Turl Street Kitchen opened in late 2011. Prior to that the building’s been rather a lot of things...
First, Turl Street:
In 1363 the name Turl Street would have meant nothing to the inhabitants of Oxford with the street originally being called St Mildred’s Street (not that exciting as Saints go, living a pious life at Minister-In-Thanet before dying of a lingering complaint). However, due to the number of gold and silversmiths’ shops gathered at the High Street end it was also referred to as Sylver Street.
It was not until the mid seventeenth century that it acquired the more familiar name Turl Gate Street. This was due to a twirling gate in the old city wall (Turl also coming from the Anglo-Saxon tirl meaning ‘narrow street’ or ‘gate’ or, in the opinion of Andrew Lang, a corruption of Thorold). Because the gate itself was an important passage through the city wall it is likely that it dates from the early 13th Century.
With its name taking shape, Turl Street was still dissimilar to how we know it today. It ended at its junction with Ship Street where it hit the city wall (and, don’t forget, the twirling gate). The section to the south of Ship Street was known as Lincoln College Lane until as late as 1751. By 1551, Turl Gate Street was extended by a path commonly known as ‘The path leading from the Hole in the Wall’ to reach what is now Broad Street. In 1722 the gate, just to the north of the junction with St Michael Street, was removed altogether.
Tom Hearne, Master of Arts at St. Edmund’s (and at one time Deputy-Librarian of the Bodleian) wrote in his diary “the famous postern-gate called the Turl Gate” was “pulled down by one Dr. Walker, who lived by it, and pretended that it was a detriment to his house.”
16-17 Turl Street:
Now to zoom in on our little section of the street, the four-storey timber framed Georgian building that is to become our new home. 16 Turl Street was erected in 1785 by a Mr. Priddy to provide accommodation for the scholars of Exeter College so it should be well used to the presence of students, though perhaps of a slightly different breed. This was part of a newly built quarter of the prosperous and expanding 18th century City. By 1820, the Ship Street side of the building had become a coffee house (the Ship Inn, from which the Street takes its name, was further down towards Cornmarket) demonstrating a history of thirst quenching that we are hoping to continue.
The partitioned layout of the upper floors suggested they were used as commercial offices rather than residential accommodation throughout the 19th and early 20th century and a top storey was added sometime before 1865. In keeping with tradition, this top storey will become the Oxford Hub’s new offices as well as the centre of other projects such as SRSH and Jacari.
From 1945 to 1992, Number 16 Turl Street housed the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant, opened by the Bahadur brothers. It went on to be occupied by a variety of restaurants including Whites, Shimla Pink’s (1998) and Livebait (2001).
In the Autumn of 2004 QI moved in and were the first to unite all floors in a single business, restoring it to its original 18th century layout. With a library, bar and members club, the top floor housed their researchers who uncovered the old story that it was on the site of the building, within the city wall, and not outside it in Broad Street, that Archbishop Cranmer was burnt at the stake. It also rumoured that his ghost lurks around in the basement.
In 2007 the building was bought buy A Curious Group of Hotels who combined numbers 16 and 17. They set up another private members club, The Corner Club.
Following the closure of The Corner Club the building was briefly a squat, during which we are led to believe a large quantity of very-good-indeed wine was consumed by the squatters. Nevertheless, in March 2011 we signed the lease on the building and our adventure began...