Shopping in Oxford: breaking the chain

by adrian.mourby

A tour of Oxford shops that avoids chain stores

The romance of shopping in Oxford is to be found in its side streets, in individual stores that have trod their own path and become something special. In due course I’m going to be writing about shopping for food and for books in Oxford but for the moment here’s a short itinerary that takes in some of the best shopping Oxford has to offer.

Broad Street to Turl Street

Start in Broad Street which has a changing roster of small shops but has always been home to Blackwell’s (48-51 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BQ; +44 1865 792792; www.blackwell.co.uk). This bookshop was started in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell who left school at the age of 13 and started his enterprise at 50 Broad Street in a shop only 12’x12’. Oxford’s original bookshop has since spawned Blackwell’s Music (23-25 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AX; +44 1865 333580; www.blackwell.co.uk) and Blackwell’s Art and Poster Shop (27 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BS; +44 1865 333641; www.blackwell.co.uk) across the road. The main building still sits over the The White Horse and has a serviceable coffee shop with a room (which used to be Benjamin Henry’s office) overlooking the Sheldonian Theatre. Take your latte there and curl up on a sofa.

From Broad Street take Turl Street which heads south past Exeter, Jesus and Lincoln Colleges and terminates in a quaint pedestrian area that has an old-fashioned gentlemen’s outfitters called Walters of Oxford (10 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DN; + 44 1865 241848; www.walters-oxford.co.uk), a shop devoted to whisky, called with admirable clarity The Whisky Shop ( 7 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DQ; +44 1865 202279; www.thewhiskyshop.net ) a very splendid place for shoes called Ducker & Sons (6 Turl Street, Oxford
OX1 3DQ; +44 1865 242461; www.duckerandson.co.uk )  and several  for jewellery. This is the kind of shopping that Oxford does well.

High Street

Pass through Turl Street and into the High Street and you’ll find the OUP bookshop (116-117 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BZ; +44 1865 242913; www.oup.com/uk/bookshop) Ede and Ravenscroft (119 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BX; +44 1865 242756; www.edeandravenscroft.co.uk) should you want to buy an academic gown and Shepherd and Woodward (109–113 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BT; + 44 1865 249491; www.shepherdandwoodward.co.uk) another gentlemen’s outfitters that will still sell college blazers to those who really want them. There are also a number of excellent shops down The High for women’s clothing, like Narda Artwear (67 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BA; + 44 1865 793082) that favour the more mature woman. Younger women should head for the confluence of the Clarendon and Westgate Shopping Centres.

Back to Broad Street

From High Street you can return to Broad Street past the The Bodleian Library which has an excellent shop all of its own (the shop entrance is via the Old Schools Quadrangle; shop.bodley.ox.ac.uk). I particularly like the way that they have created a merchandising opportunity from the library’s “Silence Please” logo. You can buy mugs, mouse-mats and milk jugs emblazoned with this very sensible logo. Head in the other direction down St. Aldates and you will come to another Oxford original, the Alice In Wonderland Shop (83 St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1RA; +44 1865 723793; www.aliceinwonderlandshop.co.uk) which lives under the Shanghai 30's restaurant. According to Oxford legend, Alice Liddell used to buy barley sugar sweets from this shop opposite Christ Church 140 years ago. When Tenniel illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Through the Looking-Glass he used this as the shop run by the old sheep. The place sells reasonable Alice memorabilia but it can be packed out with tourists.

There is another way to get back to Broad Street and that is through the Covered Market which has entrances on The High and on Market Street. This remarkable structure from 1774 was originally a series of 20 butchers' stalls. Today there are only three butcher's (including M. Feller, Son & Daughter) but a lot of other individual shops including Auto Models which is a toy shop for grown men, several delicatessens, Haymans Fisheries (21-23 The Covered Market, Oxford, OX1 3DU; www.haymansfisheries.co.uk) - an expensive but very good fishmonger - and a cake shop.

Emerging on Market Street, turn back into Turl Street and return to Broad Street where the art suppliers, Broad Canvas (20 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AS; +44 1865 244 025; www.broadcanvas-shoponline.co.uk) is another good example of the kind of niche shop that Oxford supports so well.

That large department store on the corner is Boswells (1-4 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AG; +44 1865 241244; www.boswells-online.co.uk) the largest family-run department store in Oxford although it had to sell off much of its frontage to Waterstones.

Foodie heaven

It’s a bit of jump to the top of St.Giles but here is where foodies will delight in Taylors Deli (31 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD; +441865 558853; www.taylorsoxford.co.uk) very much an Oxford institution and next to it the original Maison Blanc (3 Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6HA; +44 1865 510 974; www.maisonblanc.co.uk), Raymond Blanc’s über patisserie.

More expert advice on Oxford

For suggestions on where to stay in Oxford, see my Oxford Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Oxford page.

Read my overview on Shopping in Oxford.

adrian.mourby

I have written on travel and cultural travel for most of the UK daily newspapers and also for numerous in-flight magazines. I've also written two guide books (published by AA) and contributed to the Michelin Singapore guide and Rough Guide's Make The Most of Your Time on Earth. I also write on music, opera and culture for the magazines Opera Now, Classic FM, BBC Music Magazine and Classic Music. In 2007 I received, quite unexpectedly, an Italian award for my opera journalism. I also write programme essays for Covent Garden, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, Scottish Opera and Norske in Oslo.

As well as writing on cultural travel I have had three novels published We Think The World of Him, The Four of Us and Wishdaughter and a book of humour Whatever Happened To...? based on the award-winning Radio 4 comedy series. I broadcast occasionally on both Radios 3 and 4 and recently contributed to Radio 3's ABC of Opera series.

I have known Oxford for years but only moved to live here in 2002. Getting to know this city is an ongoing adventure. Oxford is a very easy place to to visit. Getting below the surface however takes time. Nevertheless it is a hugely rewarding endeavour. At the moment I can think of nowhere I'd rather live. Coming home is always a delight. I took on the Simon Seeks project because I want to share what I've found out - and what I will continue to discover - about Oxford. 

You can find out more about my travels and writing at www.adrianmourby.com .