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In production : Adderley Park Wolseley Works

The Adderley Park plant entered the BMC fold by way of the Nuffield Group.

It had been home to the Wolseley motor company from 1901 until the late 1920s when, following William Morris’s purchase of Wolseley, the plant was given over to commercial vehicle production.


Location

Arden Road/Bordesley Green Road, Adderley Park, Birmingham.

A potted history

Wolseley’s factory at Arden Road was originally the premises of a company called Starley Bros & Westwood Manufacturing Co. Limited, which went bust in 1895. The following year, the Vickers engineering company took a 99-year lease on the site (then standing at around 3½ acres), with a view to entering the car production business.

It was around this time that Herbert Austin, then working for the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. Limited, had begun to experiment with car building in a private capacity. Although Wolseley failed to take an interest in Austin’s work, Vickers recognised its potential and, following considerable development of the Adderley Park site, they formed the separate company, Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co. Limited, in 1901.

The story starts in 1914

Production of Wolseley cars started there later that same year and, by 1914, the site had grown to some 21 acres, with new factory and office buildings reflecting the company’s growing status. Indeed, between the wars, Wolsleley became Britain’s largest motor manufacturer, turning out some 3000 cars per annum, and the Adderley Park factory was at one point the largest plant in Europe devoted to motor vehicle production.


The Adderley Park factory following its expansion around the beginning of World War One. Bordesley Green Road can be seen separating the two main areas, with the Birmingham-to-London railway line running east-west in the foreground

However, by the mid-1920s, Wolseley had begun to operate at loss, largely as a result of inefficiencies in the way its business was run. When the company went bankrupt in February 1927, it was snapped up the acquisitive William Morris, who gained both the Adderley Park plant and Wolseley’s other factory at Drews Lane.

Morris relaunches Wolseley

Morris relaunched the company as Wolseley Motors (1927) Limited, and thereafter production of Wolseley cars was concentrated at the Drews Lane site, for he had it in mind to use Adderley Park for his Morris Commercial Cars operation (which had been based in the Soho area of Birmingham since its formation in 1924).

Thus, by 1933, Adderley Park had become established as the home of Morris Commercial Cars, which – as the name implied – mainly produced taxicabs, vans and trucks, although there had been a short-lived venture into passenger car production in the early 1930s. Production of smaller car-derived vans, generally with payloads of up to 1 ton, continued to take place at Cowley.

However, after the Second World War, Morris started building its long-running J-series vans at Adderley Park, starting with the J-Type in 1949. This was succeeded by the JB in 1957, which in turn gave way to the more familiar J4 in 1960. Meanwhile, in 1956, the larger J2 had entered production there, and remained so for some 11 years before being replaced by the 250JU in 1967.

Morris after the formation of BMC

Incidentally, following the 1952 Austin-Morris merger, the Morris Commercial badge was eventually laid to rest as BMC decided to sell its commercial vehicles under both the Austin and Morris brands, although Morris Commercial Cars Limited continued to exist as a legal entity into the 1960s. Adderley Park subsequently became part of BMC’s Light Commercial Vehicles Division and, in 1968, the marketing policy would change again, as the BMC brand was applied to many of the light commercial vehicles.

In 1960, production of the chassis for the FX4 taxicab and FL2 hire car was transferred from Longbridge to Adderley Park, which was also building chassis and diesel engines for the light commercial vehicles. In 1962, assembly of the FG truck (with its distinctive “thrupenny-bit” cab) was moved out to BMC’s new purpose-built truck plant at Bathgate, which had been financed with Government backing to help regenerate a depressed area of Scotland.

That same year, some of the spare capacity at Adderley Park was taken up when supplementary production of the Morris Minor van and pick-up derivatives was transferred from the Abingdon plant, where they had been built (along with the Traveller) since 1960, although primary production of these models continued at Cowley, alongside the saloon and tourer versions. Two years later, in 1964, Adderley Park became the sole producer of the van and pick-up, and in July 1969, production of the Traveller was also transferred there.

Adderley Park on borrowed time


A large batch of J4s and just-launched 250JUs are seen here in the Adderley Park dispatch yard in 1967, waiting to enter service with the GPO’s Telephones division

However, with the formation of the mighty BLMC in 1968, the Adderley Park plant’s days were numbered. In his new role as chief of the Austin-Morris division, George Turnbull was on a mission to rationalise the glut of closely-grouped factories which had been inherited by the company, and Adderley Park – which, at that time, employed almost 3000 people – was one of the first to be earmarked for the chop.

In 1970, production of the remaining light trucks was moved to the Bathgate plant (which was by then known as Leyland Motors (Scotland) Limited). That same year, Turnbull negotiated a deal with Bill Lucas of Carbodies to take over the production of the FX4/FL2 chassis; Carbodies had always built the bodies for these models and, from Spring 1971, they began to produce the complete vehicles at their Holyhead Road premises in Coventry.

Around the same time, the final UK-built Morris Minor Traveller also left Adderley Park, in April 1971. That just left the commercial varieties, which were kept going until the end of the year – chiefly due to the continued loyalty of the Post Office, which took delivery of the very last examples built and stockpiled them to be commissioned into service the following year.

End of an era

Thus it was that, with the production of the final Morris Minor van at the end of 1971, the Adderley Park factory closed its doors for the last time. The J4 and 250JU vans continued to be built there until the closure; production of these models was then suspended at the beginning of 1972 while the plant was moved to nearby Washwood Heath.

Today, over forty-five years after the closure, there is little left of the former Adderley Park site, which is now home to an industrial estate. Apparently all that remains of the original buildings is part of the wall of the office block that used to face onto Bordesley Green Road, although as can be seen on the map at the top of this page, a nearby road has been named Wolseley Street at some point, in recognition of the site’s former occupants.

Post-war production models produced at Adderley Park (1945-1971)

The following table is not yet comprehensive – if you can help to fill in any of the gaps, please get in touch.

Model Dates Notes
Morris J-Type 1949-1957 Superceded by JB-Type
Morris LC4/LC5 1952-1960 Replaced by FG series
Morris LD/Austin 1-ton, 1½-ton 1952-1968 Replaced by EA
Morris J2/Austin 152 1956-1967 Replaced by 250JU
Morris JB-Type 1957-1960 Replaced by J4
Morris FG/FM series 1960-1962 Production transferred to Bathgate
Austin FX4/FL2 chassis 1960-1971 Production transferred to Carbodies in Coventry
Morris/Austin/Austin Morris J4 1960-1971 Production transferred to Washwood Heath
Morris Minor van/pick-up 1962-1971 Production transferred from Abingdon (and from Cowley in 1964), and ceased with closure of Adderley Park
BMC/Austin Morris 250JU 1967-1971 Production transferred to Washwood Heath
BMC/Leyland EA 1968-1971 Production transferred to Bathgate
Morris Minor Traveller 1969-1971 Production transferred from Cowley, and ceased in April 1971

Declan Berridge

Without Declan’s hard work, this site simply wouldn’t exist. An avid car enthusiast with a fleet including two ADO16s and a pair of classic Fiats, Declan’s choice of classics is second to none…

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Posted in: In production, Wolseley

10 Comments on "In production : Adderley Park Wolseley Works"

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  1. David Stamps says:

    Love to see some pictures of Morris vans,Austin vans also.
    My childhood recalls the j series vans. Later as a teenager I recall the EA van.
    I love yo see them but sadly less and less pop up here and there nowadays.
    My father was a delivery driver based at Car and Commercial in Northfield B’ham for a few years. He brought home many BMC vehicles to be delivered the next day all around the Britain inc body less chassis trucks. Great memories for me.

  2. Andrew Hutchings says:

    Whilst a student at Aston University I was in accommodation just “across the tracks” at St. Peter’s College. At the time (1979-82) the buildings were still standing and B.L. (as then was) parked curtain-sided trailers there. As adventurous students we frequently explored the area, although I’m pretty certain there was nothing of vehicular interest there by then.

  3. Chris C says:

    Britain’s largest motor manufacturer or largest British owned motor manufacturer, eg Trafford Park built 295,000 Ford Model T’s between 1911 and 1927. Wikipedia (which has a good Wolseley article) says Wolseley was selling 3,000 cars per year by 1913.

    Might be worth mentioning that production of Nuffield tractors started at Adderley Park.

  4. maestrowoff says:

    Why was Adderley Park, rather than say Washwood Heath which hadn’t been an assembly plant before the vans were moved there?

  5. The Wolseley Man says:

    Lovely to see the pics of the JU. I drove the all new Bedfird CF in the late 60’s and it was light years ahead of the JU in terms of comfort, speed, silence, ride……but, when I was driving the JU it was loaded with a full pallet of McPherson struts plus dozens of them packed around the sides. Goodness knows how much they weighed but the JU was geared so that it did 48mph – with ’em or without em’. But the noise! Drivers today would be cuing up for ear defenders! In all honesty, I don’t think the CF could have coped with this punishing treatment every day. The JU was a tough old van for sure!

  6. Dave Handley says:

    What a great article this is – it brought back many happy memories . Both my dad and uncle worked at the Morris Commercial . As a child I used to go to the Morris Commercial club in Alum Rock for sat night entertainment and the judo club . I also learned to swim via the morris commercial kids club . When I left schoolI went for an interview one of the questions was ‘ do you have any relatives working here ‘ – i”m sure thats why I got the job . I was a very shy 16year old and I remember on my first day getting the lift to the apprentice training school . A man came up to me shook my hand and said “welcome to the Morris Commercial Holidsy Camp – we hope you enjoy your stay ” .

    I certainly did I loved the place and the people . We were building EA s and Travellers when I was there and JU”s I think . The place had a great buzz and I learnt a lot . Sadly after 2 years it all ended when the plant closed . Us apprentices were lucky I transferred to Longbridge but I”‘ll never forget the sadness of people like my dad who lost the bedt job they had ever had .

    It may not have been the most efficient car plant – but it had the happiest workforce

    Thank you for jogging my memory

  7. Chris Hedger says:

    I have a brass cast plate” Morris Motors Ltd. Wolesey Works 4 x 4 – 109

    I found this in my dads tool box, its around 3.5 x 2.5″ cast bronze or gunmetal.
    Possibly from a Wolseley Mudlark made during the 1940s?
    Any interest?

  8. Alf Jenks says:

    During WWI Wolseley produced many aero engines also complete aircraft with many flown out from their own airfield but where was the airfield? When were the works built on the eastern side of Bordesley Green Road? Could this site have been used?

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