The Longbridge Works started life as a tin printing and box manufacturer in 1860, run by a company called White and Pike. Between 1860 and 1901 the White and Pike Company expanded the site several times, but eventually the business failed and the site was sold. It sat disused for 4 years, until it was purchased in 1905 by Herbert Austin, who was looking for a suitable factory for his newly formed endeavour – The Austin Motor Company. Between 1905 and the First World War the company expanded rapidly, adding more and more facilities and buildings, however during the First World War the factory was given over to manufacturing 18lb shells for the war effort. After the war the factory returned to manufacturing lorries, tractors and car axles and a new steel foundry was built to support these works. Over the years between WW1 and WW2 the factory continued to expand, including the East Works which were constructed in 1936 under the governments shadow factory scheme – of which Lord Austin oversaw. This new factory included the construction of underground tunnels for storage of components and manufacturing of vehicles and aircraft engines during the Second World War, these tunnels were rapidly expanded as war raged, and soon joined each section of the site.
The tunnels under the South Works were primarily intended as air raid shelters and were capable of holding 15,000 workers while the tunnels under the East Works were primarily intended for manufacturing of Bristol Aero engines and machining, there was also an ambulance station in the East Tunnels. During the War the Longbride site was outputting 500 vehicles a week for use by the War Department and by the end of the war the factory had produced over 120,000 vehicles as well as parts for planes such as the Beaufighter, Lancaster bomber, and Horsa gliders. The factory also produced other materials for the war effort, including 500,000 steel helmets, upwards of 4,000,000 magazines for the Bren, Oerlikon and Sten guns, 100,000 suspension units for the Churchill tank, 1,350,000 pieces of ammunition and 3,350,000 ammunition boxes . The pressings for the (iconic?) ‘jerry can’ fuel container were also made in the West Works. In order to maintain security, different parts of the site manufactured different war materials and workers in one area were not permitted to any other area other than the one they were assigned to – this was controlled by the issuing of coloured badges.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Austin Motor Works, and the massive Longbridge Factory, read this excellent link: