In recognition of the BBC World War One at Home Series and in parallel to it, I aim to write posts of significant places and themes related to my writing and their impact on local people. These will include:
Industry of Woolston Southampton in WW1
Flying Boat Stations of the UK in WW1
The Hampshire Regiment
The Channel Islands and WW1
INDUSTRY OF WOOLSTON, SOUTHAMPTON DURING WORLD WAR ONE
There were two main employers in Woolston during both world wars, Thornycroft and Company, later to become Thosper Thornycroft and also Supermarine.
The Thornycroft shipbuilders occupied a large site on the banks of the River Itchen for 100 years from 1904 to 2004, when Thosper Thornycroft relocated to Portsmouth. This left a gaping hole in the heart of the area both in terms of employment but also in the scar on the landscape, which has only recently been reclaimed and redeveloped.
The first ship to be built and launched from the Woolston site was HMS Tartar in 1907 which served in the English Channel and the North Sea during World War One. For one hundred years generations of Southampton families worked there, called by the siren to herald the start of the day. I still remember hearing this during my visits to grandparents as a child.
I cannot better the tribute written by Keith Hamilton on February 2009 to Vosper Thornycroft telling of the importance of company for the well being and lives of Southampton’s and especially Woolston’s people, stressing the pride in their work to serve the nation:
The second major industry in Woolston since before World War One was Supermarine, of which I have written numerous posts, since it features in my novel
Just a little up the River Itchen, the other side of The Floating Bridge on Hazel Road, White’s boat builders was taken over by Pemberton Billing and began to develop flying boats in 1913. Although registered with the telegraphic name of Supermarine from its conception, Supermarine was the official name of the company in 1916, during the war.
Initially the skills of the boat builders would have been put to good use as the company diversified into developing flying boats, until the latter became their major focus. These must have been exciting times for local people in the early days of flight, not only to be involved in working at Supermarine but for families and friends to witness the unusual craft being launched on to the River Itchen and taking off and landing on Southampton Water. Like Vosper Thornycroft, Supermarine was a business of families, where many generations worked there, including the women during both WW1 and WW2. Both companies contributed to the prosperity of the local area of Woolston and its businesses and would have provided reserved occupations for workers in their contribution to the war effort.
Although better known later for The Schneider Trophy wins in the 1920’s and 1930’s and then the development of the Spitfire in the mid 1930’s I believe the seed for success was sown during World War One when a young, nineteen year old designer, RJ Mitchell joined the firm. My opinion is that it was Mitchell’s vision which turned the company into an international success story of which Southampton is understandably very proud.