Stories Personal Memories

The project collected over 70 interviews with ex-employees and local residents. These oral histories provide first hand recollections of what life was like working at or living near Wide Lane, from before the Cunliffe Owen factory was built to the current redevelopment of the site as a modern business park. This is a small selection of extracts from several of the contributors. The full collection of oral histories can be found at the Hampshire Record Office.

Chris Reeves' Collection 

Chris Reeves was a senior production manager at Swaythling, whose leadership of the Ford self-improvement Q1 Quality Awards project in the 1990s helped keep the Transit plant in Southampton for over another decade. Thanks to work done on this project by all concerned working together, the plant received considerable funding by Ford and achieved 400 vans a day using less staff working to a higher quality at lower cost. It also got a new paint shop. The official photos commissioned by Reeves were taken by Reginald Harris of Southampton in 1995. A selection are shown here, starting with images of the Q1 evaluation team with local staff touring the plant, followed by views of the various departments showing the high standard of 'housekeeping' reached during the project.


  • Q1 Awards photos

Working the Production Line 

Life on the production line was tough. It was physical, it was repetitive, it was monotonous and it was long. Some people loved it, some didn’t, and during the course of the project we heard from people who had worked on different areas of the production line across many decades.


  • Physicality
  • Monotony
  • Health and Safety
  • Camaraderie
A worker in protective suit and helmet with breathing apparatus sprays metallic paint on a Ford Transit van in the line 2005.

Women in Manufacturing 

Although manufacturing was primarily a male dominated industry we talked to several women who had worked at the Wide Lane site, either at Cunliffe Owen or Ford. Their experiences differed depending when they joined and their role but they all faced the challenge of working in a predominantly male environment.


  • Wartime Working
  • Breaking the Glass Ceiling
  • Men’s Attitudes
  • Taking the Floor

Trade Unions at Ford 

In the past, trade unions at Ford were very powerful and militant, and small disagreements could bring production to a halt with strikes and stoppages. Sometimes the industrial action brought better pay and working conditions for the workforce. Relations between the management and unions improved over the years with more co-operation and dialogue.


  • Militancy
  • Demarcation
  • Contractors
  • Benefits

Changes in Technology 

From its days of wartime aviation to the last Transit van model built there, manufacturing at the site saw many changes in technology. Cunliffe-Owen built Seafires with modified folding wings and designed the twin-engined Concordia. Later the Cierva Autogiro company built the Air Horse and the Skeeter. Ford’s Transit vans production moved from manually built to automation with the latest robot systems.


  • Pre-Ford
  • Ford: manual to automation
  • Ford Processes
  • Mountpark: Eco-Construction

Ford Closure 2013 

On 25th October 2012 employees were called to a meeting where the Plant Manager, John Oldham, announced that the plant would close in 9 months. For decades there had been rumours that the plant would close and it had finally happened. The news came as a shock to many who had expected the plant to continue by producing chassis cabs. Others admitted it came as no surprise as they had seen it coming. Most people reflected on the impact the closure would have on the city and local employment opportunities. Five years on we caught up with those who had forged new careers for themselves.


  • Persistent Rumours
  • Getting the News
  • Impact
  • Life After Ford

Fordie Reflections 

Reflecting on their time at Ford, there were fond memories and amusing anecdotes of their working lives. Some had arrived planning to work there briefly but ended up staying for many years. The higher than average pay and better working conditions provided a good standard of living. The close-knit workforce shared a sense of family with their colleagues.


  • Sense of Family
  • The Good Life
  • Job for Life
  • Fond Memories