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Oxford Ghost Signs: Archer Cowley Ltd, 36–39 Park End Street


Cantay House

The huge building above dating from 1901 has the word CANTAY in the gable on the left and DEPOSITORIES in the gable on the right. The mosaic (below) with the word OFFICE has also survived at the customer entrance at the right-hand corner. Also Archer, Cowley & Co was etched on a window on the western side facing Park End Place.

The firm was sold to the Cantay Group in 1961, but continued to trade as Archer, Cowley & Co until the 1980s.

Cantay mosaid

Archer Cowley advertisement, 1930

Archer & Co had been based at 36 & 37 Pembroke Street, since 1876, and they continued to use this building as a warehouse even after their new premises in Park End Street were open.

On 12 October 1901 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that two commodious shops with warehouses over for Messrs James Archer & Co., furniture removers, were in course of erection. This is Cantay House at 36, 37, 38, and 39 Park End Street, Oxford.

Situated conveniently near the railway station, the building had 4,000 square feet of storage space and fireproof doors, and its floors and staircases were made of reinforced concrete. It is steel-framed, with iron columns cast by William Lucy's Eagle Ironworks in Jericho.

Extensive additions were made to the building in 1909 (see Oxford Chronicle of 8 October 1909)

By 1920 the firm was Archer, Cowley & Co.

The advertisement on the right is from Kelly’s Directory for 1930, and boasts that their warehouses had a capacity of over 750,000 cubic feet. This advertisement first appeared in the 1920s, when the telephone number was a digit shorter (397).

Archer Cowley remained on their premises in Park End Street until the 1980s.

The building was converted into a conference centre and office block in 2007, and W. E. Black bought it in 2011. Hooper Stonemasons restored the building.

History of the business

Archer & Co was established in 1842 according to their advertisements. By the 1870s it was owned by James Archer. He was the son of John Archer and his wife Frances, and was baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 21 December 1836. His father was a publican at the time of his birth but a brewer in St Aldate's Street by 1852 (presumably having taken over the brewery of John Archer senior, who was described as “many years a respectable brewer of St Aldate's” when he died on 8 August 1845 at the age of 79).

James Archer was the publican at the Anchor in New Road by 1869, and was described as being of the Anchor Hotel in the newspaper announcement of his marriage at St Peter-le-Bailey Church on 31 March 1874 to Fanny Porter, a bootmaker's daughter of 35 Hythe Bridge Street, but the parish register described him as a carrier of New Road. This advertisement published in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 12 September 1874 shows that the firm originally had depositories in both New Road and Castle Street:

Advertisement for Archer & Co 12 Sep 1874

On 29 April 1876 Jackson's Oxford Journal advertised a forthcoming sale of “household furniture, comprising carpets, mahogany and other tables, chairs, coaches, pier glasses, the fittings of eight bed rooms, kitchen requisites, and other effects ... by order of Mr. James Archer, who is removing to his new Pantechnicon [warehouse for storing goods] ] in Pembroke-street”. On 1 May 1876 Archer & Co moved to 36 & 37 Pembroke Street in St Aldate's (now a listed building), and the following advertisement for their “royal pantechnicon” appeared regularly in Jackson's Oxford Journal from 6 May 1876 to 30 November 1878:

The Archer advertisement of 1877

The 1881 census shows James Archer (43), with his occupation described as “Furniture Repository”, living at 37 Pembroke Street with his wife Fanny (41). but by 1891 they had moved to Stanton St John. .

Archer had 26 horses, and a 180-acre farm at Dean's Ham at Grandpont where they grazed. Their advertisements in the 1890s show that Archer & Co were then the sole carriers by appointment to Radley College and Abingdon, with their pantechnicons travelling there daily:

Archer advertisement in the 1890s

In 1882 James Archer bought a strip of land measuring just under two acres from the Great Western Railway, and laid out sixty plots on the west side of a new street called Archer Street, but ten years later that name was lost and it was just a continuation of Marlborough Road to the south. .

When the old Town Hall was demolished in 1896, it was Archer's firm that carted away the rubble and delivered the building materials for the new Town Hall.

James Archer had no children, and when he retired in 1919 he handed the business over to his nephew, William George Reed Archer. The other partners at that time were M. J. Cowley and R. Rippington.

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Stephanie Jenkins