The name of John Allen and Sons was known in many parts of the world.

The Oxford engineering firm made cranes, rollers, excavators, scythes, mowers, saws – almost everything needed for outdoor work.

Its products were exported to almost every major country during its 117-year existence.

We were reminded of the company’s long and outstanding record when reader David Brown sent in a picture taken in about 1904 of a gang of workmen at Cowley with a steam road roller.

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The sign on the front of the machine gave the firm’s original name, the Oxford Steam Ploughing Company.

An open day for visitors at John Allen’s in 1951

An open day for visitors at John Allen’s in 1951

It occupied a site on the corner of Hockmore Street and Rymers Lane. Most of Hockmore Street was removed to make way for the Cowley shopping centre (now Templars Square) and Between Towns Road was extended to the Rymers Lane junction.

The firm was established in 1868 by Walter Eddison and Richard Nodding. John Allen arrived as manager in 1887 and 10 years later, bought the business from the Eddison family for £13,000. It was run by three generations of the Allen family.

In 1919, after being demobbed following First World War service, John Allen’s two sons, Major G Allen and Captain James Cullimore Allen, became joint managing directors – they were familiarly known as ‘The Major’ and ‘The Captain’. Their father retired the following year.

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The company was renamed John Allen and Sons (Oxford) Ltd in 1924.

The first newspaper cutting in the Oxford Mail library dates from October 1953 when the firm announced the building of a new type of excavator “which will ensure full employment”.

The factory’s gabled façade

The factory’s gabled façade

Despite the country still recovering from the effects of war, Oxford was enjoying a boom in trade, with the team at John Allen’s working more overtime than ever before.

One striking feature was the number of long-serving employees. The firm organised regular meetings of the ‘25 Club’, representing employees who had worked for 25 years or more – some had worked there as long as 50 years.

There was a special celebration in 1954 when the first woman joined the club – Edith Hibbard, 69, of Kelburne Road, Cowley, an office cleaner since 1929.

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The centenary year, 1968, began with short-time working and only 12 per cent of its products being exported, but ended on a happier note with workers back to full time and an increasing order book.

A scythe being shown to potential buyers in 1958

A scythe being shown to potential buyers in 1958

In 1972, with competition increasing and under John Allen, the third generation of the family, the firm became American-owned, was renamed Grove Allen, then Grove Cranes and opened a new factory at Bicester.

Fortunes continued to fluctuate, and the link with Oxfordshire ended in 1985 when the firm moved all operations to Sunderland.

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