The BSA Trust is a voluntary body dedicated to preserving the glorious heritage of the Birmingham Small Arms Company of Small Heath.
In the 1950s and '60s BSA was the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles, and the Small Heath plant was the centre of an industrial empire spanning the globe.
BSA was also a world leader in armament manufacturing (which was the firm's original purpose hence the stacked rifles trademark) as well as mass production of bicycles, Daimler luxury cars, London taxis and machine tools.
As a tribute to this once world-famous company the BSA Trust is hoping to conserve the surviving BSA buildings in Armoury Road, Birmingham B11.
The surviving 'Old BSA Building' has the potential to be restored to its former glory. We are therefore strongly supporting the application recently made to English Heritage to protect this historic factory by having it listed.
Ultimately we would envisage the restored building becoming The BSA Heritage Centre dedicated primarily to exhibiting BSA Motorcycles.
New BSAs Motorcycles - coming soon?
The 1915 Building
Unfortunately the 1915 BSA Building has now had the original windows removed.
Our formal requests to the owner (Mr Mirza), English Heritage, Birmingham City Council (Planning & Conservation), and Birmingham Conservation Trust were all met with only lukewarm interest at best.
Sadly, the Birmingham authorities appear to be blind to the value of their own culture and history.
The honourable exception to this offical myopia is the Twentieth Century Society - who warmly supported the case for listing.
Our hope now is that Mr Mirza, the building owner, would consider selling the property for restoration in future. Watch this space.
Click here to join the campaign for the 53
forgotten BSA workers that were killed in a devastating
air raid on the
BSA factory in Armoury Road on the night of Tuesday, 19th
BSA Small Heath Plant 1918 - surviving buildings shown in colour
NEW! Click here to see the Truscon buildings under construction in 1914
Surviving Truscon Building in England?
From 1861 to 1973
the BSA Small Heath factory in Armoury Road was the centre of the world famous
Birmingham Small Arms manufacturing empire, known across much of the world for
its motorcycles, guns and bicycles.
landmark 1915-1916 ‘Old BSA’ building
in Armoury Road is a unique survivor, one of the pioneering ‘Model factories’
of revolutionary ‘Truscon’ trussed concrete and steel construction. English Heritage have confirmed this is one of the three oldest surviving buildings of its type in England. However,
this historic building is now in imminent danger.
In April / May 2010 Birmingham City Council
granted consent for a change of use for car breaking. More worryingly, consent
was granted for re-cladding and re-roofing with alterations to windows etc
is likely that these works will irreparably damage the historic fabric of the building. We therefore support the application recently lodged with English Heritage to grant the building
Although the owner (car-breaker Mr M S Mirza) indicated in writing to us that he would forgoe the cladding works, and is aware of the building's historic importance, sadly he has now proceeded to carry out these works regardless.
To support Listing please email English Heritage, Birmingham City Council (Planning & Conservation), and Birmingham Conservation Trust
There is little doubt that the ‘Old BSA building’
has enormous scarcity value as the oldest building of its type still in
existence in England - or at the very least an extremely rare survivor (see
architectural importance’ below)
The Twentieth Century Society have pointed out that
whilst they know of several restored factory buildings from the 1920s and 1930s
inter-war period (such as Owen Williams’ Boots Factory) there is nothing of
this type from the Great War era.
‘Old BSA’ building can be dated fairly accurately to 1915–1916. The almost
identical and much larger ‘New Building’ fronting Golden Hillock Road with its
distinctive ‘H’ plan, 3 bay layout (demolished in c.1977) was erected between
as 1914-16. According to the ‘Looking At Buildings’ website ‘the similar 1915-16 Trussed Concrete
Steel extension to their older factory on the opposite side of the road still
survives.’ ‘It is a ‘notable example of
a reinforced concrete frame’.
the original BSA Company brochure from 1918 (see below) includes a detailed
drawing of the entire 32 acre Small Heath plant and the subject property is
clearly evident, apparently well established by the end of the Great War.
of the Building
To appreciate the true significance of this building, you
have to look beyond the understandable first impression that ‘it’s too far gone’ or to assume that
there’s ‘a lack of surviving fabric‘.
We would counter this perception by pointing out that it was
originally built as an extremely simple structure where function
dictated form - a radical notion at the time, even for factories. It was
a no-nonsense design with clean lines. The only ‘fabric’ of the building
was that considered essential for its purpose.
structure comprises a massively strong reinforced ‘trussed’ concrete post &
beam frame, with the main walls in-filled with brick panelling and very large
metal frame windows. The windows are key, being a striking architectural
feature, providing substantial light and ventilation. The original
interior was sparse – an environment specifically designed to accommodate new
mass production techniques.
all makes the task of conservation considerably easier than for more
elaborate buildings, despite the obvious extent of the dilapidations. Also the
relatively small size of this factory building makes it a viable
proposition. In our opinion as chartered surveyors, the building should be
a practicable project to restore to its former glory.
In the early part of the 20th century new
production methods were being developed in the USA spearheaded by Henry Ford and the automotive industry.
The newly developed reinforced concrete system developed by the Kahn brothers
in Detroit was marketed by the “Trussed Concrete Steel Company”, or “Truscon” as it was often known. In 1907 the Company established an office in
These revolutionary new buildings soon
became known as “Model factories” with their design (known as the “Kahn Daylight system”) based on a
regular grid of column, beam and slab. Concrete sections were fully exposed and external wall spaces were glass filled with slender glazing
Truscon opened their first example of this
type of building in the U.K at Trafford Park, Manchester (1911) for the Ford
motor company. Soon after in Dumfries, a three story ‘E shaped’ factory was
built for the Arrol–Johnson Motor Company (1912-13), A four story building for
the engineers G.J Weir ltd, Glasgow (1912-13) and another for the Albion Motor
company in Glasgow (1913-15) were also completed.
The Birmingham Small Arms factory (B.S.A) in
Small Heath was built from 1914 - 1916, with a design that appeared as ‘a chequer board of concrete piers and
This new construction method using reinforced concrete was fast,
economic and adaptable and co-incided with a shortage of building materials
created by the military build-up in 1914 for the First World War which lead to
a relaxation of building regulations. The
Company’s 1918 brochure described this development as follows:-
“With the enormous acceleration of B.S.A.
production [in the Great War] it was not long before a
series of huge buildings, erected by the most modern methods, were being
added, on a scale never previously equalled in the Company's history. These
additions amounted to about two miles of shops sixty
feet wide, and equipped with the finest and newest machinery”
BSA’s Small Heath plant has a glorious history, not just with
regard to the world famous guns and motorcycles it produced in huge quantities,
but also in terms of workers’ welfare – with amongst other things Company
surgeries with free treatment for sickness or injury, plus a substantial staff
gymnasium (see 1918 brochure). In fact, for many years, BSA was Birmingham's
largest employer. By the end of the WW2 BSA employed 28,000 workers and
controlled 67 factories, including Daimler Cars.
The company’s enormous Small Heath HQ played a major role in armament
production during the Great War and went on to manufacture more than
half of the guns used by British forces during the Second World War. They also
produced 128,000 military bicycles and 126,000 military motorcycles in WW2.
the Small Heath BSA works was marked on Luftwaffe maps of the area as one of their main targets. In 1940 the factory
was bombed 3 times in 3 months, killing 53 people, injuring 89 injured, and destroying
more than 4 acres of the factory.
the war BSA went on to lead the world in Motorcycle manufacture (see below).
First World War munitions production
1,500,000 Lee Enfield rifles and 145,397 Lewis
World War munitions production
1,250,000 rifles, 468,098 Browning machine guns,
42,532 Hispano 20mm Cannons for both Spitfires and Hurricanes, 32,971 Oerlikon
20mm guns, 59,322 Besa machine guns, 68,000 anti tank rifles,
404,383 Sten guns, 750,000 anti-aircraft rockets.
History from BSA’s brochure of 1918
Truscon buildings are clearly evident in the lower
left photo in July 1915.
world famous products
There’s no shortage of websites detailing the famous products produced
at Small Heath, many in vast quantities.
In the 1950s and 60s BSA was the biggest manufacturer of motorcycles in
the world. Famous bikes included the legendary BSA Gold Star, the ubiquitous Bantam
& C15, A7 and A10 Golden Flash, Spitfires, A65 Thunderbolt & Lightning,
B50 Victor and the legendary BSA Rocket 3. Some Ariel and Sunbeam bikes were
manufactured at Small Heath, as well as some Triumphs, including the early Trident
and legendary Hurricane. The Small Heath factory won numerous trophies for competition
racing and motocross in UK and USA.
BSA C15 motorcycle production line 1965within Truscon
Viable Future - and Support
Our immediate objective is to prevent the imminent threat
of damage from the approved re-cladding, re-roofing and replacement
window works. Only by listing can this unique building from the Great War now
Once listed, the owner may want to proceed with the planned
car breaking use. However, any works to the building would need to be carried out with care to preserve the surviving
original structure and fabric.
If, as the BSA Trust, we were able to purchase the building
at some point in the future, we are confident that funds could be raised for use
as ‘The BSA Heritage Centre’. This would suit the building and significantly
add to the amenity value of the locality, with a more positive impact on adjoining uses than at present.
The intention would be to exhibit a wide range of famous BSA
motorcycles, cars, commercial vehicles, guns and cycles etc, and to tell the
amazing story of how Small Heath helped win 2 world wars and exported its famous products to all four corners of the globe.
Today, there are at least 4 main firms trading under the BSA
brand, although they are relatively small compared to their world-renowned
Small Heath- based ancestor. These include BSA Regal, BSA Guns (UK), BSA
Clothing and BSA Machine Tools. There are also BSA Owners’ Clubs.
the BSA brand and helping preserve its history has broad support. The Heritage Centre could include a retail outlet for the
BSA range of clothing, books, memorabilia, as well as air rifles and possibly hand-built
motorcycles. Related events would be held, and local employment opportunities thus
Above all, the Small Heath community would have a focus in
which to take pride at their achievements. The alternative is to see the
surviving historic building sink into oblivion, taking its glorious history with
the ‘Old BSA’ is now urgently listed,
Birmingham and the country will have lost a unique surviving building and a valuable
link to a glorious history
Small Heath factory 1968. ‘New building’ to front faces Golden Hillock
entrance to Armoury Road
With thanks to Phyllis Nicklin
Photo 1953: From
Golden Hillock Road, Armoury Road leads down to original Victorian
factory. Entire plant and houses to left (backing onto railway) demolished
c.1977 except for surviving ‘Old BSA’ 1915 Truscon concrete frame building
and BSA Guns Ltd workshops
B.S.A. Works, Armoury Road, Small Heath, Birmingham in 1968
Armoury Road Works
entrance leading to original Victorian factory.
Surviving Old BSA Truscon
concrete frame building to left.
With thanks to Phyllis Nicklin
View of BSA New Building from Golden Hillock railway bridge.
With thanks to Phyllis Nicklin
Canal side of New Building - late 1960s?
The original Victorian 1862 factory at the end of Armoury Road,then surrounded by open fields.
Sadly demolished by Birmingham Corporation circa 1977. It would have made a great hotel, conference centre or even offices? Site now used as a dump for skips and waste processing
Above and Right: Demolition of Armoury Road Victorian workshops circa late 1970s
1987 demolished site from Golden Hillock /canal side- Surviving Armoury Rd Truscon building visible in distance