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October 2018

This month's document is chosen by Deputy Archivist Charlotte Gallant who accepts and processes donations to the Trust's Archive.

My document of the month is a small booklet from a recent donation. In early August we were contacted by Tim Garner with an offer which he described as 'somewhat eclectic', comprising a metal trunk full of documents relating to two family businesses. Henry Garner Ltd (later Garner Motors Ltd) was founded by his great-uncle Henry and based in Moseley from 1907 to 1938. Midland Electric Vehicles was founded by his grandfather James along with Tim’s father Kenneth and based in Leamington Spa between 1935 and 1958.

The trunk included a wide range of material, including technical booklets, press cuttings and lots of photographs. The majority of the photographs were of the vehicles Garner Motors produced, including some amazing Meccano mock ups of the different chassis designs. But this booklet caught my eye for many reasons.

Why this document?

The booklet contains snapshots of a Garner 'Light' Six-Wheeler taken during War Department trials in April 1929. The photographs within include captions describing where the picture has been taken, what is happening and sometimes even who is in the picture. As an Archivist, this is an ideal document as not only is it in good condition but all the important information has been recorded.

Henry Garner Ltd initially began selling bicycles in the early 1900s. After testing the water by selling engine parts such as carburettors and non-skid tyres, the company had progressed to automobile production by the 1920s. In 1927 the name was changed to Garner Motors Ltd and the company moved into a new factory on Kings Road, Tyseley – about four miles from the centre of Birmingham.

By this time the company specialised in lorries and was working on a new range with forward control. The War Department was interested in different forms of transport which could be used by the Army in the event of another conflict. Although we don't know what Garner Motors did to attract their attention, in 1927 they were asked to trial vehicles for military service. The photographs depict several tests which the 'Light' six-wheeler was put through, including steep hills, boggy and uneven terrain which included sand dunes and loose gravel. The tests were carried out at the sand plains at Farnborough and 'Gallows Hill', Bovington Camp – still used today for testing tanks.

There are several copies of this booklet which makes me suspect that, even though their vehicles were never used by the military, the company used the images to promote their products. The photo captions are extremely detailed, even describing the types of tyres being used. In one case there is a comment about the 'pleasant expression' on the observer's face at the performance of the machine. After a relatively successful period Garner Motors merged with another commercial vehicle company, Sentinel, in 1933. The following year the Garner 4JO 4-ton flat-bed truck was produced at the Sentinel factory in Shrewsbury, along with popular Sentinel models of steam-lorries and railcars.

Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for the Garner company. It struck financial trouble in 1935 and eventually fell into receivership, finally closing in 1938. But fortunately for the Archive the story doesn't end there. As mentioned at the start, the papers of Midland Electric Vehicles were donated at the same time. Perhaps something from this Collection will appear as a Document of the Month in the future!

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