Supermac’s famous wind of change hit Oxford hard in the middle of the 20th century — and changed its shopping scene forever. I refer here not to the products of an American hamburger chain — these came later — but to a future prime minister and Chancellor of Oxford University, Harold Macmillan.

As Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1954, it was he who found himself in the eye of Oxford’s bitterest planning storm; a storm which led in time to the construction of the Clarendon Centre, named after that highly civilised 17th-century man of letters and benefactor of Oxford, Lord Clarendon — who must surely be spinning in his grave as a result.

Even the long-lasting row about whether or not to build a road across Christ Church Meadow never quite raised the blood pressures of both Townsmen and Gownsmen to the levels achieved by the battle over the old Clarendon Hotel — which stood where the entrance to the Clarendon Centre stands today.

The story runs like this: Woolworth’s bought the much-loved hotel in 1939 and applied to pull it down to make way for a store at 52-53 Cornmarket; the city council turned the application down; Woolworth’s appealed to Mr Macmillan — who overturned the refusal. The hotel was demolished (see above) in 1954 and the new store opened in 1957.

Such was the ire of some dons that they threatened to vote against an honorary doctorate being granted to Mr Macmillan — who was, of course, a former Balliol student — and the offer was consequently quietly withdrawn.

The store remained there until 1983. Then Woolworth’s moved out and its building was remodelled to incorporate the entrance to the Clarendon Centre.

But the dons had been right, Woolworth’s victory did radically change the character of the city centre. And the arrival of the store at 52-53 Cornmarket did mark something of a shopping revolution, for it represented a challenge to those long-established emporia of old-fashioned decorum: department stores — including such famous names as Cape’s, Webbers and, of course, Elliston and Cavell.

Stepping into one of these was like entering a sort of dream world in which, as in the TV comedy Are You Being Served?, smartly dressed people in lifts shouted out archaic words like Drapery, Haberdashery, Millinery, Hosiery, Lingerie, and Lady’s Powder Room.

At Elliston and Cavell, this last — I am reliably informed — came complete with basins in the shape of pink marble swans, gold taps, and a lady dressed in black — who was constantly there to make sure the towels were fresh, and so forth.

Elliston’s, as Elliston and Cavell was usually called, occupied the site of the present-day Debenham’s in Magdalen Street — which still incorporates much of its facade. It was founded in 1823 by Jesse Elliston, who went into partnership with James Cavell in 1835. Their firm prospered and became the largest department store in Oxford. It was taken over by Debenham’s in 1953 but continued to trade under its old name for another 20 years. Whatever happened, I wonder, to its sweeping staircase with its wide shallow steps and its Bakelite mural depicting deer in a sort of forest glade? It belonged to another world all right, as did the knickerbocker glories served by waitresses in white pinnies in the cafe.