About Reavley’s

Robert Reavley c.1946

This is the oldest pharmacy in England. On 16 July 1734, Nicholas Willet leased these premises as an apothecary. A pharmacy has continued here under several ownerships, ever since.

The Origins

For over 300 years before that, the building was the Crown Inn. During the Civil War, Burford was held by the Royalist General Eyres, who made his headquarters at the Crown Inn. The registers of the local Parish Church for 1552 record “a soldier slain at ye Crowne, buried 15 of May.”

Becoming Reavley’s

The names of Nicholas Willett’s successors are unknown until the 1840’s when the pharmacy was bought by Thomas O’Reilly. His wife continued to run it after his death 20 years later. It was bought at the turn of the last century by Edwin Ballard, who sold it in 1918 to Robert Reavley, a pharmacist from Jarrow in Northumberland. After qualifying as a pharmaceutical chemist, he had worked in India for a time, marrying Rachel Penman on his return. Rachel’s brother Roger lived in Cheltenham, so to be nearer to him, they came to Burford.

The town was poor then, and in common with most other houses, there was only one water tap, which was outside the back door, and the lavatory was outside as well. The shop was only half its present size then, the northern part being the family front sitting-room.

A Family Business

Their only child was Eric born in 1909. After attending the local Grammar School, he worked as a clerk at a cement factory near Woodstock. The Grammar School had been for boys only, but in the 1920’s, girls were admitted from the town and surrounding villages. One of the first girls from Shipton-under-Wychwood, a village six miles away, was Sybil Miles, who would cycle between home and school, as did many others. When she left school, Sybil decided to train as a pharmacist and so became an apprentice to Robert Reavley before going to college. She and Eric married in January 1935, and she qualified in October of that year.

The building was altered to accomodate the new couple and the three children they had in due course: Nigel, Alison and Cedric. Robert Reavley died in 1955, but Sybil and Eric continued the business in the same name. Rachel died in 1967, and the reorganisation of the premises which this made possible enabled the shop to be expanded to its present size while still retaining many of the original fittings. Of the three children, Cedric was the only one to decide to train as a pharmacist, and he registered in 1974, joining his mother Sybil to run the business in partnership. Eric died in 1976 and Sybil in 1994.

Continued Service

Today, Cedric is proud to continue the family business of Robert Reavley, keen to maintain the traditions of personal service and attention to individual requirements. At the same time, it has never been more important to be up-to-date with the latest medicines and research, and he devotes much time and energy to this as well.