On 8 February Liz Woolley described the history of the Kingerlee family and their building firm, founded in 1868 by Thomas Henry Kingerlee, and celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2018 under the chairmanship of Thomas’s great great grandson David Kingerlee.
In 1868 Thomas Henry took over his father’s plumbing and glazing business at 5 Butcher’s Row, Banbury. By 1881 he was a ‘master builder’ employing 20 men. In 1883 he acquired an established building business in Queen Street, Oxford. This was an astute move: Oxford’s suburban ‘base and brickish skirt’ was growing rapidly, and builders were in keen demand.
The firm’s first major commission in Oxford was an isolation hospital at Cold Arbour. Kingerlee established yards near Osney Bridge (Botley Road), and from 1890 to 1915 the family lived in the fine house which is now the River Hotel. The firm built, and rented out, terraces of houses in new streets on both sides of Botley Road, and also developed new streets off Abingdon Road and Iffley Road. They built a delightfully quirky hotel in Queen Street, Frank Cooper’s marmalade factory in Park End Street, and what is now the Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street.
Thomas Henry was a prominent member of the Congregational Church, and master-minded the construction of a new chapel in Summertown. He was active as a Liberal city councillor and twice mayor. He died in 1928; his will enjoined his sons Henry and Charles to ‘provide help to old employees … during the evening of life’.
In 1937 Kingerlee won the contract to build St Luke’s Church Cowley (now the Oxfordshire History Centre). From 1938 the firm had major ongoing contracts at Pressed Steel, Cowley. They built a beautiful ice rink in Botley Road, later converted to a cinema (and sadly now replaced by Waitrose). For many years they had staff permanently working at Blenheim Palace.
In 1939 Henry gave land to North Hinksey Parish Council to be laid out as a playing field in memory of his second wife Louie. Henry died in 1945, and his son Jack took over as head of the firm.
After 1945, the firm continued to flourish. Notable projects included BBC Radio Oxford, Summertown (1988); the Jacqueline du Pré concert hall at St Hilda’s College (1995); and placing an Antony Gormley statue on the roof of Exeter College (2009). In 1999 the firm moved its headquarters to Kidlington.
The Club was particularly glad to be able to welcome as guests for this talk former employees, and descendants of former employees, who spoke warmly of the firm. In response to a question about the reasons for Kingerlee’s success, Liz Woolley mentioned the firm’s sound finances, and Thomas Henry’s weekly meetings with colleagues from other firms, which possibly avoided too fierce competition between them.
You can view here the beautifully illustrated commemorative book by Liz Woolley and Siân Smith.