A Brief History of The Austin Village
The Austin Village was erected in 1917 by the Austin Motor Company, to accommodate the rise in the workforce of the Austin motor plant in Longbridge, Birmingham during The First World War. The workforce of two thousand in 1914 grew to over twenty thousand by the end of the war in 1918 - the majority of which were women - while the footprint of the factory went from ten acres to sixty, excluding its flying field. With many builders and labourers enlisted in the army, housebuilding had all but ceased. The factory ran its own fleet of thirty buses and many workers walked four or five miles to work and back each day; a clear indication that more housing needed to be constructed locally and with some urgency.
Lord Herbert Austin, the plant’s owner, hit upon the idea of buying farmland near the factory’s North Works and building a model village of two hundred prefabricated timber bungalows there. The 120 acre site, which included including Hawksley Mill Farm, was purchased for £7,750 and the house kits were purchased from The Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, USA, who promised “homes built in a day” and offered a ‘dollar-a-knot’ money-back guarantee on their cedarwood structures.
The contract for 200 kits was placed on 20th December 1916 at a cost of $115,000. On the 6th March 1917, the Aladdin Company sent a cablegram to the Austin Motor Co, informing them that a credit to the value of $19,481.97 had been established by the New York Produce Exchange Bank, to cover the cost of the loss of 12 railway car loads of house kits, which were lost when the S/S Headley was sunk by German submarine U-67, while travelling from Portland, Oregon to London, England.
The Village was completed in eleven months and housed around two thousand workers, with an average of seven workers per bungalow and twelve to a brick house. Following the conclusion of its war contracts, the Austin Motor Company had to lay off thousands of workers and families took occupation of the bungalows and brick houses. Rents were below £1 per week and the bungalows were sold for £250 leasehold or £300 freehold, with a £50 discount for Austin workers. The village was initially granted a five-year Fit For Habitation licence by The City of Birmingham, which was extended on 19 March 1924 for fifteen years. It was over forty years before they were recognised as a permanent fixture of the Longbridge landscape.
During the 20th Century, the feeling that the village was a unique and special place became stronger and was celebrated through regular street fetes, parties and village newsletters. The Austin Village Preservation Society formed in 1990, to promote “neighbourly spirit and togetherness”, as well as acting in the best interests of residents. In 1997, after much hard work, they achieved conservation status for the Village.
Walk around The Austin Village today and you immediately feel a sense of its uniqueness, with its tree-lined avenues (and even a short dual carriageway) and an ambience that is at once that of an English country village and the American Midwest. The species of trees planted along its streets are echoed in many of the street names - Laburnum, Maple, Rowan, Cedar.
The Village celebrated its Centenary on 21st May 2017 with a party that contained the same spirit as the fetes of old. It has now outlived the factory that spurred its creation and stands as a testament to ingenuity of The Aladdin Company and Lord Herbert Austin, and demonstrates how special homes can create wonderful communities.