The Oxo Tower

The chances of finding an Oxo cube at Harvey Nichols’ Oxo Restaurant are practically nil, and finding a manufacturer of a meat cube, or any other product for that matter, fronting the Thames is equally zero. But once in this part of London was a veritable manufacturing base.

The site was saved from demolition by the Coin Street Community Builders who wanted to retain their community’s integrity was once where the royal barges were stored.

[O]xo was invented by the wonderfully named chemist Professor Justus Freiherr Von Liebig, who in addition to improving our Sunday roasts; discovered nitrogen was an essential plant nutrient.

His scientific skills did not transfer to marketing when he founded a gravy company with the catchy title ‘The Liebig Extract of Meat Company’ or LEMCO which produced a thick liquid of – well – meat extract containing 4 per cent salt.

The clever professor died in 1899 and with him went the meat concoction many couldn’t afford along with the LEMCO branding, which sounded more like a cold remedy.

Rebranded Oxo for reasons lost in the mists of time, but in all probability derived from ox, a ten-year research programme gave us the much cheaper beef cube we know today.

A power station had been built at Gabriel’s Wharf but by 1920 it was defunct and the Liebig Company bought it to convert to a cold store.

The savvy Oxo Company wanted to advertise their product to Londoners; they had proved its popularity by supplying the armed services with 100 million cubes during World War One.


The local authorities were adverse to outside advertising, the electronic billboards set up in Piccadilly’s London Pavilion in 1923 were considered too crass. So when Oxo applied to display their fine product it was refused.

Fortuitously the company was no more the Liebig Extract of Meat Company so Albert Moore, the company’s architect when adding a tower atop their cold store produced a 10ft tall artwork by created by piercing holes through the wall, one an X shape and two on either side forming circles. The local authority accepted this as building decoration rather than advertising, giving us the Oxo tower we know today.

Photo: Vintage Oxo cube tin by H is for Home (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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