Motherwell may not have had a lot in common with Buenos Aires except that both ran Manchester-made trams. Between 1902 and 1904 the British Electric Car Company Ltd made tramcars at Trafford Park. The Manchester Ship Canal enabled it to export from its little factory, well-equipped with overhead cranes, to Egypt, New Zealand and South America. Its 4-wheeled single-truck double-deck open toppers must have been good, selling to 30 towns in Britain so successfully that the firm was bought out by the rival United Electric Car Company of Preston, and promptly wound up.
The factory on the corner of Westinghouse Road and First Avenue was later leased by the fledgling Ford Motor Company (England) Ltd, to build the first Fords made outside America. Henry Ford always liked his factories to be close by docks. Trafford Park had access to America, bringing in component parts by way of the Ship Canal, and it was right by a railhead from which it could send completed cars.
Ford’s managing director, Percival Lea Dewhurst Perry, spent £2000 leasing the 5.5acre (2.2hectare) site, beside that of crane manufacturer Frederick Henry Royce. Born, like Henry Ford in 1863, Royce too went into cars and aero engines. Each Trafford Park factory had its own railway siding and by 1914 Ford was sending vehicles in covered wagons to 1000 dealers. Perry thought Manchester, “The very best geographical and economic centre for our business.” The workforce welcomed Ford; it paid the best rates, 10d to 1s 3d (4p to 6.25p) an hour although their terms of employment could shift them from trade to trade. Before the First World War Britain was Ford’s second biggest market after the US, and the company turned out, in the long run, more stable and consistent than the indigenous motor industry.
Research for Dove Publishing’s next book, which celebrates a hundred years of making Fords in Britain, has turned up some engaging detail, not all of which can be accommodated in a manuscript of even 130,000 words. I never heard the rattle of the “BE Standard Cars” that used to ply on Jerviston Road, past No 98 where I was born. By that time the Hamilton Motherwell and Wishaw Tramways Company had retired to its great Traction House in the sky, and Ford had its own Thames-side wharf at Dagenham.
The Ford in Britan Centenary File will be published in March 2011