I have enjoyed myself digging around for information of the Longbridge Austin/Rover site, it has been eye opening and far more interesting than I first thought. In all honesty, whilst I feel the loss of the factories, I had little knowledge beyond that cars where made there, some planes and stuff for the war, in underground tunnels, hush hush like. I really did not understand more than it was big, it was there, everyone worked there or knew someone who did and a lot of people suffered financially, when it finally closed in 2005, and then it was just gone.
It is part of life, when you reach a certain age, that those things that have always been there start to disappear, this is inevitable, if you spend long enough alive you will see the rise and fall of many landmarks, some meaning less than others, but non the less the loss itself is strange and a little difficult to accept. 11 years on, the factory itself will stay in our memories, the sheer vastness of size and fame means you still, regardless of what it becomes, say ” I’m there, you know, the old Rover factory? Right there”.
The fact its gone and why this place meant so much to so many, besides employment, is more difficult to explain or understand. So I downloaded the full content of John Baker’s Austin Memories – Longbridge Factory and scoured the pages for interesting facts. I then learnt of a joint meeting to be held locally :
And I took myself along. I was a little worried it might bore me to tears, I debated leaving it, as it was a daunting prospect to trek out into the dark lanes of the Lickey’s to find this place, on my own and completely unsure what I was in for once I arrived. I am so glad I went!
Neil Wedgbury, was not only informative in the way he explained things but also a very engaging speaker, even with some technical issues about 2/3rds of the way in, he carried on and made sure he left nothing out.
I said before, I knew they made cars, planes and munitions there, I did not know, that they also made lifeboat engines, ambulances and military chassis amongst other things. I also did not know that they made 4 different types of plane; The Fairy Battle, Stirling Heavy Bomber, Lancaster Heavy Bomber and Hurricane 12-gun Fighters.
I did not fully appreciate the sheer wealth of space they had available to work upon, under and through. Yes I knew the factory was huge, but understanding the layouts of the tunnels and seeing photographs of lines of Sterling bombers and fairy bombers in the factories just impresses upon me the amount of land that it encompassed.
Whilst a conspiracy theory lies within this presentation, I do believe it is highly plausible to consider the facts, approach everything with an open mind and accept that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how deep you dig, the whole truth is buried so far into the past that it is impossible to resurface it. It transpires that there is evidence to suggest that some parts of the Longbridge Tunnels, and another unused underground two story underground nest of rooms, were reinforced to such a degree that modern architects are sure they would withstand a direct hit with no damage, there was also a completely unknown tunnel discovered quite by accident, constructed but never included in any plans.
The other thing I learned was that the Germans, not only knew about the Rover & it being a Shadow factory, but that they had been shown in first hand, 2 years prior to the war breaking out when a senior German official came to visit the factory. He not only visited, he was provided with a guided tour. Another thing was the lack of bombs ever dropping on or surrounding the Shadow factory itself, a bomb did get dropped in the vicinity however, it was proved to be quite accidental, the pilot had got lost and not able to return to base with his bomb still attached he let it go quickly, before heading back home. The bomb did no real damage and the site survived unshaken. The Germans also had full video evidence proving that they new the sites location, even photographing it after it had been subject to the camouflage upon its roofs.
The conspiracy theory is that actually it was more beneficial to the Germans to keep the factory intact and simply procure it once they were able, turn manufacture over to their own equipment and then proceed to attack France, having reinforced their forces. On the plus side, this would have actually saved Longbridge from succumbing during WW2 perhaps it is the reason we are still here and people did not suffer so much in this area from air raid attacks. The other notable point was the suggestion that perhaps Government officials were either planned to be or were housed within the reinforced and un-plotted areas of the factory, hiding in plain sight, they would have survived an Arial attack with almost no impact to themselves or the tunnels/rooms they were in. There is definitely evidence enough to consider it an option.
Overall as I said, It stands to reason to believe that had Austin not placed his factory here, then proceeded to lay his tunnels and create the shadow factory, then there would have been no reason, to not have bombed Longbridge and its surrounds.
Note: Full file of research is hard copy.