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Topics for this Column tend to suggest themselves in conversations with Club members. This month I have been asked to say something about Larkhill House. Actually it was a bit stronger than that, I was instructed to do so when the subject was debated at a recent Director's meeting.
On 20th January 1930 the M.G. Car Company officially opened up their new factory at Abingdon-on-Thames. There is evidence that they had been assembling Midgets there since about November so there were a good number of cars on display at the formal luncheon. This was to be the home of M.G. for fifty years. The office block and the only part of the works currently in use and usable is Larkhill House. Cecil Kimber's office was on the first floor, having a bay window which looked over the factory. This room is still decorated in the manner chosen by the founder of M.G., there are those who believe that Larkhill House is an important piece of M.G. history.
For at least the three and a half years I have been on the M.G.C.C. Board, Larkhill House has been for sale at a reported asking price of £275,000. Even though there were some who thought there was a splendid opportunity to acquire a real piece of M.G. history, the Club could hardly consider it (we were borrowing money from the Centres and Registers, remember?). But, some enthusiasts did do something, they formed the Abingdon Motor Museum Trust with the objective of raising the money to buy and use the building as an M.G. Museum. We, the M.G.C.C. offered them co-operation and any help possible except money.
The problems facing the Trust were many but one came from a most unexpected direction. Just as they were going to go to the world and ask for cash support (preserve a brick for £10), Moss Europe's owners announced that they were going to take over the WHOLE of the old M.G. Factory site and centralise all their parts storage and distribution at Abingdon. This changed the picture for the AMMT because, instead of buying the building they would need to negotiate a lease from Inghams. Actually the Club was delighted too because having a major honey pot for M.G. enthusiasts next door could be nothing but good news.
But, Inghams rethought their plans and pulled out. The AMMT's money raising plans which had tripped at the start line did not get going again and Larkhill House remained on the market. By this time the Club's finances looked a little better, there were mutterings that Standard Life might accept rather less than the original asking price and there was talk of the possibility of a substantial grant from the Vale of the White Horse Council. We, the Club, and your Douglas Mickel Trustees elect did, for a fleeting moment, think that the acquisition of Larkhill House might be a possibility. The building is in a good state of repair. The ground floor is rented by a tenant whose rent is attractive, we would want the first floor with its Cecil Kimber connections and it was not seen that there would be any difficulty in finding users for the second floor. There might just have been a way through the maze.
However, the grant proved to be a mirage, the revised price could not be ascertained, supposing it to have been reduced anyway and there was considerable doubt about the amount of money which may need to be spent if the building came up for a change of use. I understand that the AMMT is being wound up. We are back to square one.
Now fears are again felt by local enthusiasts because there is reason to suppose that Standard Life are making an effort to sell the whole site and, if this is done, Larkhill House may be demolished in the wholesale redevelopment plans. It has been suggested that we should try to have the building listed. Apart from the difficulties of making a case, it has no architectural features of merit so far as I know, there is the moral and practical considerations of the move. Listing the building could reduce its value of the site (bad for Standard Life). This is because there would be restrictions on how the building could be used and maintained which would be irksome for the new owner (our neighbour), this would be so for us if we acquired it.
Another piece of information which is relevant is that Abingdon Town Council are planning to create an Abingdon Museum. This would not be M.G.s only, (far from it, life in Abingdon did not start in 1930 whatever we may think!). But this proposed museum would have some M.G. material and we would hope that the M.G. Car Club will be consulted on this and allowed to contribute. It is unlikely that grants or support, or even planning permission would be given for a rival concern in Larkhill House.
So, what of the future? I see but two possibilities and a very remote third. If anyone reading this needs to set up an office for twenty to thirty people in the Abingdon area, if you are an M.G. person, take a look at Larkhill House. You might do worse. If anyone out there feels so keenly about the preservation of Larkhill House that they are prepared to spend all their time organising a fund to buy, maintain and preserve it, I can put you in touch with the AMMT. Finally, we The M.G.C.C. might still find a way through the maze but do not count on it.