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The building’s story

Image: An architectural diagram of the front of the Story Museum

The story of Rochester House

The Story Museum’s home has a fascinating story all of its own.

It’s in the heart of the mediaeval Jewish quarter (in those days St Aldates was called Great Jewry Street). Merton College bought the site in 1271 from Jacob the Jew, the son of Rabbi Moses of Oxford, also known as Moses the Magnificent.

Part of the building used to be a public house, The Leden Porch Hall, where Dr Johnson sometimes drank. The pub is listed in the 1846 Oxford Directory, with the publican named as John Clarke.

At the end of the 19th century, the pub was rebuilt and the present Rochester House constructed, together with stables and a barn. It was named after the Bishop of Rochester, Walter de Merton, the founder of the Merton College. The very first purpose-built student accommodation was established here.

Post Office connections

In 1921 the site was sold to the Postmaster General for £6,400. A sorting office was also built and, later on, a telephone exchange. A further three-storey building was added in 1934, for a larger telephone exchange and postal strong rooms.

With the construction and opening of a new telephone exchange in Speedwell St in 1959, the buildings reverted to staff offices, as well as a staff canteen, sorting and storage areas.

Merton College bought back the site in 2003, leasing it for redevelopment to The Carlyle Group. But then came the recession: the buildings stood empty for several years.

The Story Museum acquired a 132-year lease in November 2009, thanks to an anonymous fairy godmother who contributed £2.5m. We’re gradually transforming our three buildings into a unique place that celebrates story and storytelling in all its forms, while staying true to the character and history of our site.

Piecing the story together

If you have any stories or memories connected with the buildings’ history do get in touch with us – we would love to hear them.