Birmingham Small Arms; More than small arms…

Martini-Henry rifle, Snider-Enfield, Sten submachine gun

Some of the greatest legends of firearms production have emerged from the shops of Birmingham Small Arms, which was located to the Northwest of London, in Birmingham’s famous “Gun Quarter”.  Some of the work in these shops was farmed out from the government-run armory of the RSAF (Royal Small Arms Factory) at Enfield, a suburb of London.  These include mainstays such as the snider-Enfield, the Martini-Henry, the Lee-Metford, the legendary Lee-Enfield, the .303 RAF Browning, the Sten submachine gun and the modern LRL1A.  They also produced some heavier armaments such as cannon and anti-tank rifles.


Besides those legendary firearms, there were some other rather thrilling products that any gun or history enthusiast can also easily appreciate.  Birmingham Small Arms, also known as BSA also produced a very popular line of bicycles, cars and motorcycles.  At one point, BSA was the worlds largest and most popular motorcycle manufacturer.

BSA Bantam Mototrcycle, produced by Birmingham Small Arms, UK.

Like any old and venerated company, Birmingham Small Arms went through a large number of shifts and changes, and dealings with other very well-known companies like Daimler, Norton, Triumph, Raleigh, and others.  There were financial problems and successes along the way.  For awhile, the Royal Post Office used the BSA’s Bantam motorcycles to deliver telegrams.  They were also used by the Automobile Association for roadside services.


In 1930, BSA purchased the car manufacturer, Lanchester Motor Company Ltd. in Sparkbrook, Birmingham.  Lanchester operated from 1895 to 1955.  The Lanchester company had once been a part of BSA’s Armourers Mills small arms production facility.  The BSA line of cars, some still wearing the badge of Lanchester later changed hands to Daimler, Jaguar,  and most recently, Jaguar/rover which as of 2008 was owned by the Ford Motor Company.


BSA Motorcycles Ltd was in business from 1919 to 1972.  During that time, they produced some fine examples of what is now motorcycle history.  For a very short time in 1979, there were a few BSA motorcycles produced by BSA Regal.

1933 Lanchester / BSA 10

As can be easily expected, these wheeled gems of the 20th century continue to gleam in flawless glory in the hands of private collectors around the world.  While the BSA name has changed hands and undergone numerous changes, the name still endures.  2011 is the 150th anniversary of the BSA brand.  Today, only air and spring sporting guns are made in Birmingham at BSA Guns UK.  BSA bicycles are still made and sold by TI Cycles of India.  But the base of the marque’s history still shines as brightly as the chrome on the products of its past glory.


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