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Meeting Report - Nov 2016

Over 50 members attended the meeting of the Romsley & Hunnington History Society on Tuesday 22nd November. The speaker was Max Hunt who gave a talk on, "Herbert Austin and the Longbridge Story". Most of the audience knew of the Austin Motor Works and its role as one of the largest employers of the local workforce, but Max gave us an insight into how the works began and the amazing range of products manufactured over the years.

Max and his brother, Julian, grew up in Romsley and he remembers the male population of the area catching the train at Hunnington Station to go to work at the car factory at Longbridge. The instigator of that factory was Herbert Austin. Herbert was born in England in 1866 and from an early age he was interested in mechanical things. After a short spell in Australia where he got married, he designed a sheep shearer. He came back to England to live in Birmingham and developed an interest in designing cars, working for the Wolseley Company for a time.

In 1905 he decided to branch out on his own and bought an old factory site at Longbridge. Before long he had 270 employees and was producing Austin Cars. The 1914 war intervened and the factory took on many women workers and began to make aeroplanes and armoured cars as part of the war effort.

Herbert Austin always looked after his workforce and in order to encourage more workers, he had houses built in Austin Village. After the war he employed Stanley Howard Edge, a young designer, to produce a small family car and in 1923 the Austin 7 was born. This car became very popular and the basic car appeared in many disguises, as vans, London Taxis and even a racing car! The range of cars grew as cars became more popular as a means of transport and Italian designers were brought into the factory. Herbert Austin was knighted in 1938 and became known for his support of Cancer Research.

The Second World War saw Hurricane and Lancaster planes being made at Longbridge but sadly Herbert died in 1941. From then on the factory had a very chequered history. It had many different owners and some success. By 1965 it had produced a million Austin Minis. Gradually the factory fell into decline and one wonders what Herbert Austin would have made of all the changes. Max, an obvious car enthusiast himself, illustrated his talk with photographs which showed the development of the Motor Car over the years.

Everyone enjoyed the talk and discovered so much more about the factory which had given so much employment to local people.

There will be no meeting in December or January. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, February 28th at 7.30 in the Church Hall, when Derek Clarke will be giving a talk on, "Repair Work at the old Naval College in Greenwich." Everyone is welcome.

Pat Evans

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Some contents of this website are taken from the book Romsley and Hunnington, a Millennium History,
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