The iconic Oxford building that used to house Boswells department store is to be transformed into a new hotel and restaurant.

The family-run department store on the corner of Cornmarket Street and Broad Street closed its doors in March, and has been unable to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic. Having started trading in 1738, Boswells was the second oldest family run department store in the world. 

Proposals for the new four-star boutique hotel have been released by Oxford City Council in partnership with London-based property investment company Reef Group. The company has worked collaboratively with OCC officers, Historic England, the Oxford Design Review Panel as well as Oxford residents. 

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The plans include a restaurant and bar with a rooftop terrace for panoramic views of the city’s skyline. The lobby area will serve as a flexible workspace that is open to the public and at the centre of the building there will be a central atrium to harvest rainwater. 

According to the proposal, the development will “ensure that the building’s iconic frontage is preserved and enhanced. The 1920s exterior which faces onto Broad Street and the Cornmarket Street entrance will be cleaned and repaired, and its famous Boswell & Co signs will be retained.”

Ed Turner, deputy leader of Oxford City Council, called the plan “a real vote of confidence in Oxford city centre” and a “much-needed shot in the arm” for the tourism sector in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of tourism organisation Experience Oxfordshire, said: “Having a development that is looking to enhance the landscape of the city whilst preserving the heritage of the building is an innovative approach to redeveloping and enhancing this site.”

At the public consultation on Wednesday 15th July, attendees queried the decision to build an expensive hotel on the site given the city’s ongoing housing crisis, suggesting instead that it be converted into affordable housing for Oxford residents.

Reef Group intends to submit a planning application for the hotel later this year.

Image credit to Jpbowen