Recently, the Archive has experienced an influx of generous donations. Arguably this increase could be attributed to the past year we have all experienced. A lot of people have been at home, clearing out attics and spare rooms and uncovering many gems in the process. We’re certainly not complaining about it at the Archive!
One of our recent acquisitions is a box of photographs taken in 1998 of the Rover (former Austin) factory in Longbridge, Birmingham. The photographs in this donation are not just any images; these were part of an extensive project to help create a scale model of the then 400-acre factory. The purpose of this model was to illustrate proposed plans for the future of the site.
The photographs meticulously document all building exteriors, including the various site gates, recognisable buildings such as the showroom known as the ‘Elephant House’, the railway line and the conveyor bridge. Notably, these images complement and help contextualise other aspects of our existing collection. This is particularly relevant to objects diligently collected by our Collections team when MG Rover closed back in 2005.
In these images we can see that the progress of the build was carefully tracked as modellers began to map out the basic architecture of the site and then slowly furnish it with an abundance of detail. These include the railway, as well as lampposts and trees. Some of these finer details, such as the cars naturally assembled in the model car park emulate real-life, giving character to the design.
For accuracy, many shots depict a man holding a measuring pole against the various buildings. This was evidently used to help modellers gauge the buildings to fit with the eventual 1:200 scale. Interestingly, the photographer had also captured images of the modellers at work on the scale model, perhaps knowing that one day the model-making process might become a piece of history too.
The images are not only a record of the layout of site but, as our long standing volunteer and Longbridge local, Colin, found the photographs also brought back fond memories of the factory. “The wonder of the photographs is their comprehensiveness. They are a very thorough set of un-posed images of the exterior of the factory site, with cars parked and work in progress. BMW Group had plans for Rover Longbridge in 1998 and this generous donation of images sheds further light on that.”
Colin has already rough sorted these images and placed them in acid-free enclosures as the initial steps of integrating this donation into our Archive collection. The next part of the process will involve giving the material an accession number and documenting the important information about the items onto our cataloguing system. After this is complete, the boxed items will then be placed in our Archive Store and will be readily available for researchers to access.
A final fun fact about this photographic donation is that the Museum does hold a model of the Longbridge factory! This model was donated in 2014 and is a representation of plans for the site from the late 1990s. It is not presently confirmed whether the factory model in our collection is the same as the one in the photographs but now we certainly have the means to check!