In the year 2022 the Abingdon Works Centre celebrated 40 years as a Centre of the MG Car Club.
But to understand its origins and how the name came about one has to look back over 60 years to 1949. It was at this time that the MG Car factory officially instituted a Social Club to cater for all of the varying interest of the workforce. If a minimum group of 10 people established an interest in any recreational activity then it could apply to form a Section of the club and receive a cash allowance on a per-capita basis to run the Section autonomously, although reporting to the main Social Club Committee.
One of these groups was the Auto Section whose members, all motor-cyclists, took part in Trials at national level. The Section was enthusiastically supported by John Thornley who presented the members with a trophy which was to be competed for in a Motor-cycle Trial sponsored by the Avon Tyre Company. Subsequently motor-cycles gave way to cars and motor sport, so John Thornley’s trophy then became an award for the Annual Champion Autotester for which it is available to be presented up to the present day.
In 1961 the Auto Section applied for registration with the RAC as a Club authorised to promote Motor sports under the new name of The MG Works Auto Club. By now the major interest was in Rallying and for the Annual Rally Champion another trophy was used, donated from the estate of Ron Gibson, which he had won competing in the 1931 Double 12 race at Brooklands. This trophy is also still available to be presented, although more for its very original purpose, for a local competitor racing a 1930s car at the MG Car Club’s annual meeting at Silverstone.
The factory closure in 1980 suddenly deprived 1100 men and women of their livelihood and the MGWAC was left high and dry. A final farewell dinner was held in the Social Club Ballroom and as Dennis Ogborn, a prominent member of the MG Car Club was present, I approached him with the idea of some sort of affiliation of the MGWAC to the MG Car Club.
Dennis took to this idea enthusiastically and contacted Bill Wallis, at that time the MGCC Chairman. Bill agreed to visit Abingdon to discuss the proposal and a meeting was arranged for the 10th February 1981 at which it was proposed that the MGWAC should become a Sub-Centre of the SW Centre. Discussions continued all that year and eventually on the 16th February 1982 an inaugural meeting was called to which all interested parties were invited. A committee was elected with Dennis as the Chairman, and a modified badge was agreed on. The original MGWAC badge was a representation of a spoked wheel with WORKS AUTO CLUB around the tyre wall and the MG octagon logo in the centre and this was changed to ABINGDON WORKS SUB-CENTRE round the tyre wall with the MG Car Club badge in the centre. The badge is still proudly displayed by members today but without the word ‘SUB’.
The South West Centre took on the task of organising the National Day at Beaulieu in 1984, and we were asked to organise the Gymkhana, which was a major element of the event. We continued to take on this responsibility for a number of years until we eventually took over the whole organisation. A feature of the last three events was the Forest Trail devised by Malcolm and Pam Lawrence which took us from Romsey to Beaulieu by little known routes. The last Beaulieu National day was in 1999.
At the Council Meeting in September 1984 we were granted full Centre status and allocated a catchment area. This area was a matter of discussion for some time until it finally settled where it is now, a broad swathe of the central southern counties from Banbury and Milton Keynes in the north down to the coast around Southampton.
In 1987 we organised an International Meeting in the grounds of Milton Manor a local Stately Home that was the home of Capt. George Eyston’s cousin. One feature of the event was the unveiling of the plaque by John Thornley at the Security office of the business park in the centre of the old MG site. The success of this meeting can be judged by it being the prime reason for the Centre to be awarded the Nuffield Gold Cup. This award is made to the Centre, Register or Branch deemed to have made the best contribution to the MGCC throughout the year.
Two years later saw the first Abingdon Works Car Show organised in conjunction with the Abingdon Town Football Club. And what do you know? This brought us our second Gold Cup award! In 2011, the Centre was awarded the Gold Cup for the third time, this time for its efforts on behalf of the Club’s membership.
There was no Car Show in 1990, although there have been subsequent shows, but they are no longer annual events.
We ran our 2nd International in 1990 to coincide with the Kimber House opening, the 3rd in 1993 and the 4th in 1996.
Didcot Power Station had an ‘open day’ in June 1994 to which the Centre was invited and had a display. The venue was considered ideal for a small Autotest and the Didcot Autotest was a regular on the Centre calendar for a number of subsequent years.
Our founding Chairman, Dennis Ogden, died in September 1995. He had been unable to take an active part in the Centre’s affairs for some time but, to keep him involved, he had been elected the first President of the Centre. In 2012, I was elected the Centre’s second President.
Ever since the Centre was founded we have had a stand in the Marquee at Silverstone, for many years the only Centre to do so, and for a number of years organised the Gymkhana.
In 1992 two Centre members Dave Smith and John Watson, organised a road run sponsored by the Abingdon brewers Morland, and known as The Speckled Hen Tour. They continued to run this event for ten years until they handed it over to the Centre committee in 2003 and it remains a firm favourite on the Events Calendar with a number taking part every year. Morlands were taken over by Greene King in 2000, but the new owners continue to support the event.
As well as a number of Club Board members, over the years the Centre has provided many of the Officers of the Registers and Branches of the Club. In recent years, four Centre members have been honoured with the MGCC Member of the Year award for their efforts in various areas of Club or general MG activities. These are Brian Moylan, John Venables, John Watson and David Storer.
The Abingdon Works Centre currently has some 1500 members with 14 Natters or local meetings and continues to run great events the standard of which it will no doubt continue to maintain in the years to come. With its different name and special badge the Centre will never forget its links with the local people in a factory that produced so many cars famous throughout the world.
Founding member of the Abingdon Works Centre
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