Jensen Motors | Carter’s Green Factory
Carter’s Green factory is the first in a series of three features about the Jensen Motors factories. Swiss Jensen Car Club Secretary, Felix Kistler, has researched the three factories, and; together with various photographs and drawings; gives us a unique insight to the various areas of use within each factory.
Kistler hopes that viewers might have further information that can help complete the various working areas of each factory. Kistler’s work provides a valuable resource for anyone interested in the workings of Jensen Motors.
Carter’s Green Factory – West Bromwich
Alan Jensen called the Carter’s Green factory “a dog kennel of a place”. Continuing his reminisces of his first day at the Carter’s Green works back in 1931, “The buildings were ramshackle, dark and dingy, the only heating came from a coal fire set in the middle of the workshop, and the chimney ran up through the roof, billowing evil black smoke, most of which found its way into the small, untidy office upstairs.”
Such was the nature of the Carter’s Green W.H.Smith & Sons factory, when the Jensen brothers first joined in 1931. The two brothers had recently left Patrick Motors, after a rather heated boardroom meeting, which led to their resignation.
Looking for employment, they had; by some coincidence; met with George Mason, the son of a local provisions merchant. His father had a financial interest in a coachbuilding firm, W.H.Smith & Son, which had been established way back in 1870.
Mason senior had become unhappy with the quality and reliability of the firm, and managed to get the Jensen brothers on board as joint managing directors. It was going to be their task to re-organise the business.
The brothers immediately set to work endeavouring to improve the factory, and the poor turnover. To that end, Alan Jensen concentrated on commercial vehicles, while Richard set up a small car-building shop in one corner of the works.
By 1934, the brothers had the chance to buy the controlling interest of W.J Smith & Sons, and changed the name, to the now familiar, Jensen Motors Ltd, and towards the end of the 1930s, were producing the handsome ‘S’ and ‘H’ type saloon cars. One of the first items on the agenda, once the brothers had acquired the Carter’s Green works, was to remove the W.J Smith & Son signage , and replace them with Jensen Motors Ltd. This included painting the wooden main gates with the white lettering, Jensen Motors Ltd, and to erect a large wooden beam vertically, just by the pillar, and to attach white painted metal letters to make the word ‘JENSEN’.
During the war, Jensen Motors picked up government contracts for a range of military related vehicles. Additionally the Company produced smaller military hardware, such as bomb casings, aircraft seats and even rocket launchers.
In an air-raid of November 1940, the Carter’s Green factory was hit, when an incendiary bomb hit the stores and part of the offices. Unfortunately much pre-war material relating to the history of Jensen Motors was lost in the fire caused by the incendiary bomb.
After the war, work at the Carter’s Green factory started immediately with production of light commercial vehicles. The Company even managed to produce a car, the PW saloon (PW standing for Post-War), although it was barely a production vehicle with just 16 produced. Not long after came the Jensen Interceptor (the first use of that now iconic name).
As production of commercial vehicles intensified through the 1940s, and into the 1950s, along with other sub-contract work such as the Austin A40 Sports, it became obvious that the works were too small.
This had already previously led in 1947 for the commercial vehicle activities to be temporarily moved to Stoke-On-Trent. Meanwhile they waited for a new factory at Kingswinford, to become available.
By the time Jensen Motors had acquired the Austin-Healey contract, it was obvious new and much larger factory premises would be required. The new factory complex would be sited at Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, and this was built between 1954 and 1958.
While work slowly progressed over at Kelvin Way, day to day life at Carter’s Green remained unchanged. Nick Maltby had seen an advertisement requiring a draughtsman at Jensen Motors, and managed to get the job. Maltby gives us his first-hand recollections of the Carter’s Green works,
“My first memory of Jensen Motors Carter’s Green factory is from February 1959. This is the time I was going to the factory to be interviewed by Mr.Neale (Eric Neale) I travelled to West Bromwich from Aston, Birmingham, by bus, two buses in fact. Although I have the clearest of memories of the interview itself, which was held in the Body Drawing office, I cannot recall the journey to West Bromwich, or my walking along Shaftesbury Road, where the main gate to Jensen’s factory was located.
Having been accepted as a draughtsman in the Body Drawing Office, I had plenty of experiences of riding through the main gates in Shaftesbury Road on my bike, passing the office block on the left-hand side and parking my bike in the cycle racks on the left of the drive, opposite the saw mill. The office block that I have just referred to, is where the Jensen brothers and other senior members of management, such as Mr. Stevenson the Company Secretary, had their offices.
Just before the cycle rack, I passed another two story block on my right-hand side. I remember that there was at least two offices on the ground floor, one occupied by Tom Killeen, who at the time was a freelance designer and the other by the purchasing manager. The latter was a very pleasant man in his late forties, I wish that I could remember his name, his secretary was Poppy Beard, the wife of Tom Beard a production manager and a good friend of Eric Neale.
Most of the upper floor was occupied by the works canteen. After parking my bike I began my long walk down the wide aisle through the main factory. It is a great pity that I cannot remember what work was undertaken on both sides of the aisle. I do remember the trim shop and a number of offices on the mezzanine floor on the right-hand side. One of those offices was occupied by Harry Coupe who was something of a legend in his own lifetime, but again for what reason I cannot recall, I hope that by mentioning his name will cause others to remember more details about him. I think he was a production scheduling manager but I am not sure. From memory, the space under the mezzanine was used as a general storage (of equipment and supplies) area. If I was forced to say what was on the left-hand side of the aisle, then I would say general machining.
Continuing on my journey to the Drawing Office, I had to go through a sturdy sliding door. This large door had lower metal panels and an upper section of wire mesh. The door separated the main factory from the Development Department, only authorised people were supposed to have access to this area, and the door was supposed to be closed at all times. I don’t think it generally was, unless a senior member of staff was in the area and wanted to exert his authority by telling someone to close the door.
Once through this door, it was only a matter of yards before reaching the door into the Drawing Office, having passed the ‘cage’ on the right-hand side. At one stage while I was working at Carter’s Green, the ‘cage’ housed the prototype Volvo P1800.
It was very rare for a draughtsman to go to any other part of the factory outside of the Development Department, unless to visit the Chassis Drawing Office. This was on a section of the mezzanine floor which crossed over the aisle at the entrance to the main factory (see plan). The Glass-fibre Moulding Department was not far from the Development Department, and the smell of the resin was always in the air.
There are three overriding impressions that I carry with me from my time at Jensen Motors Carters Green works, 1- It was quite a dingy factory giving my memories a tinge of darkness. However, that was true of most factories at that time. Jensen was not exceptional in that regard, hence the quote from Blake’s Jerusalem “England’s dark satanic mills”. 2- There is an element of retrospection here, it would have been difficult for a casual passer-by to imagine that there was quite a substantial factory lying behind the unimposing entrance in Shaftesbury Road. 3- The general friendliness of the workers, one to another, and between staff (not necessarily management) and shop floor workers.”
Maltby remained with Jensen Motors until 1961, and then left to work at Ford. He returned to Jensen Motors in 1964, having his second Jensen Motors interview at Kelvin Way.
After completion of the first stage of the Kelvin Way factory, much of the machinery and tooling was moved over from Carter’s Green, and by the early 1960s everything had been moved across, and the Carter’s Green factory was closed down.
Although a large percentage of the work force also moved across to Kelvin Way, there were some that used it as a time to retire, or to find work elsewhere.
Today, although some redevelopment has taken place in the area, the main offices of Jensen Motors, Carter’s Green still exist (2016).
NOTES: Reminisces of Alan Jensen were given to motoring journalist, Peter Browning, during interviews which took place in 1972.
REQUESTS: Do you hold images of the Carter’s Green factory, either exterior or interior. If so, we would very much like to hear from you.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Nick Maltby, former draughtsman at Jensen Motors (Carter’s Green & Kelvin Way) | Jeen Jager, editor, Dutch Jensen Journal | Han Kamp.
COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | Felix Kistler, Secretary Swiss Jensen Car Club. | Nick Maltby | Phil Grice | Han Kamp
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