Heritage and Local Studies

This group aims to study many different aspects of our local heritage. We have a varied programme of visits to local places of historical interest, museums, country houses, churches etc. as well as doing research with the help of old documents and local knowledge. We took an active part in the recent U3A Thames Valley Network Historic Pathways Project which involved researching the old drovers' routes through our area. We are currently attempting to catalogue the papers originally collected by the now disbanded Watlington History Society.

The group leader is Susie Berry.

We have taken part in the Thames Valley Network's Riverside Project and the Historic Pathways Project.
We visit places of local interest and attempt to arrange outings to places not normally open to the general public.
We have also studied some of the local archives in the Parish Office with a view to finishing the work of the now disbanded Watlington History Group.

Lat autumn we visited Shotover House in Wheatley which is not generally open to the Public. It is very much a family home with a long and interesting history.

Visit to BMW Mini Plant In October the group, with some other members, visited the BMW factory in Oxford. The tour lasted for two and a half hours and our guide, Tony, who used to work on the shop floor himself, provided us with orange high viz jackets and an ear piece so we could hear him over the noise. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs but we all looked splendid!

We were driven to the various different areas by minibus and we teased Tony and the driver because it was a Ford! (Apparently BMW don’t make a 17 seater.)

We found all the robots fascinating both working alone and assisting the fitters and we could have stayed much longer just watching them. Each component for the car’s body was fitted by several robots in a caged section of the ground floor. A junior technician in each section was responsible for replenishing the hoppers containing the relevant parts. The completed section was then hoisted to the floor above where it was automatically moved around and then lowered to the next cage for the next bit to be attached. The whole section is watched over by a group of senior technicians monitoring a bank of computers. If anything is even slightly amiss, warning lights show on the screen and the robot in question shuts down automatically until the problem has been sorted. There are hundreds of robots on this floor, some lifting and turning huge sections of bodywork and other inserting the smallest rivets. The car bodies then go on to the paint shop, at which point they are given a number corresponding to the specific order from the customer. No cars are manufactured as ‘stock’ - all are made to order. In the last section the painted bodies arrive at the start of the line and here technicians fit everything else – seats, lights, sunroofs, windows etc. They are assisted by robots, which position the parts as near as possible to the fitters. A combination of computers and robots are also responsible for lining up the parts in the correct order for each car. i.e. corresponding to the order number so that a blue door cannot be offered up to a green body. Engines and bodies are brought together by machine except for the occasional 4 wheel drive version, where a couple of technicians have to literally step in to attach the special transmission. The last things to be fitted are the wheels after which the cars are lowered onto the floor, filled with petrol, closely inspected by two people and then driven away to the test area before being loaded onto a lorry or a train – yes, there is a railway line at the rear of the factory – for delivery all over the world. Cars are produced so fast that there is only an hour’s worth of stock for some of the larger components so a traffic jam on the M40 southbound can bring the whole thing to a halt. There are some short breaks built into the programme for shift changeovers etc but a new Mini is driven off the end of the line approximately every 90 seconds.

We were impressed also by the cleanliness of the whole place and the ‘green’ credentials of the plant, which stores and uses the rainwater collected from its roofs. It also has numerous solar panels providing electricity for itself, as well as its own re-cycling system for waste.

We finished our tour in the inevitable shop attached to which there is a museum, which contains samples of the various Minis as they have developed since 1959. There are also some specials like the ones used in the Italian Job film and the one-off electric version made specially for the 2012 London Olympics.

It was a really good afternoon out. There is quite a lot of walking involved but as we were a complete group we were able to take our time. It is possible to book onto regular tours as an individual.

More Group Pages
Dabbling in Art German Helpers Group Heritage and Local Studies
Luncheon New Horizons Reading Second Monday Book Group
Theatre Walking
More Group Pages
Dabbling in Art German
Helpers Group Heritage and Local Studies
Luncheon New Horizons
Reading Second Monday Book Group
Theatre Walking