Thanks to Nuffield College, the Jam Factory in Oxford now has a new look, writes Sylvia Vetta.

It looks smart on the outside but my memories are more of the inside ground floor where, with Gill Hedge, I established Oxford’s first art and antiques centre in 1987.

In 1987 when we moved in, it was known as Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade Factory and some lovely ladies who had once worked there were delighted to nose around again and tell us stories.

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Gill and I felt Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade Factory was quite a mouthful and came up with a new name: The Jam Factory.

We hung a sign with that title on the side entrance and Oxford Antiques Centre around the front. Our name for the building has stuck but few people are aware of the origins.

For me history is more about the people than the buildings.

Oxford Mail:

A party at The Jam Factory

We had 30 dealers, a book shop, a cafe called the Marmalade Cat and good value services hard to find elsewhere from Stitch in Time to silver and jewellery repairs, book search and you could even get spare parts for your wind up gramophone. We were well known for our parties which often included customers!

Our customers ranged from Romany to Princess Margaret.

Oddly enough the Romanies didn’t haggle much but Princess Margaret did.

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All were welcomed whether office workers from Osney Mead, tourists, families with young children at the weekend and the transvestite customers into vintage fashion.

They mixed with the likes of well-known customers like the authors PD James and Brian Aldiss and Sir Richard Doll the scientist who made the link between smoking and cancer. Desmond Morris who collected Etruscan vases brought his friend David Attenborough in once. They all enjoyed the non–pretentious atmosphere.

Oxford Mail:

Inside The Jam Factory

It was used to pilot TV shows including one with Sister Wendy. So I had to refer to the Jam Factory as well as Jericho in my novel Sculpting the Elephant didn’t I?

The head lessor who had not renewed our lease in 1998 despite over 3000 disappointed customers signing a petition is no longer in charge so I organised a book launch in the restaurant.

Many former dealers came but they were joined by some friends from my current life, inspirational people whom The Oxford Times let me send to my mythological island of Oxtopia for the 10-year castaway series. They included Dwina Gibb, Ray Foulk, Legs Larry Smith and Joanna Harrison (going on a Bear Hunt director).

A few characters in my book were inspired by real Jam Factory people.

Oxford Mail:

Inside the revamped Jam Factory which is owned by Nuffield College

Ingrid Lindberg was larger than life and her story a fictional gem except it is all true.

Her family let me use Ingrid as herself in Sculpting the Elephant. Caroline Henney who now trades in Antiques on High and whom I think of as a Deco lady inspired the character Kathy, Harry King’s business partner in Deco-rators in Jericho.

The building in Frideswide Square has been given a new lease of life, following completion of a major refurbishment by the college in September.

There is also a new arrangement to let the office space to a new occupier – Oxford University Endowment Management.

The college, which has a long-term lease on the property, has finished a comprehensive restoration of the building, working with Oxford-based contractor Benfield & Loxley and a design team led by the property consultancy Savills.

Built at the start of the 20th century, the prominent former factory now offers more than 11,000 sq ft of office space.

In 1903, Frank Cooper’s original Jam Factory building was completed, on the site where it stands today on Park End Street and facing onto what is now Frideswide Square.

Oxford Mail:

Sylvia Vetta

The building was purpose-built in 1902-3 by the Oxford builder TH Kingerlee & Sons. The architect was Herbert Quinton.

Connectivity to the railway was a key reason for Frank Cooper choosing the site: just as remains the case today, the proximity to the railway was an important business advantage, both for the delivery of ingredients and for the distribution of finished product.

In 1925 the Jam Factory site was extended through the addition of a wing which takes the building out to the edge of Hollybush Row, where it stands today.

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In turn, this was then later connected by a yard with glazed roof to buildings at the back of the factory built in the 1930s. This extension is the area now used as the café and gallery space.The ornamental façade of the building featured prominent lettering ‘FRANK COOPER OXFORD MARMALADE’ which helped to create it as an Oxford landmark, especially for the thousands of travellers using the railway stations.

Oxford Mail:

In 1951, the factory closed when Cooper’s moved production to a new site on the Botley Road.