BROAD STREET, OXFORD

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Nos. 48–51: Blackwell's Bookshop


Blackwell’s

Blackwell’s main bookshop is comprised of four old shops in Broad Street: Nos. 48, 49, 50, and 51 (running from right to left in the above picture). All four are Grade II listed buildings: the pair of houses on the left date from the early eighteenth century (listed ref. 1485/142), while the pair on the right were rebuilt and only date from 1936 (listed ref. 1485/143). Most of Blackwell’s cannot be seen from the street, as its vast basement extends under Trinity College’s quadrangle.

During the demolition

Nos. 48 and 49 became dangerous when their immediate neighbours to the east were demolished to make way for the New Bodleian Library in 1936. Blackwell’s managed to get a building lease of the site of 48, 49, and Bliss Court (which ran between 49 and 50) at an annual rent of £155, for eighty years from Trinity College. The dangerous shops were demolished, and the right-hand half of the present shop was rebuilt to include the large area of Bliss Court, whose remaining tenants were rehoused.

Bliss Court was painted by J. A. Shuffrey in c.1907 (OXCMS: 2002.74,87, pictured on p. 473 of Lauren Gilmour and Margaret Shuffrey, J. A. Shuffrey 1859–1939: An Oxford Artist's Life Remembered).

 

Blackwell’s from the air

 

Above: the front of John Chaundy’s shop at No. 49 shored up during the demolition process.

 

Right: Nos. 48–51 as they were before the right-hand pair of shops had to be rebuilt

(Both old pictures reproduced by kind permission of Sue Chaundy)


Susannah Seckham

Nos. 48 and 49

There were given to the parishioners of St Mary Magdalen by George Owen in the sixteenth century, but they sold them to Trinity College in about 1920.

1851 census No. 48 was occupied by Susanna Seckham (right), a dealer in glass and china, her spinster daughter, and their servant; she had been here since at least 1839 and remained here until her death in 1862. Next door at No. 49 lived Charles Lobb and his wife Mary: aged 57 and 62 respectively, they are incongruously described as haymakers, but they must have been doing well as the kept a servant.

1881 census No. 48 was occupied by Elizabeth Rose, a widowed glass and china merchant, and her son Edward, a building surveyor. Next door at No. 49 lived John Chaundy, a print seller and lay clerk, with his wife, five sons, and a general servant


Chaundy’s. 49 The Broad

Bliss Court

In the middle of the four shops was a passage leading to Bliss Court, where in 1881 fifty people lived crammed in nine houses stacked beside what is now the right-hand side of Blackwell’s. The passage to the court shows up clearly in the picture below of John Chaundy’s picture shop (reproduced with kind permission of Sue Chaundy). In 1881 the eponymous W.H. & J. Bliss, painters & plumbers, occupied Bliss Court behind, along with John Parr, a tailor, and Charles Mathews, an engraver.

 

English Heritage website:


Nos. 50 and 51

These belonged to the city from 1549 until the 1930s.

1851 census John Bradfield, a glazier and plumber, lived at No. 50 with his wife and five grown-up children (two of them described as plumbers themselves); he was also there in 1841. No. 51 was occupied by John Lockwood, a master tailor employing six men, with his wife, five young children, and a general servant.

1881 census The widowed Mrs Ann Blackwell lived at No. 50 with her son Benjamin H. Blackwell, aged 32, described as a "Bookseller master employing one apprentice and one boy" and one servant. The tailor at No. 51 had died recently, and his daughter, Miss Mary A. Lockwood, was continuing to run his business. She lived in the house with her two-year-old nephew, and an undergraduate boarder.


Blackwell’s

Blackwell’s began life in just one of its present four shops: No. 50 (second from the left). Benjamin Henry Blackwell’s father, Benjamin Harris Blackwell, had been a secondhand bookseller at 46 St Clement’s Street since 1845, before coming the first City Librarian. He died when young Benjamin was 6, and the latter was apprenticed to Charles Richards, a bookseller at 104 High Street, at the age of 13. He bought the freehold of 50 Broad Street and opened this shop on New Year’s Day 1879.

Occupants of 48, 49, 50, and 51 Broad Street listed in directories
Nos 50 and 51 were rebuilt in 1936

48

49

50

51

1830–1861:
Susannah Seckham
China Warehouse

1866–1889
Mrs E. Rose
China & glass ware

1890–1912:
William B. London
Hairdresser, perfumer, stationer, & newsagent (& post office from 1896)

1913–1937
City Typewriter Co.
&
Carfax School of Shorthand

1846:
John Daly, Stationer

1852:
Charles Lobb, Staymaker

1861:
H. Sanders

1866–1915:
John Chaundy
Heraldic painter, carver gilder, & picture frame maker
(also at 45)

1846, 1852:
John Bradfield
Plumber, & glazier

1866–1876:
Ed. Haynes
Painter & decorator

1879–1882:
B.H. Blackwell
Second-hand & new bookseller

1846–1884:
Lockwood Tailors

1846:Henry Lockwood
1852–1867: Mrs Lockwood
1869–1880:James Lockwood
1884:Mary A. Lockwood

1887–1918:
B.H. Blackwell
Second-hand & new bookseller

1919–1937:
B.H. Blackwell
Second-hand & new bookseller

1939–present:
Blackwell’s Bookshop

There, in the Broad, within whose booky house
Half England’s scholars nibble books or browse.
Where'er they wander blessed fortune theirs:
Books to the ceiling, other books upstairs;
Books, doubtless, in the cellar and behind
Romantic bays, where iron ladders wind.

John Masefield

 

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Last updated: 16 November, 2008