From Hugh Barnes, Austin 7 Archive Project
The Austin 7 is considered by many to be one of the most important cars ever produced in Britain. Named at the time ‘The Motor for the Millions’, it was the first small car built that gave access to motoring to the working man. Up until then, that person could probably only have owned a motorcycle and sidecar for family transport, the idea of car ownership being financially out of reach.
Launched in 1922 and finally being gracefully retired in 1939 after some 300,000 cars were built, the Seven then moved on, post-war, to become the impecunious student’s transport of choice, lasting in huge numbers until the early 1960s. At that point, the economy saw car ownership truly becoming a thing of the masses and with the introduction of the first MOT, these sounded the death knell of many pre-war cars.
Already by this time however, enthusiasts were still driving their Austin 7s, many of them as daily transport and some 20 or so independent Austin 7 Clubs had sprung up all over the country. In the early 1970s, an umbrella organisation, The Austin 7 Clubs’ Association, was formed and it is this body that now holds the archive of Austin 7 materials.
The first contribution to the archive was the papers of Stanley Edge who approached an Austin 7 owner at a car rally and said “I have some drawings that some people might be interested in”. As a 17 year old draughtsman, plucked from the Austin drawing office in the early 1920s, it was Stan who converted the ideas of Herbert (later Lord) Austin to engineering reality as he worked at Austin’s home, Lickey Grange, on the outskirts of Birmingham.
The Association, and the movement as a whole, is enormously fortunate to have the collection that consists of original engineering drawings, Austin Motor Company records, trophies awarded at race meetings, handbooks, parts lists and brochures issued by the Austin Car Company. Other materials include photographs, books, period magazines and related ephemera. The Association has a project in progress to catalogue the collection and publish digital images online, enabling the estimated 10,000 plus Austin 7 owners the world over (and they are indeed, spread around the globe) to see the collection and delve deeper into it for historical research purposes. You can see our work so far at the Online Austin 7 Archive.
In the early days of the project, we approached a number of possible contractors to undertake our digitisation work and we were immediately taken by the professional approach of Hampshire County Council’s Archives and Local Studies staff, who asked relevant questions and suggested approaches to the task that we almost certainly wouldn't have considered. The relationship has proved highly beneficial to our project and we are grateful for the training, advice and technical services that the staff of Hampshire County Council’s Archives and Local Studies have provided.
Heather Needham, Principal Archivist (ICT), took that telephone call which started the Austin 7 Clubs’ Association’s relationship with Hampshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS).
We undertake external digitisation commissions which provide income to help support the work of the Archives and Local Studies service. The digitisation work is done by our Conservation Assistant who is trained in the safe handling of material which might be old or fragile, and the items are stored in our archive strongrooms while they are here. Our large format overhead cameras can produce images of volumes which need to be photographed from above, or larger flat items. The scanners can be used to digitise slide transparencies or glass plates.
Hampshire Archives and Local Studies offers a digitisation service to external organisations for material in a variety of formats, not just older material. We can also provide advice and guidance to organisations and individuals with their own collections on how to best preserve and organise them. Email Heather Needham (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.