Sarah-Jane COOPER (1848–1932)
83 High Street, Oxford
Sarah Jane Gill, born in 1848 at Beoly, Redditch, in Worcestershire, was a member of the famous Oxford family of ironmongers. In 1872 while staying with her brother at Westbury-on-Trym near Clifton, she married Frank Cooper, an ‘Italian Warehouseman’ (high-class grocer). He had inherited the business from his father, Francis Cooper, who had been able to lease from University College numbers 83 and 84 High Street. These had formed an annexe to the Angel Inn soon to be demolished to make way for the Examination Schools.
The Coopers began their married life at 31 Kingston Road but soon moved back to the High. She made the first batch of marmalade in her kitchen there in 1874 and some was sold in the shop. The Scottish fashion for lighter breakfasts including marmalade had arrived in Oxford not long before. The Coopers were the first in Oxford to market a homemade recipe with wholesome ingredients, just Seville oranges and sugar. They sold it in the attractive white stoneware jars made for them by Malings of Newcastle. Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade became an essential part of college breakfasts. Demand followed Oxford men to all parts of the Empire and the firm enjoyed royal patronage.
In 1903 Frank Cooper Ltd opened a new and architecturally striking factory, designed by Herbert Quinton, at Victoria Buildings, Park End Street, near the station. The High Street shop continued in use until 1919. The Coopers moved house from there in 1907 to 155 Woodstock Road. Sarah Jane seems to have retired gracefully when the new factory opened but her husband was actively involved in the business until his death in 1927. William Frank Cooper, the eldest of their five children, became chairman of the firm.
The Second World War had an unsettling impact on business when the Victoria Buildings were requisitioned by the Ministry of Food. In 1947 depleted production started up in the old ice-rink building in Botley Road but in 1967 the business was bought by Brown and Polson. Operations were transferred to Wantage and later, by a strange coincidence, to Redditch, where Sarah Jane had been born. However, for a brief nostalgic interlude, from about 1985–1990 Frank Cooper Ltd leased 84 High Street and re-established a shop and museum there. Since 1997 the premises have been occupied by the Grand Café.
- Sources: Brigid Allen, Cooper’s Oxford (1989); www.headington.org.uk (history of High Street properties)
- Picture: Sarah Cooper’s former house and shop
The plaque was unveiled at 83 High Street, Oxford on 10 October 2001 by Hugo Brunner, Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire. Among those attending was Mrs Sheila Guest, the granddaughter of Frank and Sarah Cooper, and other family members.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
here in 1874
Oxford Civic Society