by Richard Jones.
First published in the Isetta Gazette June 2002
Recently, I was in the locality of Brighton, and so took
the opportunity of investigating the site of the former works of Isetta
of Great Britain Ltd.
As you will no doubt know, the works were sited in the
former locomotive engineering works in New England Street, Brighton, and
so, that was our first location. It took a while to find New England Street,
but finally, we were parked on that road, and I went exploring, aided
by the New England Street Library which is situated at one end of the
Street. As it turned out, the wrong end.
I first looked up what I could find out about the locomotive
engineering works prior to Isetta of Great Britain moving in and I found
out that the site had been part of the British Railways locomotive works
at Brighton, adjoining the main station, and went out of commission in
March 1957, when the last repair jobs from that bay were completed, and
the last new steam locomotive from the Brighton works despatched. The
contractors moved in in the same week, and assembly lines, welding jigs
and electrical plant followed. Three weeks later, 70 ton railway engines
had given way to 7-cwt cars, assembled in the same place by many of the
same hands, which proved the adaptability of men as well as buildings.
Production of Isetta's started in the ex-locomotive shed
on 23rd April 1957, although the site wasn't the greatest for a car factory.
The only possible access to the road was down a flight of over a 100 steps!
The plan, however, involved more than just taking over floor space. The
old locomotive works was at the top of a precipitous hill, it could not
be reached by road. Since the car parts had to finish their journey by
rail, it seemed a good idea that the vehicles should start there's that
way, especially as the parts from Germany had to do so? And for the delivery
of complete cars there was a great deal to be said for the railway.
The last link of the transport chain was the dealer, or,
if he so chose, the customer himself, who was able to collect from his
local railway station a car with a total distance on its milometer of
approximately 25 yards!
The production programme looked, naturally enough, like
a railway timetable. The Brighton goods depot accumulated during the week
a trainload of parts suficient for 250 complete Isettas; engines, transmissions
and body panels from Germany; electrical gear, brakes, tyres, suspension
and other parts from the Midlands; small metal components from Shoreham
and other local sources. On Saturday morning a week's supplies were unloaded
from the central track to the delivery points in the factory. At 7.30
am each day from Monday to Friday, and again during the lunch-time break,
the shunting engine withdrew eight flat wagons carrying three Isettas
apiece, and left eight empty wagons in their place. Sixteen wagons traveled
nightly with the express freight train from Brighton to London, and thence
to anywhere in the country.
Of the three railways tracks on the factory floor, only
the middle one was retained, for supply and delivery, whilst inspection
pits beneath the side tracks were put to good use for the installation
of endless conveyors. The raw pressings received from Bavaria were welded
on jigs proof-tested at the German factory, the bodies were built on one
line, past into and out of a modern paint shop in a loop, and then arrived
at a point half-way down the opposite line on which the chassis frames
had taken shape.
At the end of the final assembly, 25 cars arrived at the
top of a loading ramp which apart from spaces beside the assembly lines
themselves, was the only "store" in the building. At the height
of production 300 vehicles were built every week, which worked out at
one and a half cars per person per week on the assembly line.
Isetta of Great Britain Ltd closed their site at the Locomotive
Works, on New England Street, in 1964, and the site remained in a derelict
condition intil 1969, when it was demolished. In the early 1970's a 900
car capacity car park was constructed on the cleared area here, and this
car park, the largest in the Brighton area remained in operation until
Currently, small parts of the area are up for short term
lease, (1 year max) where car sales, garage lock ups, and the like are
available, but many stolen and burnt out vehicles end up here, gypsies
camp here, kids sniff glue here, and, what is now the largest piece of
derelict land in Brighton is soon to end up under the redevelopment of
what will be the New England Square, being built in 2003-2004 by a development
company called Q.E.D.
This set me thinking that perhaps in the
Clubs Silver Jubilee we should present a plaque to be mounted as near
as possible to the area where the railway line entered the factory, and
dedicated to the 30,000 odd cars built there over the years. I propose
a design of plaque something like this: