Birmingham’s hidden industrial heritage saved from the skip.
Rescued documents that highlight the colourful history of one of the UK’s most iconic industrial brands, currently enjoying a resurgence of interest because of its links to the global phenomena Peaky Blinders, reveal that fact is often stranger than fiction.
The official papers saved from the skip concern BSA Tools Ltd, an iconic British brand synonymous with Midlands engineering excellence around the world, which is once again turning a profit and creating new jobs since being bought out of administration.
Throughout Peaky Blinders, now in its fifth international season, there are references to BSA which the protagonists loot arms from to fund their nefarious gangster activities.
Business owner Paul Eyles, who purchased the business in 2017, preserved the abandoned documents, handing many to local motor museums, while retaining other paperwork in its own safe, including correspondence between the company and the Government relating to the controversial Matrix Churchill affair – the so-called ‘Arms-to-Iraq’ scandal – in the run up to the Gulf War during the 1990s.
Other preserved documents show how the business moved to its current site in Kitts Green to avoid the blitz of Birmingham during the 1930s and the colourful, larger-than-life character of former BSA chairman Sir Bernard Docker, a friend of politicians and royalty alike who had a penchant for the high-life with his personal fleet of Daimlers trimmed in gold rather than chrome.
“These documents were just left here when we bought the business – they would have ended up in a skip if we hadn’t taken a closer look at them with an experienced archivist,” said Paul.
“BSA has been recently linked with Peaky Blinders, but these documents highlight that fact can be stranger than fiction,” he added.
One of the documents was donated with to the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust at Gaydon and is concerned with the links to the Lanchester Motor Company, once owned by BSA.
Joanna Shortland, Head Archivist at the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, said: “Receiving the Lanchester Motor Company Ltd Minutes of the General Meetings 1906 – 1961 shone new light on a history that would otherwise been lost. We are very grateful to the new owners of BSA for this fascinating glimpse into an important period of our industrial heritage.”
An acronym of Birmingham Small Arms, the BSA name stretches back to the city’s Gun Quarter. During its heyday, BSA employed thousands of workers and was also once the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, owning brands including Triumph and Daimler.
Traditionally famous for producing single and multi-spindle automatic and CNC lathes, the new-look BSA Tools Ltd has created up to 15 jobs at its former Kitts Green manufacturing site, in Birmingham, where it is focussed on training, new machine sales, repairs and servicing, along with maintenance of a wide range of tooling machines which still operate across the world.
“Britain, and the Midlands in particular, is famous for its manufacturing and engineering prowess which was the envy of the world,” said Paul.
“Unfortunately, it lost its way in the latter part of the 20th century through lack of investment, but the quality of the machines is testament to that historical excellence because they are still used by major automotive and aviation brands all over the globe.
“This is all captured in the documents that we found. While the machines were famous for metal turning, the documents are real page-turners,” he added.
Such has been the success of the relaunch that former BSA employees have been tempted to re-join the business and share their experience with the new generation of engineers.
“We have taken on apprenticeships as well as we’re committed to investing in the future and encouraging young people into making things once again. This is the start of what will be an engineering renaissance,” added Paul.