From Dagenham to Longbridge, and Coventry to Luton, experience the history of England's motor industry from the air
Darren Moss
23 February 2014

Although often referred to as "the roaring ’20s", the truth is that by 1920 England's industrial sector was feeling the pressure.

Unemployment following the end of the First World War was high, with a reluctance to switch from staple industries like cotton, wool and steel to the new money to be found in emerging industries like car manufacturing.

Slowly, however, new factories and technologies meant that Britain was able to join other nations like France and Germany in building cars and commercial vehicles. From 1922 onwards, England was a big player in global car making and, by 1938, was the largest producer of cars in Europe. Take a look through the gallery above to see rare aerial pictures of England's historic motoring landmarks.

Daimler, the Motor Mills, Coventry - 1920

Daimler's Coventry plant was the first factory in England to make cars commercially. Damiler bought the ground floor of the original mill in 1896, with the Horseless Carriage Co on the second floor and a tyre company on the third. The site was renamed as the Motor Mills, and expanded as business took off nationally. Much of the site has been destroyed due to bombing and redevelopment, but some original buildings, including one of the many office blocks, remain.

Napier, Acton, West London - 1921

In its heydey, Napier was one of the best-known British car manufacturers. Founded in 1808 in Soho, the company made its first car in 1900. While Napier acquired quite a reputation in motorsport circles, it was best known for its luxury models. Following the company's move to end vehicle manufacturing in 1924, it became best known for making aero engines in the First World War.

Fairfield Road tram depot, Bow - 1921

Under increasing pressure to find new ways of moving the population, London County Council built a large tram depot in 1908. By 1939, with more people using trolleybuses instead of the ageing tram network, the site was reconstructed, housing 100 vehicles. In 1959 it was redeveloped again to cater for the growing number of buses. It's still used as a bus garage today.

Aster factory and Fiat works, Wembley - 1927

Aster only produced cars for a brief period in the 1920s, with its Wembley factory opening in 1907. The company built car and engines to designs supplied by the French Aster company, but in 1922 made its first British-designed car. The vehicles produced were of high quality, but because of its small-scale production Aster was unable to compete with larger manufacturers and, by 1931, had made its last car.

Vauxhall, Luton - 1927

Today, Vauxhall has become synonomous in the UK with its Luton base, but up until the 1930s the firm's presence in the town was small. Its factory there opened in 1905, with the company moving from its original site in Lambeth. Much of Vauxhall's corporate presence in the town is still there today, including a number of buildings dating back to 1907.

Morris engine plant, Coventry - 1928

While the Morris name might be better associated with Oxford, it had an extensive presence in Coventry, too. Thanks mainly to its French engine supplier setting up shop in the town, Morris bought its Coventry premises in 1923. The four-storey block where Morris would eventually build its own engines survives today as part of Coventry University.

Hillman, Stoke, Coventry - 1928

Hillman made its first car in 1907, with founder William Hillman setting up shop in the grounds of his house. The site expanded from the house outwards, with new buildings being added until, by 1929, the factory was producing 200 cars per week. The site was redeveloped in the early 2000s, meaning that not much evidence of its earlier purpose remains.

London General Omnibus Co bus station, Wembley - 1928

Occupying almost two acres of land, the London General bus station was described as the first of its kind in the world by officials when it opened in 1924. Almost immediately it faced a big test, as the opening of the Wembley Empire Exhibition nearby meant almost 200,000 passengers needed to use the service every day. Today, the site is occupied by a car park for an adjacent office block.

Leyland Motors, Leyland, Lancashire - 1932

Arguably the best-known name in British commercial vehicles, Leyland was formed in 1896, originally building steam-powered vehicles. Its factory was split into two complexes, but construction and a subsequent move to a new site in Farington means that today there's little evidence the company was ever here.

Austin, Longbridge, Birmingham - 1938

Oddly enough for a factory producing cars, most of Longbridge's residents used public transport. Having been bought by Austin in 1906, the site soon formed three distinct factories, with the South works mounting bodies on chassis, the West works being the body shop and the North works used for engine production.

Ford, Dagenham, Essex - 1939

When it was opened in 1931, Ford's Dagenham plant on the banks of the river Thames was one of the largest industrial plants in the south of England, and the largest car factory in Europe. Ford kept expanding the site, and by the 1950s it stretched across 473 acres. The foundry closed in 1984, ultimately starting the road to ending car production at the site in 2002. Today the plant is Ford's main diesel engine factory. 

England’s Motoring Heritage from the Air by John Minnis (English Heritage, £35) is available from all good bookshops, the English Heritage shop and Amazon.

Join the debate

Comments
3

23 February 2014
Interesting.

23 February 2014
Also interesting to look at the Google satellite image of Browns lane, Coventry......then zoom down to street view....

23 February 2014
These seem to be photos only of "has beens". Would it not brighten things up to include aerial shots of sites/factories for McLaren; Jaguar; Land Rover; Mini; and Bentley (for example)? Are they not part of England's Motoring heritage too?

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