Longbridge plant is an industrial site situated in
the Longbridge area of Birmingham, England.
Opened in 1905, Longbridge was once the largest manufacturing plant
in the world. During the 20th Century the site employed many
thousands of people, central to the economy of the local area.
Longbridge has produced a wide variety of products, although
consistently over time the product has been cars, perhaps most
notably the iconic Austin Mini
Second World War the main plant produced munitions and tank parts,
while the nearby East Works of Austin Aero Ltd at
Hackett produced several marques of aeroplane such as the
Short Stirling and the Hawker Hurricane.
Originally founded by an engineer and entrepreneur, the site has
been subject to state ownership as well as a variety of private
owners. Since 2005 when MG Rover
part of the site has been demolished to make way for commercial and
residential developments. The site is presently largely mothballed
and decisions about it future are either yet to be made, or yet to
be made public.
The factory at Longbridge was founded by Berkshire-born Herbert
. He learnt the engineering trade at the Wolseley
Car manufacturer, working on
tools as well as cars. Whilst at Wolseley, Austin produced an
experimental three-wheeled car, and then another in 1896 which was
exhibited at the Crystal
This success emboldened him to begin his
Austin undertook numerous exploratory rides around Birmingham in
his Wolseley 7.5 h.p.
Lambert, Chapter 6:
The Austin Motor Company is formed. At Longbridge, seven miles out
of the city, on the 4 November 1905
, he found a small derelict printing works
. He bought it; friends came
forward with financial help and the Austin Motor Company
On paper the first Austin was described as a 25-30 h.p. high-class
touring car with a four-speed gearbox
Each car had a material and quality guarantee and the first model
was produced at the end of March 1906, at a price of £650.
By 1908, there were 1,000 workers at the factory and a night shift
was introduced to help create adequate supply to meet the rising
demand for products. In February 1914, the Company was changed to
public ownership and the market
was increased to £50,000. All seemed to be set
fair and then the situation changed almost overnight.
World War I
The Longbridge plant was part of a significant rapid mobilisation
process which took place across Europe
announcement of World War I
that had been used to build Austin cars were employed to produce
munitions, and all the resources of the factory were harnessed to
serve the armed forces.
As the demand for weapons and equipment of every kind continued to
increase, the factory was expanded. By 1917 it had trebled in size and
possessed its own flying ground at Cofton Hackett, south of the main works that was operated by the
newly formed Austin Aero Company.
many of whom were women, rose to over 22,000 during the peak
Between 1914 and 1918, amongst other things, over 8,000,000 shells
were produced along with 650 guns, 2,000 aeroplanes, 2,500 aero
engines and 2,000 trucks.
The interwar years
Before the end of the war, plans were announced for concentrating
on the production of a 20 h.p. car when peace returned. The engine
used for the 20 h.p. model was adapted for an Austin tractor
, running on paraffin
, which won many agricultural
awards between 1919 and 1921. A
was also produced, using the same
For a short time Austin Aero Company's
also included a range of aeroplane
. The Austin Greyhound
2-seater fighter was one,
and the Austin Ball single-seater another. Then there was a
with folding wings,
which sold at £500, and a fourth called the Austin Whippet.
After 1921 Austin became interested in smaller vehicles, including
a 12-h.p. car and the tiny, and still familiar, Austin 7
. In many ways the car was a miniature
version, scaled down with the characteristic simplicity of Lord
World War II
On the outbreak of World War II
factory was mobilised again. The manufacturing of cars was largely
abandoned and the machines were turned to the production of
for the QF 2-pounder
, QF 6-pounder
and QF 17-pounder anti-tank guns
, steel boxes, jerricans
, mines, depth
also produced parts for tanks, while aircraft were produced at the
Austin Aero shadow factory at nearby Cofton Hackett. Fairey Battle
and Pegasus aero
were produced, along with the Short Stirling
four-engined heavy bomber and
3,000 aircraft were built, along with 36,000 suspension
guns and mortar
were manufactured in West Works, in
the area later known as West 4upper.
Trentham buildings, Number 2 paint shop, was still referred to as
line by some people
during the 1970s.
The building known as the Flight Shed in Cofton Lane was where
bomber wings were removed before the aircraft was subsequently
drawn up skids onto the airfield. The skids were still there at the
rear of the Flight Shed during the 1980s.
Having such a concentration of wartime production meant that the
area was a prime target for bombers. Erdington was made famous for
being the very first part of England to be bombed by the Germans,
who had presumably been trying to hit Longbridge.
After the war
Photo taken at Longbridge in
After the war, Leonard Lord
as chairman. He laid plans for a rapid expansion, new models, and
overseas marketing. In June 1946, the millionth Austin was
produced. It was painted in a matt cream and signed by the Chairman
and the work-people at a special celebration.
Austin collaborated with Jensen Motors
to manufacture the Austin A40
, an aluminum bodied four passenger convertible — whose
bodies were manufactured by Jenson at their West Bromwich plant and
transferred to Longbridge for final assembly. Later Austin
collaborated with the Donald
Healey Motor Company
on the Healey
In 1952 Austin was amalgamated with the Morris Motor Company
's industrial planners
arranged for BMC to be amalgamated into British Leyland
The British Leyland company ran into financial difficulties and was
refinanced by the government in 1975. The government thus became
the dominant shareholder, but unlike most nationalised industries,
British Leyland (later called BL) remained a public company.
, or "Red
Robbo" as he was dubbed by the media, became synonymous with the
strikes which crippled production at the Longbridge plant in
Birmingham in the 1970s. Between 1978 and 1979, Mr Robinson,
convenor at Longbridge, was behind 523 disputes at the then
government-owned British Leyland (BL) plant, Britain's largest
factory at the time. He was eventually sacked amid intense press
attacks. Many of the votes for strikes were cast in Cofton Park
Expansion work at Longbridge was completed in 1979 to allow a new
assembly line for the forthcoming new supermini car, which was
launched in 1980 as the Austin Metro
Which was in production virtually unchanged for 10 years, becoming
one of the most popular cars ever to be produced at the
Privatisation and subsequent liquidation
By the 1980s BL had been severely rationalised, and many businesses
and other factories within its empire had either been closed or
sold off. It had also entered into a collaborative deal with the
Japanese firm Honda
which gave it a new lease
The Austin Metro, which had been launched in 1980 and ran until
1990 when it was relaunched as an updated model under the Rover
marque, was easily the most successful product
to be produced at Longbridge in the final quarter of the 20th
In 1988 the Longbridge plant, along with the rest of Austin Rover,
was sold to British Aerospace
renamed it as the Rover Group
1989 saw the launch of a new Longbridge-built model, the second
generation Rover 200
(the original version
had been launched in 1984). Pictured below, the 200 Series was sold
as a hatchback, coupe and cabriolet, and also formed the basis of
the Rover 400
saloon and estate. It was
consistently one of the most popular small family cars in Britain
throughout its production life, and remains a common sight on
British roads more than a decade after its demise. The 200 was
replaced by an all-new model in 1995.
In 1994 BMW
, fearful of their small size in a
progressively globalised car market, bought Rover Group and the
Longbridge plant passed into the hands of BMW. However, BMW
shareholders prevailed and in 2000 Rover was sold to the Phoenix Consortium
, who renamed it MG
Rover Group, in a management buyout for the token sum of £10.
At the time many financial commentators claimed that the plant was
not modern enough and that the company would surely run out of
money within a few years. In April 2005, this happened; the Phoenix
Consortium put the MG Rover group into administration, leaving more
than 6,000 workers without jobs. Another factor in MG Rover's
meltdown was the fact that it had not launched an all-new model
since the Rover 75
more than six years
earlier. In contrast, the likes of Ford
, and indeed most other Western European
mass market carmakers, had
replaced virtually all of their model ranges since the late
The Nanjing takeover
Chinese automobile corporation Nanjing
remaining assets of MG Rover, including the Longbridge plant, three
months after it went into receivership. In August 2008 MG TF
production restarted, some three years after the
collapse of MG Rover, using only a small part of the old Austin
Works, Austin's original South Works. Most of the rest has been
demolished and is to be redeveloped for housing and industry, with
a new local centre, south of Longbridge Lane.
Fewer than 200 people are currently employed at Longbridge, though
NAC has said that this figure will rise during the next couple of
years. The current production facilities at Longbridge have the
capacity for employing not more than approximately 1,000 workers.
More than half the factory site has been sold off and cleared, and
the land reclaimed to be put to use by businesses which will
hopefully create up to 10,000 jobs in the next few years.
References in Popular media
Shortly before MG Rover
administration in 2005, The
' video for their single Believe
scenes filmed inside the Longbridge factory.
- Lambert, Z.E. and Wyatt, R.J., (1968). Lord Austin the
Man, London:Sidgwick & Jackson.
- Sharratt, Barney, (2000). Men and Motors of the Austin: The
inside story of a century of car making at Longbridge.
Sparkford: Haynes Publishing. ISBN 1-85960-671-7.