Banner Lane – a brief history – by Duncan Russell
Banner Lane, means much to many people, not only those who worked there but to the many owners and enthusiasts of Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors throughout the world.But Banner Lane is no more; the site is now a housing developmentcalled Bannerbrook Park which has been planned and developed by house builder Persimmon, eventually some 1000 new homes will have been built on the site, together with a school, shops and an entire infrastructure.
Gone completely is the factory that had stood on the site since the late 1930’s when the site was developed as a Shadow Factory as part of the Government’s plan to rearm the forces, particularly the RAF in the run up to the Second World War. The Banner Lane site had once been farmland on the outskirts of the industrial city of Coventry, home to many manufacturers, including the Standard Motor Company who would administer Banner Lane on behalf of the Government during the war period.
The last Massey Ferguson tractor rolled off the production line on Christmas Eve in 2002 ending over six decades of manufacturing, including 56 years of tractor production.
The facade of Banner Lane Factory, familiar to so many.
As the demand for military aircraft and aero engines increased at the beginning of the Second World War, a number of Government financed shadow factories were built all over the UK. One of the largest was the Banner Lane site just west of Coventry. The site covered 80 acres in total,with a floor area of over 1 million square feet and had cost £1.7 million to build and prepare for production. This was quite a figure when the cost of a small car was around £130. The Standard Motor Company agreed to manage the site for a fee of £40,000 per annum. The Banner Lane plant manufactured the huge Bristol Hercules aero engine, as fitted to the Wellington bomber and several other aircraft. The Bristol engine was a massive 39 litre, twin row, 14 cylinder radial engine, producing between 1290 and 1735 horsepower depending on application. During the war years some 20,000 engines were produced.
With the end of the war in 1945 the plant was quickly shut down and the Standard Motor Company negotiated a lease for the factory for £36,000 per annum. The Standard Motor Company was keen to take on the factory as Sir John Black, Standards Chairman, had been in discussions with Harry Ferguson to produce the new Ferguson tractor in the UK. Thus in September 1945 the deal was struck for Standard to build tractors for Ferguson, Standard being paid a fee for each tractor produced. Standard then signed a ten year lease for Banner Lane and agreed a plan to produce up to 200 tractors per day.
At the height of production Banner Lane employed more than 6,000 people and in ten years produced over 500,000 Ferguson TE tractors for export all over the world.
The Standard/Ferguson agreement continued through various squabbles and disagreements until the summer of 1959 when Standard severed all connections with Massey Ferguson and tractor production.During this time Harry Ferguson Ltd had sold out to Massey Harris to become Massey Harris Ferguson and then Massey Ferguson. Massey Ferguson hadtaken the lease of Banner Lane factory from Standard Motor Company in 1956.
Massey Ferguson developed the Banner Lane site and at one stage it was reported to be the biggest AGCO manufacturing facility in the World and was headquarters of AGCO’s European, Middle and Far East operations. The famous tower block was officially opened in September 1966 and had office space for around 500 people.
As with all things change was inevitable and new Massey Ferguson tractors were gradually being built elsewhere, particularly at Beauvais in France. When production was being further rationalised and it was proposed that either Banner Lane or Beauvais would be closed, the French plant proved the more difficult to close due to Government and worker pressure and Banner Lane was to be no more.
The last tractor number 3,307,996 was driven off the production line on Christmas Eve 2002 and the factory site was earmarked for housing. The huge task of decommissioning started before the demolition and clearance of the site, the last part of the demolition and the most spectacular, took place on 8th July 2012 when the 16 storey Tower Block was downed using high explosive.
There are many proposal’s on how the mark the site of the once great factory, a factory that produced so much for the British economy with much of its production being exported. The suggestions range from naming various roads around Bannerbrook Park and naming the school. But, there needs to be a permanent memorial to the tractors produced there, something that continues to remind future generations that at thissite was produced the tractor that revolutionised mechanised farming throughout the world.
Banner Lane “Tower” demolished – 8th July
The tower building on Banner Lane in Coventry which was latterly the HQ for AGCO Europe (Massey Ferguson) for many years was demolished on 8th July at 1000hrs.
The Coventry Council are looking into ways to commemorate Banner Lane and any ideas are welcome by them. There is also an e-petition at :-www.coventry.gov.uk/epetitionsCouncillor Thomas is interested in hearing ideas of how the site should be marked for posterity. Please can you let your Ferguson rep or the Committee know your thoughts for a Ferguson Club mark; alternatively Councillor Thomas can be emailed with ideas here Steven.Thomas@coventry.gov.uk