The fascinating history of Coventry’s Daimler building has been brought to life through an extraordinary account.
A former motor industry worker has shared his memories of his time in the world famous factory ahead of its transformation into an arts hub.
As reported by CoventryLive, the old factory building is being turned into a £2.4 million creative hub for artists, ready for UK City of Culture which starts in May.
The Radford based Daimler Building has long had a reputation as a centre of excellence.
From being the first car factory in Britain to the creators of the first Fork Lift Truck, the building was part of Coventry’s beating industrial heart.
As final touches are put on the hub, Coventry resident and former motor industry worker Albert Smith has shared his memories from inside the Daimler building.
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Production line memories
Albert began his apprenticeship at the factory in 1944 aged just 16.
Mr Smith said: “I have a lifetime of memories working in the automotive industry in Coventry and it was wonderful to share those memories of both the people and the manufacturing achievements made in the City and at the Daimler Powerhouse.
“I was delighted to see and hear about the memorable features of the Powerhouse being maintained and to hear how engineering and creativity are still at the heart of the building, I look forward to coming back to visit.”
Mr Smith actually worked as a junior draftsman on the design of the first British fork lift truck ET199, pictured below.
He carried on working at Coventry Climax with two short breaks at GEC and Morris Motors at Courthouse Green before finally leaving to work at The Standard Motor Company in 1953. After some years working for the Ford Motor Company in Canada in the late 1950s, Mr Smith returned for a job at Coventry Climax as Technical Sales Manager in 1960.
Part of his role included accompanying inspectors working for large companies and ministry departments to the Power House at Sandy Lane to check the stability and design features of the fork lift trucks, which they had ordered, before they were dispatched. Mr Smith left in 1976 to form his own company.
He highlighted some of the striking features of the building including the crane, which could travel the whole length of the building, which is being restored as part of the development so that it will continue to be seen throughout the building and will be a part of the new aerial rig going into the development.
History of the Daimler building
After the collapse of the silk ribbon trade in Coventry in the 1860s, factories were built to provide employment for struggling city residents.
In 1863, the first big factory was built on the Daimler site. In 1896 it was turned into Harry Lawson’s The Motor Mills, followed by the Daimler Works in 1898, the first car factory in the UK.
1860 – Mass unemployment in Coventry due to the collapse of the silk ribbon trade
1863 – First big Factory built on the Daimler site to provide employment for starving weavers
1896 – The factory is turned into Harry Lawson’s The Motor Mills
1898 – The Motor Mills becomes the Daimler Works the first car factory in the UK
1904 – Daimler’s 600 employees produce 25 cars a month
1907 – Daimler Powerhouse – An electric power station for Daimler Co Ltd built and up and running
1910 – Daimler’s 4000 employees produce 200 cars a month
1940 – Daimler Powerhouse survives significant bombing of the Daimler site
1940s – Coventry Climax move on to the site
1946 – UK’s First Forklift Truck designed and manufactured, The Coventry Climax ET199
1959 – 1965 – Coventry Climax powers four F1 World Champions
2010 – Imagineer moves into the Daimler Powerhouse
2020 – Work begins on the capital redevelopment of the Daimler Powerhouse
2021 – Building completion anticipated for official launch August 2021 as part of the UK City of Culture 2021 celebrations.
It became a powerhouse and major employer in Coventry, going on to have 4,000 employees producing 200 cars a month by 1910.
By the 1940s Coventry Climax had moved onto the site and it boomed as a centre of innovation and production.
The late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, even paid a visit to the site on June 21 1966.
What is the Daimler powerhouse project?
The Daimler Powerhouse project will complement The Wigley Group’s own plans to transform neighbouring Sandy Lane Industrial Estate into Daimler Wharf, an attractive new neighbourhood.
The creative hub will be focused primarily on outdoor arts and is an integral part of Coventry’s year as City of Culture 2021, as a production centre for major performances.
The project is being led by Imagineer Productions, a creative company specialising in cultural events including the award-winning Arts Council England projects Godiva Awakes (2010-14) and Bridge (2018-20), which is based on the site at Sandy Lane Business Park.
CoventryLive understands the building is due to be completed shortly.
Daimler Powerhouse is funded through £1.9 million from the Cultural Capital Investment Fund which is resourced from Coventry City Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal.
As the Daimler Powerhouse continues to take shape, Imagineer are bringing the history of the building to life through restoring elements of the original building and through encouraging people who worked at the Daimler Powerhouse to share their stories.
To contribute your stories and memories share them via social media making sure you tag Imagineer Twitter – @ImagineerUK, Facebook- @imagineerpod, Instagram – @imagineeruk or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
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