Oxford Ghost Signs: Oxfordshire Steam Ploughing Company

John Allen Centre

The crest at the top shows a steam engine with the date underneath, and then below that is an original plaque reading:

The Oxfordshire Steam Ploughing Company was founded in 1868 in High Street, Church Cowley (renamed Between Towns Road in c.1930) by Walter Eddison and Richard Noddings.(Cowley was then well outside the City of Oxford, and the two “towns” that the road joined were Temple Cowley and Church Cowley.) It originally just hired out steam engines (complete with water carts) to farmers.

On 13 January 1883 Walter Eddison and Richard Noddings announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal that their partnership had been dissolved on 31 December 1882, and in 1885 Major John Allen, an Irish-born mechanical engineer who lived at the Elms in Iffley, became a partner in the firm. He rose to manager in 1887.

In 1890 the Oxfordshire Steam Plough Company also started making steam rollers. The following advertisement appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 13 July 1895:

JOJ advertisement

John Allen bought the firm from the Eddison family in 1897, but it was not until 1925 that is was renamed John Allen & Sons. He died in Bournemouth at the age of 77 on 20 April 1934, and was buried in Iffley churchyard. His effects came to £123,369.

The Historic England photograph below taken by by Henry Taunt in 1909 shows two steam road rollers outside the storage sheds of John Allen & Sons works in 1909:

In 1976 the site was taken over by Grove Cranes. They closed eight years later in 1984, and the buildings were demolished to make way for the John Allen Centre retail park. The Dutch gable at the entrance to the works, bearing the above inscription so evidently dating from 1900, was taken down and carefully reconstructed and rebuilt as shown below in a slightly different position:

Whole wall of steam plough building

The archive of John Allen & Sons (Oxford) Ltd is held at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading

See also Carole Newbigging, Susanne Shatford, & Trevor Williams, The Changing Faces of Cowley (the first unnumbered book in the series of three), Section Two: “John Allen & Sons” (pp. 29–44)

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Stephanie Jenkins