Archive News August 2018

In August Gillian and Mollie were invited to join in the annual Cowley History Week organised by Tanya Field to celebrate the endeavours of the 20th Century motor manufacturing factories which have now been replaced by a business park. For this month's Archive News, Mollie shares her impressions of the day.

Contrary to popular belief, Archivists do not wish to hide documents away in the dark. In fact, one of my favourite jobs is to take original material out of the Archive so that people can see it in person.

In order to celebrate the 50th Birthday of British Leyland (BL), I researched and wrote a talk based around some of the unusual items we have in the Collections relating to BL, produced between 1968 and 1975. As well as performing at our BL/BMC day, I was kindly invited by Tanya Field to present the talk at her event at Templars Square in Oxford. In order to keep the memory of the factory and its products alive, Tanya puts on a display of Cowley-built cars every year to highlight some of the key vehicles which were made at the plant. This year saw, amongst others, an Austin Maxi, a Leyland Princess and a Morris Minor on display.

Templars Square (formerly known as the Cowley Centre) was opened in 1965 just round the corner from the Nuffield Press building where Lord Nuffield's office was still preserved following his  death in 1963. The office remained there until the 1990s, at which time it was moved to the British Motor Museum in Gaydon when the factory closed down and the site was sold for redevelopment. In its first years the Cowley Centre was used primarily by the factory employees and is one of the few remaining parts of the original factory site left. It was also a favourite place for the Nuffield Photographic Department to take publicity photographs. Many of these pictures survive in our Archive Collections. The example above, featuring the Morris Mini-Minor, was taken shortly after its opening in 1965. Today it still operates as a shopping centre and continues to cater to former employees and their families.

Tanya organised a room within the Templars complex where people could gather for the talk, and I had great fun showing them the material that we had found; particularly the dealership book for the Austin 1300 GT and the Mini Clubman GT which was created to look like a double vinyl record sleeve. Other highlights included the Austin Maxi product sales timing binder, a Norwegian dealership book for the Morris Marina and the British Leyland corporate identity manual which looked like it had never been consulted in its life.    

This was a really great location to hold the talks because it meant that people who worked at Cowley were able to attend and reminisce about their experiences. It was also a great way to introduce some young people to the products of British Leyland and give them a taster of the fashions from the 1970s!

One of the most interesting parts of the car display was a realistic 3-D diorama of the Maestro production line at the Cowley factory which was kindly on loan from the Maestro and Montego Owners Club. Unfortunately the creator of this amazing model hasn’t been identified. We thought it might be something that young apprentices could have been asked to do – what do you think?

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