Inside the Oxford Hotel Housed Within One of England’s Most Historic Former Department Stores |

Top 5 This Week


Related Posts

Inside the Oxford Hotel Housed Within One of England’s Most Historic Former Department Stores

As host to one of the world’s great universities as well as home to some of English literature’s most famous authors, such as J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, it’s an understatement to say that Oxford is steeped in history. But one of its landmarks is about to turn the page to a new chapter with a modern and swanky upgrade.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter


 See all of our newsletters

The Store Oxford just opened in May 2024 in the former site of Boswell & Co., a family-owned department store founded in 1738, which had been open for 282 years until it closed in 2020. Located in the heart of the city, The Store, now run in partnership by investment firms Reef Group and EQ Group, strives to honor Boswell’s history while offering a posh setting for the modern traveler.

“This is what Oxford has been missing for decades—not even the last few years, but for decades,” Simon Drake, general manager at The Store, tells Observer.

A peek inside Oxford’s latest historic opening. Adam Link

Drake, who previously ran another property in Oxford before its sale to Graduate Hotels in 2019, noted that before the opening of The Store, there were perhaps a few “grande dame” hotels in Oxford, an area that hosts millions of tourists and conference guests throughout the year. But there was nothing for the modern traveler who doesn’t want to stay somewhere that feels like an old estate, but rather wants to book accommodations that feel current and vibrant.

At the same time, the hotel management recognizes the importance of the landmark to the local community. Drake says the hotel wants to feel welcoming to many long-time Oxford residents, noting how many of them have vivid and cherished memories there, from weekly trips with the family to picking out Christmas presents.

The Store Oxford. Rachel King

“The community feels very attached to this building, and you don’t tend to get that with many hotels. A lot of hotels will buy a block and knock it down, and then they build something else, and that’s it. Subject closed,” Drake says. “I realized right from the beginning that I wasn’t just going to be the general manager of The Store. I was going to be the caretaker of Boswell’s.”

Founded by Francis Boswell at the corner of Broad and Cornmarket Streets, Boswell’s originally sold luggage and trunks, and it is believed the store’s wares were taken on Captain James Cook’s voyages to the Southern Hemisphere. In the great tradition of British department stores, Boswell’s was a treasure trove for clothing, cosmetics, household goods, toys and other essentials. It also housed a haberdashery as well as a tearoom and café.

A key advantage of The Store Oxford is its location. The hotel’s position near the city center puts guests at the heart of the action and within walking distance of all the major shops and historical landmarks on the Oxford University campus, many of which have appeared in major films, including the Harry Potter franchise. The hotel is also just a 10-minute walk from the train station, making it extra convenient to catch the high-speed rail to and from London as well as other major destinations within England. (By high-speed train, Oxford is just an hour from London’s Paddington Station.)

The hotel reinstalled the original sign. Rachel King

The outside of the building has the same facade as Boswell’s (the hotel even reinstalled the original sign); otherwise, only the walls have been cleaned. But everything inside was gutted and rebuilt from scratch, because the interior was beyond just outdated—it had become derelict.

“The building is so critically important when you’re refurbishing and relaunching something that’s been such a historical landmark for so many decades—centuries, really. There was quite a lot of heritage, a lot of legacy and a lot of expectation,” Drake says.

Arranged with 101 guest rooms spread out over seven floors, the renovated design showcases the separate communal spaces that can function independently, but also together when needed in the case of large events. (Room rates start at $360 per night.)

The hotel is composed of 101 rooms. Adam Link

“The ethos behind The Store is very much as you would find a department store; you walk into a department store—like Macy’s, Harrods, etc.—because you’re just going to browse and you might have one thing in mind that you want, but you probably come out with three or four or five things. And we see ourselves as a little bit of an extension of that. We want people to explore different sections of the building,” Drake explains. 

The management team took special care to make the guest rooms feel luxurious and modern, with subtle nods to the building’s history, like black and white photography of the building, taken over the last century, mounted on the walls. And truly, nothing is more important to getting a good night’s sleep than a cozy bed. Drake says the design team, led by the London-based firm Urban R, spent months working with British mattress brand Hypnos to produce the best beds possible, from the right base to the right spring.

The lobby lounge. Adam Link

The coworking space is another example of how The Store’s management sees the property as filling a gap in Oxford.

“If I’m in London, I’ll go into the W or the Edition, order a coffee, and I’ll sit down and open my laptop. That’s how we work nowadays, even more so post-Covid. Oxford has never had that,” Drake says. “We provided this kind of workspace, and that was key to us because there isn’t anything like that here, whatsoever. And many people say, ‘Well, you know you will just get someone who sits there with a latte for three hours.’ That’s fine, as long as they have a great experience.”

The Spa. Adam Link

And while the coworking space is a sublime place to set up your virtual office when traveling for business or pleasure, guests should really revel in enjoying the hotel’s facilities, including the subterranean spa. Cocooned in walnut-paneled walls just one floor underground, The Spa at the Store offers facial and massage treatments with skincare products from British brand Oskia. The spa’s state-of-the-art amenities include private treatment rooms and a holistic studio space, where the hotel will offer a regular schedule of yoga classes and sound baths, full-body meditation experiences in which guests lie down and listen to resonant sounds for relaxation.

Just beyond the coworking space is Treadwell, the hotel’s on-site restaurant. The modern eatery flaunts its menu as “untraditionally British,” essentially serving what, on paper, might seem like classic British fare, but playing with it and mixing in multicultural influences as well as local, sustainably sourced produce and proteins from around Oxfordshire, the surrounding county. Some notable dinner plates include the chicken tikka masala pie with gunpowder new potatoes and makhani jus; “bangers of mash” with smoked shredded pork and Cajun gravy; and a double baked cheese “soufflé,” which is served on a plate rather than in a ramekin, but holds it shape and might easily be the best soufflé you’ll ever eat.

Treadwell. Adam Link

There is only one true structural addition to the building, and that is the rooftop terrace. The crown jewel of the property, The Roof at The Store is a sophisticated rooftop bar and restaurant, offering outdoor seating and 360-degree views over Oxford—a real treat as there aren’t many tall buildings in the city center beyond the Romanesque and Gothic towers of the university buildings and chapels. With a focus on eight classic cocktails—the Cosmopolitan, the Bramble, the Manhattan, the Espresso Martini, the Negroni, the Gimlet, the Old Fashioned and the Mojito—the drinks menu includes three creative variations for each, alongside an offering of sparkling wine, champagne, wine and beer. (And at the lobby bar, rooftop bar and the restaurant, you can expect to find a selection of English fine wines sourced by nearby winery Hundred Hills.)

Throughout the year, The Store plans to host a range of pop-ups at the rooftop bar, themed to the season and special occasion, with a fun but approachable menu, rotating comforting favorites like wood-fired pizzas and even American-style, slow-cooked smoked meats.

The Rooftop Bar and Terrace. Adam Link

Treadwell is also launching two weekend dining programs. First is brunch, which normally is self-explanatory, but the menu here is anything but your usual pancakes and eggs, with items like stuffed raspberry and vanilla cheesecake croissants; sweet corn fritters with smashed avocado, confit tomato, green dukkha and Aleppo chili; and pulled ham hock and Boston beans on toast with a fried duck egg. And in grand English tradition, Sunday roasts will be served family-style in the evening with several meaty options (chicken, pork, beef, lamb—you pick)—but also an agave glazed mustard and herb seitan road with vegan gravy.

In the coming weeks, The Store plans to open an alfresco dining area with sidewalk seating for up to 60 people to enjoy drinks and snacks from the lobby bar. And the hotel is working on developing a corner space on the lobby level as an activation area for local businesses for events on weekends, like pottery demonstrations and live music performances.

“The space will operate like a department store window display that piques your curiosity. We want people to have a journey here, maybe come in for coffee, and discover the rooftop bar for drinks,” Ben Lancaster, marketing and communications manager for The Store, tells Observer. “We want to give that feel peering into a window at a department store, when you look inside and don’t know what to expect. We want to take that to another level.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Popular Articles