Henry BOSWELL (1835–1897)
His sister Miss Mary Ann BOSWELL (1846–1879)
St Michael section: Row 37, Grave L48½

Henry Boswell



BORN APRIL 16, 1846
DIED OCT 19, 1879




DIED FEB. 4, 1897



Henry Boswell and his youngest sister Mary Anne Boswell were born in Oxford in 1835 and 1846 respectively.

Their parents were Francis Boswell (born in Oxford in 1802/3) and Jane Duncan Lee (born in London on 24 December 1804 and baptised at Shoreditch on 21 March 1805, the daughter of Joseph & Sarah Lee). They had the following six children:

  • Henry Boswell (born in St Thomas’s parish in west Oxford on 27 January 1835 and baptised at St Thomas’s Church on 22 March)
  • Edward Boswell (born in Oxford in 1837/8)
  • Jane Duncan Boswell (born at 50 Cornmarket Street in 1841 and baptised at St Michael’s Church on 24 March)
  • Eliza Laetitia Boswell (born at 50 Cornmarket Street in 1843 and baptised at St Michael’s Church on 8 March)
  • Francis or Frank Boswell (born at 50 Cornmarket Street in 1844 and baptised at St Michael’s Church on 10 November)
  • Mary Ann Boswell (born at 50 Cornmarket on 16 April 1846 and baptised at St Michael’s Church on 17 May).

In 1798 Henry's grandfather, also called Henry Boswell, had set up business as a trunk and packing-case maker at the former 50 Cornmarket Street, but in latter years the shop considered its foundation date to be 1738, and certainly a Mr Boswell was listed at 50 Cornmarket Street at the time of the 1772 Survey of Oxford.

Henry’s father Francis Boswell was described as a carpenter when his first two children were baptised in 1835 and 1841. In the census of 1841 Henry (6) and his siblings Edward (3) and Jane (four months) were home at 50 Cornmarket Street in St Michael’s parish with their mother Jane Boswell and a servant.

Henry's grandfather of the same name died in 1842, and Henry's father Francis Boswell then took over his business: he is described as a trunk maker at his children’s baptisms from 1843 onwards, and is listed as the proprietor of the portmanteau business at 50 Cornmarket Street in Hunt’s Directory for 1846.

At the time of the 1851 census Henry (16) was working as an assistant in the shop at 50 Cornmarket, and was living upstairs with his father Francis (48), who was now described as a portmanteau maker employing five men, his mother Jane (45), and his five siblings: Edward (13), Jane (10), Eliza Laetitia (8), and Frank (6), who were all still at school, and Mary Anne (4).

Henry Boswell became very interested in botany in the 1850s, and started to specialize in bryology. In 1860 his first article on “Oxfordshire Mosses” appeared in the Journal of Botany.

At the time of the 1861 census Henry (26), described as a trunk maker, was still living over the shop at 50 Cornmarket Street with his father Francis (58), described as a portmanteau maker employing four men and five boys, his mother Jane (54), and his five siblings: Edward (23), who was a cabinet maker, Jane (20) and Eliza (18), who were shopwomen, and Mary Ann (13), who was still at school.

In 1862 Henry’s father Francis Boswell died in Oxford at the age of 59 and was buried at Iffley on 27 June. Henry took over his business.

On 16 April 1868 at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, Henry Boswell married the twice-widowed Mrs Catherine Martha Lucy, née Jennings, formerly Mrs Lillingston, who was the stepmother of William Lucy of the Eagle Ironworks. The marriage was announced thus in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, with no mention of his wife's second husband:

“April 16, at St. Martin’s in-the-Fields, London, by the Rev. A. E. Northey, Mr. Henry Boswell, of the Corn Market, to Catharine Martha, relict of Mr. William Castle Lucy, of 3, Park-place, St. Giles’s.”

Henry Boswell was aged 35 and Catherine 55 at the time of the wedding. They moved into Langholme, 109 Woodstock Road, on which Catherine had taken out the first lease when a widow in 1866.

JOJ 30 May 1868

The advertisement on the right appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 30 May 1868 and shows that Henry Boswell had just opened a second shop at 49 Cornmarket Street next door to his first, where he sold hats, hosiery, and shirts: this was the first move towards Boswell’s becoming the department store that it is today.

That advertisement dates the founding of Boswell's to 1798, when Henry Boswell the elder opened his packing-case business at 50 Cornmarket Street.

At the time of the 1871 census Henry Boswell (37) still described himself as a trunk manufacturer and was living at 109 Woodstock Road with Catherine (with her age rounded down seven years to 50) and their servant. By 1872 he was described in directories as both a trunk maker & hosier.

At the beginning of 1872 Henry Boswell’s book The Mosses of Oxfordshire and the Neighbourhood of Oxford was published.

Henry’s sister Mary Ann Boswell (24) never married. She was living over her brother’s shop at 50 Cornmarket Street at the time of the 1871 census with her unmarried sister Jane (30). She died there in 1879:

† Miss Mary Ann Boswell died at 50 Cornmarket Street at the age of 32 on 19 October 1879 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 22 October (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

Her effects came to under £100, and Henry was her executor.

47-51 CornmarketI

In 1874 Henry Boswell rebuilt the group of five shops at 47 to 51 Cornmarket that still survive today.

47–51 Cornmarket

The photograph on the left shows this group of shops in about 1900. No. 51 is nearest the camera, then Boswell’s own shops are at Nos. 50 and 49 (the latter to the north has a sign for Long’s Registry upstairs).

In 1881 Henry Boswell (48), now employing just four men, was living at 109 Woodstock Road with his wife Catherine (55) and one servant. Henry Boswell was created a Master of Arts by the University of Oxford on 23 November 1886.

On 10 August 1888 Henry’s wife Mrs Catherine Martha Boswell died at Langholme on the Woodstock Road,, with her age recorded as 68, but she was in fact 75. Her burial on 14 August 1888 was listed in the parish registers of both St Giles’s Church and Ss Philip & James’s Church, and she was buried in the grave of her mother and her second husband, William Castle Lucy, in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery. Her effects came to £3,944.

In 1890 Boswell sold his business at 50 Cornmarket Street to Arthur Pearson, who retained the name H. Boswell & Co. Pearson already ran an ironmonger's shop at 31 Cornmarket on the other side of the street (which he later rebuilt as the Oxford Drug Company).

Jackson’s Oxford Journal reports that on 21 February 1891 Henry Boswell, M.A. gave a lecture on “Mosses” at Witney in connection with the Natural History Society. Six weeks later in the 1891 census Henry Boswell, a widower of 56, still described himself as a portmanteau maker and was living alone at 109 Woodstock Road with two servants.

Later in the 1890s he was admitted as a patient to the Warneford Asylum in Headington. He died at the Asylum in 1897 and was buried with his sister:

† Henry Boswell died at the Warneford Asylum at the age of 62 on 4 February 1897 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 9 February (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

His death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 6 February 1897 read, “Feb. 4, at Headington, Henry Boswell, Esq., M.A., of 50, Cornmarket-street, Oxford. Funeral in St Sepulchre's Cemetery on Tuesday, at three o'clock.” The following report on his funeral appeared a week later, and George Claridge Druce, with whom he had worked on the Flora of Oxfordshire, was one of the mourners:

FUNERAL OF MR. HENRY BOSWELL.— At St. Sepulchre's Cemetery, on Tuesday, the interment took place of the remains of Mr. Henry Boswell, M.A., formerly of Cornmarket Street. The first portion of the sacred rite was read in the chapel by the Rev. B. J. Kidd, and the service at the grave side was conducted by the Rev. T. H. Stokoe. The mourners included Miss Boswell and Mrs. Warland (sisters), Mr. W. Lillingston and Mr. W. H. Walsh, and there were also present Mr. Sheriff Druce, Mr. E. A. Ryman Hall, Mr. J. Wicks and others. The deceased gentleman, who was an eminent bryologist, had not only studied the mosses of Britain, but had an intimate acquaintance with a great number of foreign species, and his knowledge was utilised by many correspondents in different parts of the world. Mr. Boswell had named and described several new mosses. In his early days his attention was directed to the study of flowering plants, but subsequently he developed a greater fondness for the study of bryology. He possessed a large collection of mosses, which it is hoped will be secured by the University. In recognition of his services to bryological science, Oxford University in 1887 conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts.

His effects came to £1,535 (grant of probate at Oxfordshire History Centre, SL38/1/24W/1).


Arthur Pearson continued to run Boswell's at 30 Cornmarket until 1929, when he moved the shop across to the newly built Boswell House on the corner of Cornmarket and Broad Street.

This was connected to Pearson’s other shop, the Oxford Drug Company at the north-east end of Cornmarket, and both still operate as Boswell & Co of Oxford today (right).

In November 2019 Boswell's announced its intention to close in 2020, after operating for 282 years in Oxford. Consultation is now being held on turning the building into the Store Hotel.

Henry Boswell's herbarium survives in the Oxford University Herbaria at the Department of Plant Sciences in Oxford. The flowering plants, conifers, and ferns are incorporated in the British collections of herbaria, but the more substantial part of his collection, comprising mosses and liverworts, are held as a separate Boswell Herbarium. There are more of his specimens in the Stephen T. Olney Herbarium at Brown University in the USA. Boswell's letters are at the Natural History Museum in London.



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