Cowley Road, W3

Place Name

The name Cowley is thought to be derived from Old English and mean the wood or clearing of a man named Cufa. But this street gets its name in a roundabout way after Cowley in Oxfordshire, where Morris cars were produced. They were distributed by Stewart & Ardern Limited who established “a great new depot in Acton. It was to become the largest service station and showroom in Britain” in the 1920s. The story began when William Morris, who had been running a successful garage, bicycle-building and car-hire business in Oxford, decided to make his own light cars. His plans however were stalled when supplies of the White & Poppe engines for his four-cylinder 1018cc Morris Oxford were not immediately available. Undeterred, he took his blueprints to the 1912 London Motor Show and laid them before Gordon Stewart. Stewart was so impressed that he placed an order for 400 of them without seeing or road-testing one. For his part Morris appointed him sole London distributor. Stewart had to wait a year before he finally got to see the finished product in Oxford – which promptly broke down on the way back to London. Undeterred, Stewart advertised the new car for £175 fully-equipped, before the first one took to the road in March 1913. His confidence was to lead to perhaps the greatest motor sales company in this country. MotorSport takes up the story: “The first premises occupied by Stewart and his partner Ardern were capable of accommodating just two cars, with a basement containing a stock of spare parts and a repair shop. The location was Woodstock Street in London’s West End. However, expansion was rapid when the post-war car boom came about, with pleasure-starved ex-service personnel and others seeking the open road, for which the Morris Cowley and Morris Oxford cars were well suited, outstripping the brief cyclecar phase. William Morris ensured that sales were well maintained, even through the post-Armistice financial crisis, by drastically slashing his prices when other car makers were raising theirs and many companies were going bankrupt.” In 1923, the company moved to larger premises in Bond Street as well as opening a service station and spare-parts stores near Victoria Station. However, even these facilities proved inadequate for the vast demand and so they built a new depot in Acton. It was to become the largest service station and showroom in Britain. “The site was The Vale, Acton, and the building that took shape there was described, at the time of its opening in 1926, as an architectural amenity to that district of the metropolis. This was achieved by avoiding elaborate ornament in favour of bold details, resulting in a building of quiet dignity, well proportioned and grouped. Yet within, it was splendidly suited to showing off Morris cars and it provided the most up-to-date facilities for servicing and repairing them and getting new cars out onto the road. This smart new depot flanked two appropriately named thoroughfares Cowley Road and Oxford Road, these branching off in L-formation from the Uxbridge Road, opposite the then offices of the Ministry of Pensions. On the ground floor, the spacious showrooms could accommodate up to 30 cars, with plenty of viewing space around each. This had been achieved because the architect had devised a pillarless construction, using beams 80 feet long to support the roof. The flooring was of parquet. Open-plan offices were situated behind the showroom. The total floorspace given over to the cars was approximately 8300 square feet.”

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