Bringing history to life at the Daimler Powerhouse

As the Daimler Powerhouse continues to take shape, Imagineer are bringing the history of the building to life through restoring elements of the original building and through encouraging people who worked at the Daimler Powerhouse to share their stories.

The purpose-built £2.5million Daimler Powerhouse Creation Centre will focus primarily on outdoor arts and play an integral part in supporting the UK City of Culture 2021, it will be a creative centre of excellence combining art, environment, engineering and social change.

The Daimler Building has long had a reputation as a centre of excellence from being the first car factory in Britain to the creators of the first Fork Lift Truck and Imagineer are looking to celebrate this history both through the building itself and through sharing the stories of the people who worked there.

Albert Smith of Coventry worked in engineering and manufacturing from his apprenticeship, aged 16, in 1944 at Iso Speedic, (a subsidiary company of Coventry Climax) before being transferred to Coventry Climax main works in 1946 to work as a junior draftsman on the design of the first British fork lift truck ET199. Albert carried on working at Coventry Climax with two short breaks at GEC and Morris Motors at Courthouse Green before finally leaving to work at The Standard Motor Company in 1953. After some years working for the Ford Motor Company in Canada in the late 1950s, Albert returned for a job at Coventry Climax as Technical Sales Manager in 1960. Part of Albert’s role included accompanying inspectors working for large companies and ministry departments to the Power House at Sandy Lane to check the stability and design features of the fork lift trucks, which they had ordered, before they were dispatched. Albert left in 1976 to form his own company.

As part of Albert’s reminiscences, he highlighted the features of the building including the crane, which could travel the whole length of the building, which is being restored as part of the development so that it will continue to be seen throughout the building and will be a part of the new aerial rig going into the development.

Albert Smith said: “I have a lifetime of memories working in the automotive industry in Coventry and it was wonderful to share those memories of both the people and the manufacturing achievements made in the City and at the Daimler Powerhouse. I was delighted to see and hear about the memorable features of the Powerhouse being maintained and to hear how engineering and creativity are still at the heart of the building, I look forward to coming back to visit.”

Kathi Leahy, Associate Director at Imagineer said: “It was a delight to meet and spend time talking with Albert, we’ve spent so many years researching and responding creatively to the Daimler Powerhouse that it’s wonderful to continue hearing new stories about the building and the role it played in people’s lives as well as understanding more about the history of engineering and manufacturing in the city. We are keen to hear from other people who have worked at Daimler so we can preserve and be inspired by those stories as well as archive them for future generations.”

From a Cotton and Weaving Mill in the 1860s through to its position in the automotive industry as the Motor Mills in the late 1890s and later Daimler works in the mid-1900s, the Daimler Powerhouse has a history of bringing together engineering and ingenuity. The site itself, the Daimler Powerhouse – built in 1907 to power the factories and foundries on site – survived the Coventry Blitz in November 1940 and through this new regeneration will continue to be a place for inventiveness, excellence and creativity.

Daimler Powerhouse is funded through £1.9 million from the Cultural Capital Investment Fund which is resourced from Coventry City Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal.

The Wigley Group, which owns Sandy Lane Business Park and are undertaking the development work, is contributing an additional £350,000 to enable the project to proceed as well as agreeing a highly-discounted 20-year lease on Daimler Powerhouse, as well as a neighbouring building, as part of the redevelopment. Additional funding has been raised from Arts Council England, The Foyle Foundation, Medwell-Hyde, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The May 29th 1961 Charitable Trust.

You can listen to an audio recording of Alberts memories here.  

To contribute your stories and memories share them via social media making sure you tag Imagineer Twitter – @ImagineerUK, Facebook- @imagineerpod, Instagram – @imagineeruk or by contacting info@imagineerproductions.co.uk

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