Shopkeeper pioneered sale of ethnic wares

Ruth Stockland

Ruth Stockland

First published in News

A SHOPKEEPER and designer who pioneered the sale of ethnic wares has died aged 74.

Ruth Stockland ran Stockland in Little Clarendon Street, Jericho in the 1960s to 1980s with first husband Jonathan.

It opened in 1965 and became one of the first in the country to sell homeware products made in the developing world.

It sold items like shopping baskets woven in Kenya, a customer favourite, and products from acclaimed British brands Liberty and Laura Ashley.

The couple also began selling their own clothes range for women under the label Bluestocking and ran an interior design business, Stockland Dickens, from the second floor.

Major projects it was to take on included the decoration of new buildings like Merton College.

The shop was dubbed “the Sloaniest shop in Little Trendy Street”, a reference to London’s high-end fashion, top-label Sloane Street, by infamous 1980s shopper’s guide the Official Sloane Ranger Directory.

After her first marriage was dissolved she decided to focus on her Bluestocking range, opening a shop in North Parade, which sold nationally via mail order.

Son William Stockland said: “The Bluestocking brand became synonymous with a traditional, but chic style, ideal for the liberal and aspiring Oxford woman.”

Ruth Carole Berger was born in Manchester on August 29, 1939, to parents Leon, an architect, and Mary, a teacher. She has two siblings, Angela Pullin, 71, and Stephen Berger, 72.

Mrs Stockland went to school first in Cheadle, Greater Manchester before her family moved to Southampton, where she attended Southampton Grammar School for Girls.

In 1957 she won a place to study archaeology and anthropology at Girton College, Cambridge, where she met some of the finest anthropologists of her generation, including Sir John Goody.

After completing her degree she spent over a year in rural Tanzania, living with a remote tribe to research oral histories on behalf of the British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa.

In 1963 she returned to Britain and took a job at Oxford-based Oxfam, in the information department.

There she met her future husband, Jonathan Stockland, who was the deputy director of the education department. They married in 1965 and had their first child, Rebecca, in 1966 followed by William in 1970.

The couple shared an interest in developing countries, particularly those in eastern and southern Africa and so opened Stockland to sell their wares shortly after they wed.

They traded from the premises until 1985.

In 1986 Mrs Stockland opened Bluestocking, in North Parade, and further expanded her clothing brand.

She closed the business in 1994 due to health problems as well as economic problems.

She met second husband Ronnie Sonneborn in 1988.

Until 1999 she was then a co-ordinator for the Access scheme in Oxford, which helped students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into university.

In retirement she enjoyed watercolour painting and spending time with her grandchildren, Milly and Imogen.

Ruth Stockland died peacefully at home on July 24 after suffering from metastatic breast cancer. She is survived by her husband, her brother and sister, her daughter and son and two grandchildren.

A funeral at Oxford Crematorium took place on July 31.

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