Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Thursday 22nd August 2019

The Lanchester Works

Montgomery Street [1], Sparkbrook, in 1900. Here he fitted out for car production a rolling mill and tube works of 1887 by Ewen Harper, best known as an architect for his Birmingham's Methodist Central Hall of 1900-3. Lanchester shared the site with a firm of iron founders, Giles & Ward. In 1902 they built a big street block which Lanchester appears to have shared for offices. It is faced in bands of red and dark blue brick and has four huge gables and heavy classicalGlossary Term [2] detail in terracottaGlossary Term [3].. The architect was Arthur Edwards of Bennetts Hill, who normally specialised in pub work.

Birmingham, Lanchester Factory, workshop

Then in 1911 this "pioneering genius of the British motor industry", in Paul Collins and Michael Stratton's phrase, went to an equally pioneering architect: J.L. Ball, the friend of Lethaby and his executant architect for the Eagle Insurance building of 1900 in Colmore Row. First Ball designed an extension at the rear of the of the mills complex, alongside the canal. A larger job followed quickly. Lanchester wanted to do his own coachbuilding, rather than buying in bodies from outside. Next to the 1902 block, Ball designed a long production block with side galleries where bodies were built, and varnishing and paint shops at the rear. On the street front was a showroom.

When the First World War started in 1914 government help was available for firms switching to munition production. In 1915 Ball designed a second factory for Lanchester on the far side of the Giles & Ward block with a long single storey street front with round-headedGlossary Term [4] arches. This included a large machine shop. Lanchester, again at the forefront of development, built aeroplane engines for the newly formed R.A.F., and Ball provided a special engine testing shop at the rear of the new block. Unfortunately this has lost half its frontage and been much rebuilt behind. The rest of the Lanchester works is a wonderful survival.

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009