Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection

Michelin In Burnley

An aerial view of the Michelin site about 1990 and a view of the front of the building about 2000.


The French-owned tyre manufacturer came into existence in the late 19th century when the brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin offered their help in repairing the punctured pneumatic tyre of a passing cyclist at their farming implements factory in Clermont Ferrand. This act of assistance was hampered by the wielding of the tyre to the bicycle wheel rim, which was the prevalent design feature at the time. Following subsequent experimentation, the brothers invented and patented a removable pneumatic tyre in 1891 which led to the formal founding of the company in May 1889. Incidentally, the famous 'Michelin Man' or 'Bibendum' was born in 1898 when the brothers were struck by the almost human image of a pile of assorted tyres at a motoring exhibition in Lyons.

Subsequent advances in tyre technology instigated by the company led to the creation of new markets and international expansion with the company spawning numerous sites in France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Germany. A commercial operation was established in London early in the 1900s (1) with production commencing in Barking, Essex in 2006. Depots subsequently sprung up throughout the country with the major factory site being constructed in Stoke-on-Trent in the early 1920s.

Although further expansion was halted during the years of the Second World War, the growing popularity of X tyres, involving the bonding of steel to rubber, during the 1950s, demanded the employment of greater number of skilled craftsmen as well as supervisory and managerial staffs. The construction of a new factory on a 'green field site' in Burnley in 1959 (2), for which Stoke personnel assumed responsibility for design, installation, staffing, training and commissioning, signalled the intention of the company to consolidate and diversify production.

Four plants became operational in the U.K. in the 1950s, car and van tyres being produced in Dundee and Stoke, while truck and bus tyres were manufactured in Ballymena and Burnley. Stoke also provided semi-finished, or component items such as steel, cord and rubber fabrics. Additionally, factories were established in West Africa, Asia, North and South America with agencies being located all over the world. Increasingly, the company was turning to the manufacture of radial tyres for commercial vehicles such as trucks, coaches, buses, tractors and earth movers.

Construction of the thirty-seven-acre Heasandford factory commenced in the summer of 1958, with the corrosion free, aluminium encased building, together with surrounding plastic covered chain- linked fencing, being completed in 1960 (3). The Burnley site was favoured due to the availability of land, supplies of water and energy, as well as reliable and adaptable skilled and unskilled labour. The first steel cord X tyres rolled off the production line later in the year. Apart from the office and nursing staff, the workforce consisted entirely of males. With the assistance of the Board of Trade, the site was extended in 1962, the total headcount then reaching over 3000 managers and workers (4).


Left the Michelin Factory on Heasandford Industrial Estate and right, one of the extensions in progress in the 1970's


In advance of the UK's accession to the European Common Market in 1973, the domestic sites of the international corporation provided useful channels for the spread of continent-wide 'state of the art' ideas on manufacturing and marketing methods (5) - click on the image below to read more.

All thanks to a puncture

Sports and social facilities were regarded as being years ahead of their time and the company was heralded as a 'model' employer. Furthermore, the factory was regarded as being the safest in the firm's UK factories group, winning the safety award for three consecutive years from 1979 to 1981 (6). Michelin was also awarded the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1977.

The company was renowned for its thriving social club, events including a children's Christmas party (7), circus visits for the children of employees organised by the company (8) as well as numerous sporting activities. The Michelin connection was also pivotal in the inception of a range of activities to celebrate the twinning between Burnley and the French town of Vitry (9). Click on the three images below to find out more about these events.

Christmas Party December 1971
Circus Trip in 1968
French Week 1970

However, by the mid-1980s, the Heasandford factory had become engulfed in uncertainty due to changing market circumstances and the availability of lower-cost labour overseas. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, progressive rationalisation occurred at the site resulting in a series of small-scale redundancies, and by 2001, the workforce had dwindled to 452. Furthermore, the positive industrial relations climate had given way to a bitter dispute over pay in 2001 during which management threatened to withdraw additional long-service holidays and premium payment for weekend shift working (10).

By 2001, the site at Burnley, as the smallest of Michelin's eighty international plants, was operating at 20% capacity. In the context of dramatically declining sales in the USA and Europe, a major re-investment programme was ruled out by the company. In a devastating blow to employees and the local economy, the Heasandford site was closed in early 2002. The facility was regarded by the company as being too small in the face of global competitive forces, with production being transferred to larger sites overseas. Michelin however restated its commitment to staff welfare and employee dialogue by offering generous redundancy terms and instigating a programme of cooperation with enterprise and employment agencies in the area.

It was perhaps of some consolation to note that the Michelin site at Heasandford was 'reborn' as a high technology centre aimed at skill creation for local people in the immediate aftermath of the closure, supported by the North West Development Agency (N.W.D.A.) and European Development Funding (11). The N.W.D.A. was, however, itself wound up in 2012.
By virtue of the Michelin Development Fund, three-hundred-thousand pounds was awarded by the company in May 2004 to assist established and new businesses, mainly in the manufacturing and service sectors, to create 'quality and sustainable' jobs in Burnley (12).

The social spirit of Michelin in Burnley has been periodically rekindled through the holding of periodic social events, notably a reunion of former staff and their families marking ten years since closure in March 2012.


(1) The Organisation in the United Kingdom, Michelin, March 1989
(2) Huge Tyre-Making Factory for Burnley, Burnley Express, 22nd May, 1957.
(3) Birth of A Factory, Michelin, Bibendum.
(4) Big Expansion at New Factory, Burnley Express, 19th July, 1961.
(5) All thanks to a puncture, Burnley Express,19th March, 1971.
(6) Burnley Factory is safest, Burnley Express, 24th March 1981.
(7) Michelin Children's Christmas Party. Burnley Express, 11th December, 1971.
(8) Happy Party off to the Circus, Burnley Express, 27th January, 1968.
(9) Fun For All in French Week, Burnley Express, 25th September, 1970.
(10) A Look at the history of Michelin in the Area, Lancashire Telegraph, 16th October, 2001.
(11) Michelin factory 'reborn', Lancashire Telegraph
(12) Michelin Cash to Create Jobs, Burnley Express, 22nd May, 2024.