entire city while sitting in the sun.

6. Parks and Meadows

Christ Church Meadow ImageView of Christ Church College from Christ Church Meadow

As famous as Oxford is for its colleges and spires, it’s also an incredibly leafy city, with parks and meadows never far from reach. Christ Church Meadow and University Parks prove popular choices with visitors and locals alike, and who can blame them? These green spots boast gorgeous river walks and the kind of tranquillity you find yourself dreaming of when trying to squeeze down busy Cornmarket Street on a Summer’s day. 

South Park Image
    South Park

To get away from the crowds for a bit, we suggest taking a trip to Port Meadow. This wide-open expanse is both beautiful and quiet, and if you wander as far as Wolvercote, you may just discover a couple of Oxford’s finest pubs—The Perch and The Trout.

If you’re right in the city centre and just looking for somewhere lovely to stop and eat a sandwich or read a book, though, you’ll find the perfect spot in the tiny, but well hidden, Wellington Square, just off Little Clarendon Street. Accross town, East Oxford's South Park boasts some of the most scenic views in the city. 

5. PuntingPunting Magdalen Bridge ImagePunts at Magdalen Bridge Boat House

There’s nothing quite like drifting down river on a gorgeous Summer's day. If the weather is feeling kind, hiring a punt can be a fantastic way to lazily while-away some of the day while taking in Oxford’s beauty.

For those who are worried about going in circles, punting into other objects, or falling off, you can hire someone to steer you along. And, for those not fond of being on the water, there’s no need to miss out. Simply find a nice spot along the river and enjoy the view…which may or may not include other punters toppling into the water.

For maximum punting fun, pack a picnic, or punt along to The Victoria Arms in Old Marston, which sits along on the River Cherwell and features one of Oxford’s finest beer gardens.

4. Literary Oxford

 Alice's Shop ImageAlice's Shop, St Giles

Book-lovers flock to Oxford each year to get a peek at some of the places that are linked to the great authors and works of literature that have come out of this part of the world (as well as the many filming locations used in adaptations).

For fans of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a trip to the tiny, but very special, Alice’s Shop on St Aldates will make your day. The shop itself appeared in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and was once the favourite sweet shop of the Alice that Carroll based his character on.

There are also plenty of Tolkien and Lewis treats to sink your teeth into, such as the colleges where the two men studied and taught (Exeter, Pembroke, Merton, University, Magdalen) and an Ent-like tree in the Botanic Gardens that was apparently Tolkien’s favourite.

The Kilns

C.S Lewis's House, The Kilns

Both authors are buried in Oxford, and for those wanting to take a literary pilgrimage, you’ll find Tolkien resting in Wolvercote cemetery, and Lewis at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, just around the corner from his former home.

You can also indulge in Inspector Morse’s Oxford, or see some of the places that were used in the filming of the Harry Potter films—most notably Christ Church College. If you’re lucky, you might just spot the crew for ITV’s Endeavour out and about filming in town.

If you just really love to read, though, you won’t regret taking a trip into Blackwell’s on Broad Street. The shop’s famous Norrington Room, alone, houses more than 160,000 books, and holds a Guinness World Record!

3. Historic Oxford

Martyrs Memorial ImageThe Martyr's Memorial, St Giles

As an Anglo-Saxon settlement, Oxford dates back to at least the 9th century AD, later becoming an important Norman town. In around 1176, The University of Oxford was founded, sealing the city’s fate as a place of interest for the centuries to come. It’s hardly surprising, then, that people flock here from all over the world to discover a piece of old Oxford, and the city really doesn’t disappoint. Around every corner lies some historical treasure, whether it’s a truly old building or a gripping tale.

Oxford Wall Image

Remaining piece of Oxford city walls

To make the most of Oxford’s vast history be sure to take a peek at St Michael’s at the North Gate on Cornmarket Street. This impressive Saxon tower has stood on the spot since 1040, and is the oldest building in the city. A trip to Oxford Castle is also highly recommended. Here, you can climb the original Norman motte, where the wooden castle first stood, and take a tour around the castle and prison with the Oxford Castle Unlocked experience.

The image on the right shows a remaining piece of what we think might be the mediaeval city walls, which is tucked away, out of sight, behind Boswells. As you'd never normally get the chance to see it, we thought we'd give you a little sneak peek!

And finally, connoisseurs of Oxford’s history won’t want to leave the city without having first visited the infamous spot where the Oxford Martyrs were burned as heretics in 1555. A small, cobbled, cross is set into the pavement on Broad Street, just a stones-throw from Boswells, to mark the spot where the execution took place. The memorial to the Martyrs, built in 1843, proudly stands just around the corner, on St Giles.

2. Museums

Museum of Natural History ImageThe Museum of Natural History, Parks Road

As home to Britain’s first public museum, The Ashmolean, it’s little surprise that Oxford has so many fantastic museums. The Ashmolean now sits grandly on Beaumont Street, and houses a vast collection of impressive artefacts and paintings. For something a little extra special though, take a trip along to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday evening events. 

Ashmolean Museum Image
The Ashmolean Museum

For the bold and adventurous, a trip to the Pitt Rivers anthropological museum, on Parks Road, is a must. Here you’ll discover more wonderful knick-knacks and artefacts from all over the world than you can imagine…as well as some very impressive shrunken heads! The Museum of Natural History is right next door to the Pitt Rivers, and is home to Oxfordshire’s dinosaurs, amongst other things. Why not pop in and say hi to the T-Rex?

We also highly recommend dropping into The Museum of the History of Science, The Museum of Oxford and the permanent exhibit at The Town Hall (the inside of the building is pretty stunning, it has to be said). And yes, entrance is absolutely free to all of these amazing places, except for some special exhibitions.

1. The University of Oxford

Radcliffe Camera ImageThe Radcliffe Camera and St Mary's Church, Radcliffe Square

It’s probably fair to say that Oxford is most famous for The University, and people come from quite literally all over the world to see it.

The University of Oxford is made up of 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls, which means that seeing absolutely all of it is no easy task. To make the most of your time here we suggest picking a handful of varied colleges to visit. Not all of the colleges are open to the public, and those that are can vary in terms of times and days that you can wander in, so it’s always a good idea to check ahead. 

Christ Church College Image
   Christ Church College

Here are a few Oxford Colleges that you might want to investigate, to start your quest. Christ Church College proves a popular choice. The college is well known for having been used in the Harry Potter films, and it was Charles I’s home and parliament during the English Civil War. If you’re keen to see colleges with grounds, though, Magdalen College has an impressive 100 acres to explore, including a deer park. While Worcester College’s grounds are perhaps some of the most beautiful around. If you’re keen to see one of the very old colleges, New College is a very good option, with its original cloisters dating back to 1379. And, if you’re looking for something altogether different, Keble college features an impressive Victorian Gothic, red brick design, which is unlike any other college.

But The University of Oxford isn’t just colleges. The Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre and The Radcliffe Camera are some of the best, and most recognisable sights that Oxford has to offer, and so we highly suggest taking a trip down Broad Street to discover these absolute gems—you’ll definitely need a camera!

And Finally...

Tourist DepartmentAfter all of that exhausting and rewarding sightseeing, why not pop into Boswells on Broad Street for a little souvenir shopping to finish up your day?

As Oxford’s oldest department store, which turns 279 this year, we’ve got lots of history of our own to offer, and plenty of goodies and gifts to choose from to spoil the folks back home with too.

And, if you’re feeling especially worn out, we highly recommend treating yourself to a cup of tea and piece of cake in our 1738 Tea Room!

All Oxford Images: Elena Woolley

19th August 2016

The Story of the British Tea Room

The Story of the British Tea Room

Oxford is truly beautiful this time of year, but the city can get a little hectic over the Summer months, with people flocking from all over to come and see itwe can hardly blame them! So what better way to take a breather from the bustling streets than to sit down to a nice relaxing cuppa. Hurrah for tea rooms!

But where did all of these amazing places come from? And what exactly is the difference between a tea room and a coffee house? We've been doing some digging into the history of the tea room, so pop the kettle on, put your feet up and read on to find out more...

The Arrival of the Coffee House

Queens Lane Coffee House ImageAs it turns out, there are actually a lot of differences between a tea room and a coffee house, going back centuries. The first English coffee house was in fact right here in Oxford, on the site of The Grand Café on High Street, while across the road from it The Queen’s Lane Coffee House (founded four years later in 1654) is the oldest established coffee house in Europe! Needless to say, we highly recommend a visit to both of these incredible places.

The new fashion for coffee reached London late in 1654, and spread quickly, however the coffee houses of the 17th Century were not quite like the coffee houses and cafes we know today. 

These were boisterous places where people engaged freely in intense debate with strangers, with topics ranging from politics, philosophy and science to theatrical and literary criticism. 

Coffee Beans

In one London coffee house Isaac Newton is said to have performed a public dissection on a dolphin, and in another patrons would regularly conduct informal investigations into the nature of insanity. Anything was up for debate, and for the cost of a penny any man could enter, discuss and enjoy unlimited coffee refills. But while coffee houses were social spaces in which Enlightenment thinking flourished and democratic opinions were freely exercised, women were not permitted to enter.

Tea, Glorious Tea!

It was Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, who first introduced tea to England, making it fashionable amongst the aristocracy’s elite. 

Twinings Tea Image

But while coffee was by this time becoming relatively common place, tea remained a rare curiosity. It was considered unusual enough that Samuel Pepys documented his first sampling of the drink in his famous diary in September 1660.

But it was through coffee houses that tea first entered the wider public domain, allowing it to eventually become the British staple that it is today. In 1706 Thomas Twining opened what is generally considered to be the first tea room in Britain, which you can still find on The Strand in London, open for business to this day.

While coffee was a cheap beverage for the masses, tea began its illustrious relationship with the people of Britain as an expensive, excessively taxed commodity—taxation on tea at its height reaching 119%!

Tea Leaves Image

Such high taxation led to a country-wide surge in tea smuggling, and it’s estimated that by the late 18th Century such was the British affinity for tea that more was smuggled into the country than was actually legally imported. In 1784 William Pitt the Younger passed an Act of Parliament that reduced the tax on tea to 12.5%, making it significantly more affordable for people of all social classes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Trusty Tea Room

Afternoon Tea ImageThe 18th Century tea rooms were very different from coffee houses. While women were forbidden from the egalitarian conversations of the contemporary coffee houses, tea rooms were reputable public spaces that woman could enter unescorted by a man, a rarity at that time.

This meant that, much like coffee houses, tea rooms became social venues—places where people (particularly women) could gather and talk freely, but generally with a more relaxed atmosphere than the raucous coffee establishments of the time. And, with the creation of afternoon tea in 1841, this also became a part of the tea room’s custom and heritage.

By the late 19th Century large tea room chains, run by The Aerated Bread Company and J. Lyons & Co., began to pop up all over the country—A.B.C. Tea Rooms offering the first ever self-service tea rooms.

J. Lyons Coventry 1942 Image

During this period, and into the early 20th Century, suffragettes would often meet in tea rooms, gathering together to informally discuss their rights, and of course enjoy a nice cup of tea.

Even during the height of the Blitz, and wartime rationing, tea rooms remained a hub for people to come for refreshment and to socialise—a relief from the everyday stresses of the war.

(Image Credit)

Oxfordshire Tea Rooms Today

But of course the story of the tea room doesn't end there. These amazing places have endured into the 21st Century, and Oxfordshire has many wonderful tea rooms worth sampling. We particularly recommend The Rose on High Street and Annie’s Tea Room in Thrupp.

1738 Tearoom

The continuing popularity of the tea room is a testament to its relaxed atmosphere, the tradition of getting together for a chat, and, of course, the prevailing British love affair with an excellent cup of tea. Not to mention that taking a little time out to unwind in one of these great settings is a very special way to make your own little contribution to the long history of the tea room. 

For a great tea room right in the centre of Oxford come and visit our 1738 Tea Room (on the first floor of the store) where you can sit and relax with some Twinings tea (just as they did in 1706), some scrummy cake and, of course, a good natter!

For more information on Boswells' 1738 Tea Room click here to read Rosie from our Pharmacy's review.

22nd July 2016

Oxford Activities and Events This Summer

Oxford Activities and Events This Summer

Image Credit: Elena Woolley

Whether you’re new to Oxford, or just looking for exciting ways to keep yourself or any guests entertained over the Summer, thinking up new and interesting things to do can get a bit trickier once you’ve ticked off the more obvious sights such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs (impressive though they both are). We’ve put together a few suggestions to help you get your Summer started.


The Ashmolean Museum

Amongst its other impressive claims, Oxford is the birthplace of the public museum, the Ashmolean Museum being the first of its kind when it opened its doors in 1677. Now located on Beaumont Street, the Ashmolean is still going strong and is stuffed full of amazing antiquities and other interesting artefacts. Theres lots to see, and keep an eye out for their great Summer exhibitions too.

Read more here.

Museum of History of Science

The site of the original Ashmolean on Broad Street now houses the Museum of History of Science and, although it's relatively small, it's definitely worth the visit to look around this amazing building and its collections.

Read more here.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History  

Oxford is of course home to other noteworthy museums, and no Oxford Summer would be complete without a trip to the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum (which are adjoining).

We suggest taking a peek at the Museum of Natural History’s impressive collection of dinosaurs and other fossils (many of which were found right here in Oxfordshire). They're also hosting a range of family friendly events and activities over the coming weeks, as well as their regular tour of the building's fascinating neo-gothic architcture.

Photo credit,_Oxford,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg

Read more here.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Possibly Oxford's quirkiest museum, with its extensive anthopological collections there's something different to spot with every visit. Pop in this Summer to check out their exhibitions on amulets and on adventuring in Siberia! And be sure to seek out the famous shrunken heads while you're there!

Read more here.

Oxford Castle Unlocked

Oxford Castle UnlockedOxford Castle is a great location for a day out in the city centre. As well as their usual tours and sights, if you have a large group of guests (8-15 people), and you fancy unleashing your inner puzzler, you might want to give their Jailbreak Escape locked room puzzle a go. 

Read more here.


Outdoor Cinema

If you know the museums well and are looking for something a bit different, then why not go to one of the many fantastic film screenings taking place at some of Oxford's museums this Summer?

Picturehouse Pop-Up Cinema

The Ashmolean has teamed up with the Picturehouse Cinema for a three-day Pop-Up cinema event on the 5th-7th August.

Read more here.

Cult Screens

Meanwhile, The Pitt Rivers has joined forces with Cult Screens for a showing of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet on August 24th.

Cult Screens also has an array of amazing films showing at Oxford Castle over the Summer, and if watching The Shawshank Redemption in a genuine prison exercise yard sounds like fun, then get busy booking…tickets are likely to sell fast!

Read more here.


Shakespeare OxfordWilliam Shakespeare

Fans of Shakespeare will be delighted to find that there’s no shortage of plays over the Summer, and since this year marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death there’s some extra special treats too, including lots of great open air performances at various Oxford colleges, Oxford Castle and Oxford University Press.

Read more on all Shakespeare related events here.

Creation Theatre

Creation Theatre are up to their usual inventive tricks, and are combining their performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a treasure hunt/quest held in secret locations around the city centre…we have to confess, we’re suitably intrigued.

Read more here.

Weston Library

We suggest checking out the Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition at the Weston Library, which is running until September 18th. It includes first editions of 2 of his plays that are rarer than the famous first folio. Which ones? Visit and find out.

Read more here.


Our friends down the road at Blackwell’s are also running a fantastic Shakespeare themed walking tour, which includes the location of the first ever performance of Hamlet!

Read more information on Blackwell's walking tours here.


Walking Tours

Bill Spectre's Ghost TrailNew College Passage Oxford

If its walking tours you’re after, you’ll be pleased to hear that you have one of Trip Advisor’s top 10 ghost tours in the world right on your door step. Hurrah! Bill Spectre’s Ghost Trail takes you through the city's ghostly history and down its spooky hidden lanes. A proven hit with visitors and Oxford residents alike, and is really not to be missed!

Read more here.

Treasure Trails

Treasure Trails can also be a fun way to spend some time together, following clues and seeing the sights in one go. The Treasure Trails company provides murder mystery, treasure hunt and spy themed trails of varying lengths. You pay for the trails, but once you have them they can be used multiple times and they also double as a map. Simply download the trail you like the sound of and you’re away…

Read more here.


Boating Experiences

Oxford River Cruises

A trip along the river can also be a fun new way to see the city, especially if you already know it well, and is really very relaxing. A spectacular 2.5 hour picnic boat tour leaves from Folly Bridge twice a day and passes through Port Meadow, Osney Lock and shows off great views of some of the Oxford Colleges. Be sure to book in advance.

Read more here.


Punting in Oxford

If you fancy trying your hand at boating, though, you could always have a go at a spot of punting. Perfect for a lazy summer’s day, we suggest you bring a picnic and someone with good balance to steer as you gradually wind your way along the river. It’s also a fantastic excuse to pay a visit to The Victoria Arms in Old Marston, which sits just on the banks of the Cherwell. Start your punting adventure at Cherwell Boathouse, Folly Bridge or Magdalen Bridge.

Information on how to punt can be found here.

Image Credit: Elena Woolley

Outdoors Oxford

University of Oxford Botanic Gardens

For those looking for a touch of nature in their sightseeing, the Botanic Gardens are at their most beautiful at this time of year, and offer a nice peaceful break from the bustling city centre. Picnic fans will be pleased to hear that the Botanic Gardens are hosting a couple of picnics over the Summer, complete with crafts and face painting!

Read more here.

Parks and Meadows

If its green spaces you particularly crave, Oxford is certainly well equipped with scenery to better than whet your appetite. And whether you’re entertaining guests or just looking for a pleasant spot on a sunny day, why not explore University Parks or take a walk along the river in Christchurch meadow?

Christchurch Meadow Oxford
 Image Credit: Elena Woolley

To truly lose the busy crowds of Oxford, Port Meadow is the perfect peaceful place to go for a wander, and there’s all sorts of treasures to discover including nature walks, atmospheric pub, The Perch (where Lewis Carroll gave his first reading of Alice in Wonderland), and cattle…lots and lots of cattle.

The Oxford Visitor Information Centre

Not just for tourists! The Oxford Visitor Information Centre is where many of the various walking tours start and finish and is a great way to get up to date information on Oxford's attactions. Located on Broad Street it's easy to find and just down or up the road from Boswells depending which direction you are coming from.

Read more here.

Afternoon TeaCome Visit Us!

If all of that sounds incredibly hectic and exhausting, why not come and take a break in our 1738 Tea Room and treat yourself to a well-earned cup of tea and a piece of cake!

3rd November 2015

Celebrating Guy Fawkes Night In and Around Oxford

Celebrating Guy Fawkes Night In and Around Oxford

Gunpowder Plotters Image

Remember, remember the 5th of November, or so the saying traditionally goes. It was, of course, on this infamous date in 1605 that a group of 13 gunpowder plotters attempted to bring both King and parliament to an explosive end with 36 barrels of hidden gunpowder. Guy Fawkes, the most remembered of the plotters—not, in fact, the leader of the conspirators but rather the man caught holding the lantern in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament—will be burned in effigy up and down the country in the coming days to mark the anniversary of the thwarting of the plot, as has become the custom. And, as well as bonfires aplenty there will be fireworks, hot dogs, burgers, and even funfairs to accompany the burning of "the Guy." Yup, 410 years on from Guy Fawkes’ arrest the act of remembering gunpowder, treason and plot is far from being “forgot,” and has grown into a full scale annual tradition.

To mark this occasion, and to help you make the most of Guy Fawkes Night, we’ve gathered up a list of upcoming bonfire and firework events in and around Oxford.

Fireworks Image5th November

For traditionalists that like to celebrate on the day itself:

Bonfire Night at the Plough—OX2 8BD (Fireworks and BBQ, 6pm).

Fireworks Night & Bonfire, St Michael’s Primary School—Marston, OX3 0EJ (5:30pm).

Dorchester on Thames Village Firework Display—Recreation Ground, Dorchester on Thames (5:30pm).

Kidlington Fireworks Display—Stratfield Brake Recreation Ground, Kidlington (fireworks to music, 6pm).

Stadhampton Fireworks Display—Stadhampton Village Green (Bonfire at 5:30, Fireworks 7pm).

6th November

Botley School Fireworks—OX2 9JZ (Fireworks and refreshments, 6pm).

22nd Oxford Sea Scouts Firework Display—OX4 4BJ (Fundraising firework display, BBQ, 6:45pm).

7th November

Oxford Round Table Fireworks Display—South Park (48th annual charity fireworks display, live music, refreshments and funfair, gates open 4:30pm, fireworks 6:45 followed by bonfire).

Night Lights Event—Barracks Lane Community Garden, OX4 2AP (Music, bonfires, stories, fire whirling and fairy gardens, 3:30-6:30pm).

Hanborough Musical Fireworks—The Pavillion, OX29 8JQ (Fireworks to music, BBQ, refreshments and funfair, 6:00).

Marsh Baldon Green Fireworks Display—The Green, Marsh Baldon (Bonfire, fireworks, funfair, refreshments, 6:30pm).

Didcot Charity Fireworks, Bonfire and Funfair—Lloyd Recreation Ground, OX11 7BN (Fireworks, funfair, refreshments, proceeds go to charity, gates open 5:30pm).

Bonfire Image

Standlake Cokethorpe Sea Scouts Annual Firework Spectacular—Standlake Village Hall (Fireworks, BBQ, Tombola, 6pm).

Bicester Round Table Firework Display and Bonfire—Pingle Field (Fireworks, fairground, bonfire, refreshments and music, 6pm).

Old Swan and Minster Mill Bonfire and Fun Weekend—Witney, OX29 0RN (Bonfire, fireworks and refreshments, 6:00pm).

Image copyright of Leonora Enking.

8th November

Witney RFC Bonfire and Fireworks Spectacular—Witney Rugby Club (Fireworks and bonfire)

Lantern Image

We recommend taking a November trip to The Ashmolean Museum where, in the basement, you will find the lantern purported to be the very one Guy Fawkes had with him in the cellars of Parliament on November 5th 1605.

If you know of any other firework or bonfire events taking place nearby we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at or contact us via facebook or twitter.

Image copyright of Ben Sutherland.

We also sell a range of KimBolton fireworks in store—now available for the first time through the click and collect option on our website—so if you’re planning your own display, big or small, we can help you to make this bonfire night something a bit special. If you’re not sure what kind of fireworks you need you can always pop in to store to talk to one of the members of staff on our fireworks desk, near the Broad Street entrance, who will be happy to help.

So wrap up warm, get to a display nice and early for the perfect view, and remember, remember the 5th of November in sparkly, spectacular style!

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