As the threat of European war increased in the 1930s the British government embarked in 1936 on a scheme to build ‘shadow factories’ for which government provided capital for existing companies to build new works, on condition that on the outbreak of hostilities they would be available for munitions production. By 1945 there were 265 such factories in Great Britain, making a variety of products. The largest and best known produced aircraft and were managed, at least initially, by the principal motor manufacturing concerns. One of the principles of the shadow factory project was that factories should be geographically dispersed to minimise dangers from bombing, but such was the engineering expertise available in the West Midlands that aircraft factories were concentrated in Birmingham and Coventy.
Land near to the Castle Bromwich airfield on the eastern side of Birmingham was purchased by the government in 1936, and the development of a factory to build the Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft (CBAF = Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory) was entrusted to Morris Motors Ltd, the Oxford-based car manufacturing concern controlled by William Morris, Lord Nuffield (1877-1963). The project was estimated to cost £2 million, but more than twice that sum had been expended by May 1940, when the plant was riven by labour disputes, and management was trying to build Spitfire without using the plans supplied by the Supermarine company or the designated machine tools. When Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964) became Minister of Aircraft Production on the formation of Winston Churchill’s government in May 1940 control of CBAF passed to Vickers Armstrong Ltd. By the conclusion of the Second World War in May 1945 the factory produced more than 12,000 Spitfires and more than 300 Lancaster 4-engined bombers. Aircraft production ceased in December 1945.
The factory was subsequently used by the Birmingham company Fisher & Ludlow, established in 1849, which produced car body pressings and washing machines. The company was taken over by the British Motor Corporation in 1953, and became part of British Motor Holdings from 1966, as did the Jaguar Car Company. From 1980 the Castle Bromwich plant was used solely to make bodies for Jaguar. After further changes in the British motor industry, Jaguar is now part of Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, which belongs to the Indian Tata company.
It has been used for the assembly of Jaguar cars since the production of the S-type began there in 1998-99, and now assembles the XF, XJ and XK models, as well as manufacturing the body components. The site extends over 37 ha and currently employs more than 2,000 workpeople. Jaguar has a visitor centre from which two-hour tours of the factory can be arranged with prior booking. The interior is almost entirely automated and there are scarcely any traces of the factory’s history, but on the outer walls of some of the buildings there are still traces of wartime camouflage paint, and RAF winged roundel motifs remain on some of the cast-iron rainwater heads.