Biography of Herbert Austin

Photo of Herbert Austin

Herbert Austin was a twentieth century motor manufacturer who made cars popular with the masses.

When and Where was he Born?

8th November 1866, Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England.

Family Background:

Herbert Austin was the son of Giles Stephen Austin a Yorkshire farmer and Clara Jane Simpson.

Education:

Rotherham Grammar School and Brampton Commercial College to study architecture. He then emigrated to Melbourne, Australia with his uncle and served an apprenticeship as an engineer at Langlands Foundry.

Chronology of Herbert Austin:

1882: Austin goes to Melbourne, Australia to join his uncle as a works manager of a general engineering firm. He went on to work for six other engineering firms.

1887: He marries Helen Dron of Melbourne, Australia.

1893: He is asked by Frederick Wolsey, whose company he was now working for to return to Birmingham, England to supervise a sheep shearing equipment manufactory.

1895: Austin builds his first experimental car, a three wheeler steered by a tiller.

1896: The prototype of his second car is exhibited at the Exhibition at Crystal Palace, London.

1900: Austin enters a four wheel car for the Automobile Club of Great Britain 1,000 mile challenge. The single cylinder car won first prize.

1901: The Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company is created at Adderley Park in Birmingham and Austin becomes Manager. He becomes a founder member of the Midland Automobile Club.

1905: After taking Wolseley cars to world renown he resigns and looks around to start his own business. He finds an out of town site at Longbridge which was then seven miles from the city of Birmingham and with the help of financial assistance from friends he buys a small derelict printing works and begins the Austin Motor Company. Austin goes to the Motor Show at Olympia in London on November 17th and receives his first orders.

Austin's camera
Herbert Austin’s camera which he bought second hand in 1905 at the start of the Austin Motor Company. On Show at the Norton Museum, Bromsgrove (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1906: The first car, a 25 hp Endcliffe Phaeton costing £650, is produced and soon skilled craftsmen make their way to Longbridge, manufacturing 120 cars in the first year.

1908: Three special racing cars at 100 hp are produced and entered in the French Grand Prix. The car driven by J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon comes in a creditable fifteenth. Production of the main road cars was now so popular that a night shift at the factory was introduced. New models are developed and the factory turned out a thousand cars per year.

1912: The company expands into manufacturing marine engines and a Saunders of Cowes craft powered by an Austin engine wins the British International Trophy.

1913: A two-ton lorry is produced establishing Austin as a manufacturer of commercial vehicles.

1914: The company goes into public ownership in February and expansion was planned but then came the outbreak of the First world War. The factory moves over to making munitions for the war effort as well as vehicles and aircraft and by 1917 had trebled in size even having its own airfield on a local hill. 22,000 people now worked at the factory. Austin was knighted for his services to the war effort. Sadly his only son was killed in France during the War but he is survived by two daughters.

1918: At the end of the War the Austin factory returns to producing cars only and concentrates on a 30 hp model, which is sold for the staggeringly low cost of £495. He begins to take an interest in politics and serves as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kings Norton, Birmingham until 1924.

1920: Austin begins working on the concept of a smaller car to meet the needs of the family and because he received great opposition from his board he financed the project himself.

1922: The new car designed by a small team under Herbert’s direction and called the Austin Seven is unveiled to the public in July. It quickly becomes known popularly as the “Chummy” and sold for a mere £165. Sales begin slowly.

1924: The size of the engine in the Austin Seven is increased and other refinements such as an electric starter are introduced.

1926: The project is now considered a success and production passed the 14,000 per year mark.

1928: A new version nicknamed the “Top Hat” is introduced.

1930’s: This period sees a continuous array of small changes and refinements to the Seven being introduced.

1936: Austin is made a Baron for his philanthropic works which included support for Birmingham General Hospital.

1939: At the beginning of World War Two the Longbridge factory is again turned over to the manufacture of military equipment, including aircraft.

1941: Dies.

(1942): Death of his wife Helen.

(1948): Heavily modified Austin Sevens became the foundation point for the Lotus Car Company.

When and Where Did he Die?

23rd May 1941, Lickey Grange, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England.

Age at Death:

74.

Marriage:

1887 to Helen Dron of Melbourne. (Died 1942)

Site of Grave:

Holy Trinity Church, Twatling Road, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. His wife is buried next to him in the same plot.

Herbert Austin's Grave
Herbert Austin’s Grave (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

BIRMINGHAM:

Longbridge Motor Factory. (now demolished and replaced with a shopping precinct and houses).

WORCESTERSHIRE:

The Norton Collection Museum, 26 Birmingham Road, Bromsgrove.
Lickey Grange House, Bromsgrove, where he lived and where the Austin 7 was conceived in the billiard room. (now a private dwelling).
Holy Trinity Church, Bromsgrove where he is buried.

Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church, Barnt Green, Worcestershire