Monday 3 April 2017

(257) Austin of Lickey Grange, Baron Austin

Austin, Baron Austin
This post bends the rules for the inclusion of families in this blog considerably, because Lickey Grange is arguably more suburban villa than country house and Herbert Austin was the only member of his family to own it and live there. He was, however, the archetypal self-made Midlands industrialist, and had his son not been killed in the First World War he might well have founded a dynasty at Lickey Grange or elsewhere. 

Herbert Austin (1866-1941) was the son of a farmer, and was born at Little Missenden (Bucks) and brought up in Yorkshire. At the age of eighteen he went to Australia with one of his maternal uncles who was already based out there and who had come home on a visit to his family. He secured varied engineering experience with a number of different companies and came home in 1893 to manage the English subsidiary of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co. He soon turned his engineering skills to the design of motor cars, however, and produced the first Wolseley model in 1895. In 1905 he set up his own company with a capital of £20,000 and within five years he had accumulated profits large enough to buy Lickey Grange, which lay conveniently close to his works at Longbridge. Within the first few months of the First World War his only son was killed in northern France, and it may be for this reason that he threw his factory into the production of aircraft and armaments for the war effort, for which service he was knighted in 1917. He also became a Conservative MP for six years, although he never spoke in Parliament. In the 1920s, he designed the Austin 7 as a mass-production car, and his firm went from strength to strength during his lifetime. The great wealth which he derived from the company was used increasingly for philanthropic purposes, to provide endowments for hospitals and universities, and he was further honoured in 1936 on this account, being raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Austin. Since he had no son to succeed him, the peerage died with him in 1941, and after his widow died the following year, Lickey Grange was sold to the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind. He left two married daughters, who were the principal beneficiaries of his will.

Lickey Grange, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
A large gabled brick house, built for Joseph Rowlands, a Birmingham solicitor, in 1880, with largely symmetrical fronts on both the entrance and garden sides. When it was built it was in a deeply rural location and had substantial grounds, but the style and appearance of the house is that of a large suburban villa rather than a true country house. The architect is unknown, but it was probably one of the large Birmingham firms whose main output was commercial work: on balance, J.A. Chatwin is perhaps the most likely candidate. Stylistically it is perhaps more like the work of Essex, Nichol & Goodman, but their practice was not formed until about 1884

Lickey Grange: entrance front

The entrance side has two-storey canted bays either side of a shallow recessed porch; the garden side has similar bays either side of of a stone canted bay that may be a later addition. Inside, the hall has a deep frieze of pre-Raphaelite style wall paintings that is much interrupted by the arched doorcases through which rooms open off the hall.

Lickey Grange: garden front

In 1910 Joseph Rowlands sold the house to Herbert Austin (1866-1941), the pioneer motor manufacturer, and Lickey Grange was his home for the rest of his life. It is said that the iconic Austin 7 motor car was designed in the billiard room here in 1921. 

Lickey Grange: entrance hall

After Lord Austin's widow died in 1942, the house was sold to the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind which opened a junior school here in 1945. A few years later it became a senior school called Lickey Grange School, and over the following decades, school buildings accreted around the original house. Falling numbers led to the closure of the school in 1991, and the entire site was sold for redevelopment. In practice, the house was returned to residential use, but subdivided into flats, the school additions were largely demolished or converted to housing, and further new housing of an up-market kind has been built in the grounds. Inside, apart from the entrance hall and staircase and a few chimneypieces, little survives with any coherence.
Descent: built 1880 for Joseph Rowlands, solicitor; sold 1910 to Sir Herbert Austin (1866-1941), 1st Baron Austin; sold 1943 to Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind; sold after 1991 for redevelopment.

Austin family of Lickey Grange, Baron Austin

Herbert Austin (1866-1941)
1st Baron Austin
Austin, Sir Herbert (1866-1941), 1st Baron Austin. Son of Giles Stephens Austin (1837-1905) of Little Missenden (Bucks) and later Wentworth (Yorks WR), farmer, and his wife Clara Jane, daughter of Willoughby Simpson, born 8 November and baptised at Little Missenden, 19 November 1866. Educated at Rotherham Grammar School, Brampton College and Hotham College of Art, Melbourne. In 1884 he emigrated to Australia with an uncle and worked for several different companies in Melbourne, including Langlands Foundry, whose products included locomotive boilers and wheels. Member of Institute of Mechanical Engineers. After completing his apprenticeship he moved to the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co., where he soon became the Manager. In 1893 he return to England as the production manager for the English branch of the same company in Birmingham. The difficulties of travel in Australia had encouraged him to experiment with motor-powered vehicles, and he produced his first car under the Wolseley name in 1895. Although he remained associated with the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co. (and became its Chairman in 1911), he left the Wolseley Toor and Motor Car Co. in 1905, to found his own company, the Austin Motor Co., with works at Longbridge near Birmingham. During the First World War he converted production to aeroplanes, guns and ammunition, and when he returned to peacetime motor production, he developed cheap cars for mass production (beginning with the iconic Austin 7), and the growth of this market made his fortune. President of the Institution of Automobile Engineers, 1930 and of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 1934; Master of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers of London, 1934. He was Conservative MP for Kings Norton, 1918-24 (but never spoke in Parliament) and Hon. Col. of the Worcestershire Regiment of the Territorial Army. Having made great wealth he became a philanthropist, and provided endowments for hospitals and universities. He was knighted (KBE) in 1917 and created a peer as Baron Austin of Longbridge in the city of Birmingham, 16 July 1936. He was awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Birmingham, 1937 and made a Commandre de l'ordre de Leopold II of Belgium, 1917. He married, 26 December 1887, Helen (1866-1942), daughter of James Dron of Melbourne, and had issue:
(1) Hon. Irene Austin (1890-1977), born at Ascot Vale, Victoria (Australia), 15 September 1890; married, Oct-Dec 1918, Col. Arthur Cyril Roy Waite MC (1894-1991) of Fernhill Park (Berks), a member of the Austin Motor Co. board and racing driver, son of William Nicholas Waite of Adelaide, South Australia, but had no issue; died 1 September 1977; will proved 18 November 1977 (estate £949,581);
(2) Vernon James Austin (1894-1915), born 21 November 1894; served in First World War with Royal Field Artillery (2nd Lt., 1914); killed in action near La Bassee in France, 26 January 1915 and was buried at Canterbury (Kent); administration of goods granted to his father, 7 September 1915 (estate £1,056) and 30 March 1942 (further effects, £1,131);
(3) Hon. Zeta Elaine Austin (1902-93), born Oct-Dec 1902; author of Lord Austin: the man, 1968; married, Jul-Sep 1928, Charles Powell Lambert (1903-90), son of A.F. Lambert of Gerrards Cross, and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 23 November 1993; will proved 29 April 1994 (estate £237,981).
He purchased Lickey Grange in 1910. It was sold after the death of his widow in 1942.
He died of a heart attack following pneumonia, 23 May 1941, and was buried at Holy Trinity, Lickey Hills; the peerage became extinct on his death. His will was proved 3 November 1941 (estate £509,712). His widow died at East Finchley (Middx), 24 May 1942 and is also buried at Holy Trinity, Lickey Hills; her will was proved 3 December 1942 (effects £39,136). 

L.G. Pine, The new extinct peerage, 1884-1971, 1972, p.19; A. Brooks & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Worcestershire, 2nd edn., 2007, p. 428;,_1st_Baron_Austin

Location of archives
No significant accumulation of personal papers is known to survive.
Austin Motor Co. Ltd: minutes, 1919-58 [Warwick Univ., Modern Records Centre, AUM]; other records, 20th cent. [British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, Gaydon (Warks)]

Coat of arms
Gules a cross between in the 1st and 4th quarters a garb and in the 2nd and 3rd quarters a lozenge or.

Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 3 April 2017.

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