The Austin Motor Company
moved into the Longbridge premises, which had been unoccupied for
some four years. Herbert Austin moved his effects into one of the
offices, which was to remain his personal office throughout the
rest of his life. Austin's office was located at the front of the
factory, adjacent to the front door, overlooking the main factory
entrance of the time (now known as 'K' Gate). Through the office
window Austin would have looked down the Bristol Road South towards
the village of Rubery.
Although starting off with a centre gear change, this was changed to the steering column, to bring it in line with the saloon in autumn 1951.
Austin used his office until his death in May 1941. Subsequently Leonard Lord (Lord Lambury) and Bill Davis both used the office briefly.
In the 1950's, when the Austin Motor Company was part of the British Motor Corporation and Longbridge was the headquarters, there was money for development. Much of this investment can be seen in the form of the Conference Centre (previously know as the Exhibition Hall), Assembly A (Car Assembly Building 1), the Sales and Marketing building, the Product Development Centre (Designs block), South Engineering Block and International Headquarters.
In order to build the South Engineering Block, the old Showroom had to be demolished. Bill Davis, then a B.M.C. board member, asked Leonard Lord where he should work, as his office was to be relocated. He was told to move into 'The Old Man's' office, which he did for some months until his new office was built.
Bill was the last user of the office. It was on his instruction, when the front of No.1 shop including the Old Man's office, had to be demolished, in the late 1950's, that provision be made in the new South Engineering Block to relocate 'The Office'. It remained until the spring of 2003, when it was incorporated into the Conference Centre, as part of the archive centre.
Walk this way to another world
Sited to the
right-hand-side of the Conference facility, it is possible to
switch the lights on from the outside and peer through the windows
as if you were walking by. Access to the room remains through a
door in the museum, which houses a small collection of cars
associated with Longbridge.
Austin, MG and Rover cars are represented and include a 1935 Austin 16/6 still fitted with its Austin Hayes automatic transmission (at one time owned by Bob Wyatt the Austin Historian and writer, and kindly donated to the museum by GKN Technology) and a 1959 Austin Se7en (one of the original Mini’s).
Once in the office, the
period atmosphere is protected in time, indeed as 1930’s
photographs prove, the office is comfortable but not lavish.
Inside the room in the corner is a small door, this used to lead to the most important room in the factory - the Chairman's' throne room (toilet)! Along side this door is a framed drawing of a railway locomotive and carriage, with the words below: 'Most everything worthwhile is born of some dreamers dream'. It was Austin's dream to make motorcars and that belief continued in all the cars that were built at Longbridge.
The fireplace occupies the centre of this wall. The mantelpiece has a dip towards the right hand end. This was probably caused by Austin leaning on it over many years whilst talking to visitors in his office. Under the lights is a photograph of a white haired gentleman and signed by the subject 'From your friend, Henry Ford'. Henry would visit his factory at Trafford Park, Manchester and stay with the Austin's at Lickey Grange, probably no doubt spending time comparing notes and exchanging ideas. Below Henry Ford's photograph, there is a period air conditioning unit made by Carrier in the United States. Most visitors to the office, when asked, suggest that it looks like a stereo or a radiogram. With the looks of a fine piece of cabinet making, it is in fact pressed steel painted to great effect.
In the centre of the mantelpiece is a picture of St. George slaying the dragon (see in colour picture) . On the shelf above is an Onyx ashtray, a souvenir from the World's first purpose built motor racing track at Brooklands. Austin's son in law, Colonel Arthur Waite, led the Austin Seven racing team against many other manufacturers' products including MG.
Also of interest on the
mantelpiece are two shells, produced by the Austin Motor Company
during World War 1. Austin expanded his factory between 1914 and
1918 in order to help supply the military needs of the country.
North Works had been built on the other side of the railway with
West Works on the other side of the Bristol Road. The South Works,
which included the original White and Pike factory, was extended
back to the Birmingham-Gloucester railway line.
As soon as the Armistice was signed all Government Contracts were cancelled. This left Austin with 20,000 employees and little work. The Austin 20 was put into production designed for the world market. This fine car suffered the imposition of taxation in the home market based on the bore of the engine whilst ignoring the stroke. This lead to the introduction of long stroke engines unsuitable for the rest of the world and in 1921 Austin was forced to rush the 12 into production.
The sales of these two models did not raise sufficient cash flow to maintain the factory and the administrators were called in to help Austin turn the Company round. Sadly the day came when Austin had to decide if the factory gates should be closed for the last time, or if he should put his alternative plan to the workforce.
Austin appreciated that he could not ask this of the workers without giving something in return and he offered those making the sacrifice, a job for life as long as the Company was there. In the 1970's there were still some of these workers, past retirement age in their 70s, working their 'Job for Life'. That coin, a half crown (two shillings and six pence which is now twelve and a half pence to those who don't remember real money) is mounted in the wooden panelling behind Austin's desk.
Below the window opposite
the door into the office, on a delightful cabinet, is a clay bust
of the 'Old Man' in his latter years. This is the artwork for the
bronze bust that has recently been returned to the Conference
Centre to stand in the entrance foyer to the museum. The bronze
bust to the right of the picture shows Austin in his younger
Clay Master Pattern
Final Bronze Casting
On the Old Man's desk are three inkwells. The one, presented to him by Rudge Whitworth, is made from the wheel nut for a wire wheel. In the red-topped ink well of the other pair is an old fifty pence piece placed there on a visit by Sir Michael Edwardes, when he was the Chairman of British Leyland in the 1970s.
Behind the desk, above the famous half crown, is a plaque commemorating Austin exhibiting his cars at a motor show in Turin in 1911. Just six years after opening his factory, Austin was exhibiting his cars across Europe.
Within the room all the fixtures and fittings are original, from the light in the ceiling to the carpet on the floor. Going out through the doors into the Conference Centre returns visitors to the modern world, leaving behind the history encapsulated in the single room that was Lord Austin of Longbridge.
A favourite saying by Herbert Austin
Information supplied by Tony Osborne