Above: Plaque in Wandsworth Road commemorating the original site of the factory that made the Vauxhall motor car.
Vauxhall motor cars are so-called because they were originally made in Vauxhall. Really! The above plaque proves it. The first Vauxhall motor cars were manufactured in Vauxhall, near Vauxhall Bridge. The factory was founded as the ‘Vauxhall Iron Works’ by Alexander Wilson in 1857. After making steam engines for tugboats, the company went into receivership in 1895, Wilson had left a year earlier. It was revived and the current company – making motor cars – was formed in 1903 when the first Vauxhall car was assembled. Due to a lack of space for expansion, the company relocated to Luton in 1905 and became Vauxhall Motors two years later. The name from its old London base at Vauxhall has been retained as the name for its cars.
There is absolutely no trace of the factory today. It stood a short distance down Wandsworth Road from the site of today’s Vauxhall Cross. The site is now covered by the enormous Sainsbury’s store at Nine Elms. It should be noted that the store has more than one entrance. Beside the entrance to the store on Wandsworth Road, the Vauxhall company erected a plaque in 2003 – commemorating the centenary of Vauxhall cars being manufactured in Vauxhall (then 90 and 92 Wandsworth Road). The plaque was eventually replaced by a new sign. The old one is now in the carmaker’s Luton ‘Heritage Centre’, too ‘worn and tired looking’ to re-erect on its original site.
Above: The entrance to Sainsbury’s from Wandsworth Road showing the position of the plaque. Everyone knows what Sainsbury’s looks like but the picture will help to find the plaque which is to the right of the doors.
The plaque that replaced it was erected in 2016. It is round, made from bronze and mounted beside the entrance to Sainsbury’s from Wandsworth Road. It is almost opposite the junction of Wandsworth Road with Wyvil Road. Vauxhall Motors hopes that a cast plaque will be there for many years to come. Since then, however, Vauxhall Motors has changed hands. Vauxhall Motors is part of General Motors’ European division which in 2017 was bought by Groupe PSA, the French owner of Peugeot and other brands.
At this point, it is important to refresh your memory about why the place called Vauxhall was so-named. The reason for the land being called Vauxhall began during the reign of King John when the De Redvers family, the Earls of Devon, held the land near the Thames. In 1216 Margaret, the widow of Baldwin de Redvers was forced to marry a notorious mercenary from Gascony named Falkes de Breauté. Something to remember is that the heraldic arms of Gascony include the figure of a Griffin. Falkes de Breauté came from humble origins but through a number of successful military adventures, he rose to become the Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1211. Later he was to become one of King John’s counsellors. Falkes gained possession of some of the land near today’s Vauxhall Bridge and built a ‘hall’ – which was part of his residence. It became known as ‘Falkes Hall’ which included the surrounding land which also took on the name. The eventual spelling is a corruption of that name – Vauxhall.
Above: The sign of the Griffin appears on a pub by that name in nearby Wyvill Road. In case you have never seen such an animal, the sign will help.
Knowing the history of the land where the original Vauxhall factory stood, the company adopted for its trademark the Griffin badge – the heraldic arms of the Plantagenet knight, Falkes de Breauté. The Griffin (also spelt griffon or gryphon) is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. Not only was the Griffin used as the trademark for the first car made in Vauxhall but the emblem – now far more stylised – is still in used on their models to this day. Next time you see a Vauxhall car parked on the road, take a look.