By John Dearing
Until eleven years ago, East Finchley was the location of a large factory
manufacturing a variety of products for the automotive industry. Since
then, the factory has been demolished and replaced by a housing estate. It
occupied an area of some six acres, bounded by Long Lane, Oak Lane,
Tarling Road, Wilmot Close and Font Hills.
Originally built in
1863 as a mansion called The Grange, it was converted and extended in 1919
(briefly becoming a piano factory), before Simms Motor Units took over the
30,000 square foot facility in 1920. But the sharp post-war downturn in
business meant that it remained closed until 1926. Frederick Richard Simms
(who was born coincidentally in 1863) was a designer, engineer and
entrepreneur of great vision. In association with Robert Bosch he designed
the first practical magneto; forming a company in 1901 to build engines,
pumps, and generators in factories located in various parts of London. In
the Great War, his company became the principal supplier of magnetos to
the armed forces. During the 1930s, anticipating that coil ignition would
take over from magnetos for petrol-engined vehicles, the factory developed
and produced an advanced range of Diesel fuel injectors. In the Second
World War, the company again became the principal supplier of magnetos for
aircraft and tanks, producing 50,000 units in total, plus dynamos, starter
motors, lights, pumps, nozzles, spark plugs, and coils for cars, trucks,
buses and ships.
FR Simms driving an early Daimler, with a
tricycle in the background.
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of
London Borough of Barnet Archives
The expansion of the
factory continued unabated during the 1950s, eventually reaching 300,000
square feet, the limit for the site. Besides manufacturing there were
drawing offices, development shops, a social club and the central
instruction school for the whole company, which took over about a dozen
other companies during this period.
The rationalisation in
the automotive industry of the 1960s led to a similar effect on the major
suppliers, and Simms was taken over by Lucas CAV in 1968. Manufacturing in
East Finchley was steadily run down as UK manufacturers lost market share.
This, along with the well-publicised problems with quality (which caused a
major dispute with Jaguar cars), led to the closure of the factory in
The site was taken
over by Fairview Homes, who built houses and flats on a number of new
streets, including Taunton Drive, Blackdown Close, Brendon Grove, Lucas
Gardens, Simms Gardens, and Vanderville Gardens.