The Austin Apprentice Scheme was recognized as the finest in the automobile industry. Its unique character created after the First World War when Herbert Austin, encouraged by Chris Buckley, Sales Manager, set up the Austin Engineering College (AEC).
Nazareth House on the Lickey Road was vacated by the nuns during World War I. By the end of 1918 Lord Austin had taken the building over and turned it into the AEC as a residential college for student apprentices.
Lord Austin advertised in the Press for boys from public and Grammar schools throughout the country wishing to train as professional engineers, a typical example of his foresight. He appointed a Principal by name of Loveridge and the first boys began to arrive in January 1919 Two years later, when the nuns returned to Nazareth House, the apprentices were moved to a large house at Bromsgrove off the Finstall Road. The company supplied a fleet of Austin 3-ton, twin-drive buses to transport the apprentices to and from the factory at Longbridge.
When later a railway service was introduced between Bromsgrove and Longbridge works station, the companies bus’s were withdrawn. This put an extra financial strain on the apprentices as they then had to pay to use the train, so less pocket-money. With considerable ingenuity Dickie Farnell set up a ticket-forging plant in the drawing office with different colour tickets for each day of the week in line with the railway system, but inevitably he was caught and the local newspaper appeared with the headlines: ‘Boy had many coloured tickets in his wallet.’
In Nazareth House and Bromsgrove, there were prefects, which were tasked on looking after various areas of the building and a number of apprentices, this practice continued at Longbridge. So the atmosphere was therefore not too different from the school life the boys had just left behind. Prefect A C J. Hartley-Sharpe was responsible for conduct in the dormitory where lights-out was at 10.30 pm.
After 1923 the apprentices went into digs, these were usually put with families of Austin workers, approved by the company. This arrangement continued up to the mid 1950s, just as it had been between 1905 and 1918. The body of apprentices, were known as the ‘Old Nazarenes’, have remained strongly united ever since those early days, and it is largely due to them that The Austin Ex-Apprentices Association was formed.
The Association is still in contact with nearly 1,000 members who are scattered around the world.
The first ever Austin Ex-Apprentice Association Dinner
The first gathering was held in the Grand Hotel, Birmingham, on December 8th, 1928 and from this date up until the 1960s. The Dinner included current Longbridge apprentices as well as ex-apprentices. The format of the first event, and several later ones, was rather like a cabaret evening, with music, singing and other entertainment. We’re not sure how they managed to fit so much into an evening along with five toasts and five responses (perhaps they started really early). Of course, in those days, there was no television, only radio, so people were perhaps more receptive to such live entertainment.
The first Menu for the 1928 event is provided here. Note that Sir Herbert Austin KBE (as he was titled then) himself attended, and responded to the first toast to the Austin Motor Company. The Dinner Chairman, B.M.Brack Esq., was the training supervisor at Longbridge.