Plant Oxford located in Cowley, Oxford, is the central assembly facility for the MINI range of cars. The plant forms the Mini production triangle along with Plant Hams Hall where engines are manufactured and Plant Swindon where body pressings and sub-assemblies are built.
In 1912, William Morris bought the former Oxford Military College in Cowley. Moving his company into the new site, from 1914 onwards Morris pioneered Henry Ford-style mass production in the UK, by building what became affectionately known as "the old tin shed." To facilitate more efficient production, the Great Western Railway opened Morris Cowley railway station to serve the thousands of workers commuting to the factory. In 1933, they built a railway goods yard beside the Wycombe Railway to bring supplies into the factory, and take completed vehicles away. This railway yard still exists today and serves the current vehicle-manufacturing plant, though the railway to High Wycombe has long been lifted.
As Cowley expanded into a huge industrial centre, it attracted workers during the Great Depression looking for work. This resulted in the need for new housing, including from the 1920s Florence Park, built mainly by private landlords. Like many contemporary industrialists of the time, Morris wanted to provide for the whole life of its workers, and so developed the Morris Motors Athletic & Social Club on Crescent Road, which still exists today.
World War II
Approached in 1935 by the Air Ministry about the factories ability to change to aircraft industry production, additional capacity was built into the factory through the shadow factory plan from 1937. During World War II the factory produced the de Havilland Tiger Moth training aeroplane. Also developed on site was the No 1 Metal and Produce Recovery Depot run by the Civilian Repair Organisation, to handle crashed or damaged aircraft, and even the processing of wreckage from enemy Luftwaffe aircraft. Artist Paul Nash was inspired to paint Totes Meer based on sketches he made of the recovery depot.
Despite successive company mergers and name changes, "Morris's" is still often used as the name of the car factory to this day:
- 1952, Morris Motors became part of the British Motor Corporation (BMC)
- 1968 BMC became British Leyland
- 1980s the group was known as Austin Rover
- 1990s it was Rover Group
By the early 1970s, over 20,000 people worked in Cowley at the vast British Leyland and Pressed Steel Fisher plants. After re-organisation, PSF became part of the reorganised Austin Rover, while parts Unipart was floated of in a management buyout, but still has its global headquarters next to the Morris plant. Like the rest of the company at this point, industrial action was high as successive management teams tried unsuccessfully to drive through reform of the British Motor manufacturing industry. The local workers became well known for not accepting wage cuts, union-busting, with national trade union militants including local Alan Thornett.
The Morris marque was abandoned in 1984, when production of the Longbridge-built Morris Ital finished; it had been transferred there from Cowley in September 1982, two years after its launch. The transfer of the Ital from Cowley was to make way for the Austin Maestro and Montego, which were launched in March 1983 and April 1984 respectively, continued in production until December 1994, though production was gradually cut back after 1989 following the launch of the Longbridge-built Rover 200 and 400 series models.
Owner of Rover Group British Aerospace agreed a partnership with Honda, with Honda taking a 20% stake in the company, in return for joint-development of the new Rover 600 and 800, both produced at Cowley. The 800 Series had been launched in mid 1986 and facelifted at the start of 1992; a year before the launch of the 600 Series.
Despite 1989 seeing a then record of more than 2,300,000 new cars being sold in the United Kingdom, falling demand for the 800 Series resulted in 1,800 job cuts at Cowley being announced in October of that year.
On 31 January 1994, BAe announced sale of its 80% majority share of Rover Group to BMW. On 21 February, Honda announced it was selling its 20% share of Rover Group, resulting in problems in Rover's supply chain which was highly reliant on Honda. BMW invested heavily in Rover, and particularly the Cowley plant, which became the production centre for the new Rover 75 in late 1998.
Plant Oxford today
In 2000, BMW broke up the Rover Group, selling MG Rover and its products to the Phoenix consortium for the nominal sum of £10, which included the Longbridge plant.
BMW agreed to redevelop the entire Cowley plant site with the Goodman Group, demolishing much of the factory, to create a new factory called Plant Oxford. The residual parts of the former Morris Motors site were placed into a redevelopment project called the Oxford Business Park, which now houses offices of numerous companies including: European headquarters of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles; the global headquarters of international aid charity Oxfam; Wiley-Blackwell; Royal Mail; HM Revenue and Customs; and a large David Lloyd fitness centre.
850 jobs cuts at the site were announced on 16 February 2009, resulting in union bosses being pelted with food by angry agency staff who felt that the union had failed to do enough to try and save their jobs.
Until 2009 on Watlington Road, opposite the factory, stood Johnson's Café. Founded decades before by Len Johnson, until its final day its interior was decorated with bold murals of early speedway stars. Len Johnson's son Joe Johnson was an international motocross star in the 1960s, until he settled down to take over the family café. The café remained in the family to the end under Len's grandson Bob Johnson. The cafe suffered an armed robbery on 16 January 2008, and closed in 2009. The building is now occupied by Oxford Spin & Fitness centre.
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- ^ Press release, 20 December 2005
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- ^ "UK car sales hit record". BBC News. 7 January 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1746765.stm.
- ^ a b "1994: MPs condemn sale of Rover". BBC News (BBC). 1 February 1994. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/1/newsid_2523000/2523129.stm. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- ^ "Job cuts at Mini spark angry rows". BBC News. 16 February 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7891913.stm.
- ^ "A new life for the Mini". BBC News. 22 May 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1342234.stm.
- ^ BBC News
- ^ The Page Turner (16 January 2008). "Armed gang raid cafe". Oxford Mail. Newsquest Oxfordshire. http://www.oxfordmail.net/news/headlines/display.var.1969952.0.armed_gang_raid_cafe.php. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
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