Bromsgrove Society Annual Lecture, 22 March 2016: 'Herbert Austin and the Longbridge Story' by Max Hunt
The 2016 Bromsgrove Society Annual Lecture, the 30th in the Society’s history, was a great success. The speaker was Max Hunt, a former history master and later Director of Education for Stockport. Max was born in Romsley and remembers the special trains taking Austin workers home from Longbridge stopping at Hunnington Station. Max's first car was an Austin Seven 'Nippy' made at Longbridge in 1935.
Max traced the life of Herbert Austin from his birth in Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire, through his time in Australia perfecting sheep-shearing equipment, to developing the first Wolseley cars in the early 1900s. In 1906 he bought a former printing works at Longbridge, where he made strong dependable motor cars. Herbert Austin visited the 1906 motorshow with only a catalogue illustrating his first Austin car, as an elevation only, not even a perspective. His offer to customers was that this car would be available in 6-9 months at a price of £650. On this basis he secured orders and so "the Austin" began.
In 1908, he bought Lickey Grange, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. During the Great War his factory built ambulances, armoured cars and aeroplanes and the workforce increased to 20,000 including many women. Austin received a knighthood for his services to the war effort.
In peace time many of Herbert Austin’s workers had to be laid off and it was vital that new products were developed to keep the factory busy. In 1921 he produced the Austin Seven, a scaled-down motor car which was to prove immensely popular. By 1929 Longbridge had 100,000 Austin Sevens. In the same year, Austin employed Ricardo Burzi, an Argentine born designer who had worked for Lancia in Italy. He was to design the bodywork of all the Austin cars until the mid 1950s.
In 1936, Herbert Austin was elevated to the peerage as Baron Austin of Longbridge. He was soon to chair the government’s Shadow Factory programme to vastly increase the production of aircraft. When the King and Queen visited Longbridge in 1939 they toured the production lines of aero engines and aircraft fuselages.
Herbert Austin died at Lickey Grange in 1941, but Max continued the Longbridge story through the fifties and sixties when the factory was under the control of William Lord and the cars were styled by Battista Pininfarina. Max enthused over the work of Alex Issigonis, who developed the Mini, launched in 1959, and the highly successful Austin 1100. Max concluded the history of what was once Europe’s largest car factory with a brief account of British Leyland and 'Red Robbo'.