Category Archives: Supermarine

100 years ago this October Supermarine was born

What does the name ‘Supermarine’ mean to you? The Spitfire? Nothing? An important company in Southampton’s history and later Swindon too? If you’re a football supporter to Swindon do you know what the connection is?

It meant little to me until my parents started looking into our family history and Dad began to speak of how important Supermarine was in our family when they lived in Woolston and once my interest is stirred I have a need to go and do some research. Why?

  • to know why the company was important historically
  • to find out what impact it had on my family
  • to understand how it changed every day lives of my family, their friends and neighbours.

This satisfies the social historian in me….not an exact science of facts and figures but and exploration of real lives for real and imaginary people. So here’s the historical facts laced with my interpretation in italics:

In 1913 Pemberton Billing, often described as a maverick in political terms, approached a little known boat builders called White’s in Itchen Village on the banks of the River Itchen.

I can imagine the rumours in the village pub, The Yacht Tavern while negotiations too place with Hubert Scott Paine in his yacht moored up the river.

He wanted to use the skilled craftsmen to build flying boats and an agreement was made to begin production in October 1913.  Supermarine was not the official company name until 1916, but Billing registered the name for telegram purposes but also had the name emblazoned on the roof in November 1913. 

I believe that the people of Itchen Ferry and Woolston would have been proud of the new developments and excited to see the newly developed flying boats take off from the river near where they lived and worked.

Supermarine Works & CHANNEL on slipway

Why Supermarine? The main use of flying boats for the military at that time was to look out for submarines….sub..under the water…supermarine…over the water. 

Why did he have the name painted on the roof? To be noticed from the air of course, especially to catch the attention of the military to be taken seriously and to gain orders and build business.

(For the family in my novel ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home’ living in Woolston, split from Itchen Ferry only by the Portsmouth Road, I reasoned that this could only be good news, since two of the characters in my novel Ernest and Jack already worked at White’s. It meant better job security and job prospects.)

Flying boats were important in WWI to protect convoys, search for submarines and also to bomb strategic sites, out in Turkey for example.  In WWI they also helped in rescue missions for crews of sinking ships. It was a innovative development for the navy with the newly opened RNAS station along Southampton Water at Calshot. With the first sea plane carriers also in operation during WWI technological development was moving fast.

Why were flying boats so important to us in Britain?

Firstly there was no infrastructure of runways before WWI. Planes just landed where they could on fields and park land so it was quite reassuring, us being an island, that the aircraft could land on water. This was important, not only to impress the military but commercial projects later on. In 1913 it was only 4 years since the first ever flight across the channel.

If entrepreneurs were to persuade the wealthy public to pay for air transport, it was thought that they would be happier that the craft could land safely on land or water.

Supermarine Works c1919

Supermarine Works 1919

Supermarine’s most famous engineer RJ Mitchel was responsible for the development of more famous sea planes; the Sea Lion which won The Schneider Trophy in 1922 and the S6B  which won the Schneider Trophy outright in 1931.

Mitchel’s developmental work to such a high specification led on to the timely Spitfire. In the gallery of Solent Sky, the aviation museum in Southampton , there is an exhibit of small model aircraft right from those early sea planes to the Spitfire.

Many say that, if it hadn’t been for the development of the S6B, an amazing feat of engineering by Mitchel to develop the fastest amphibian aircraft in the world at that time, the technology would not have been in place to develop the Spitfire.

And so Supermarine was born one hundred years ago. It was a major employer in the area up until the second world war when Woolston’s Supermarine Works were bombed out, after the local people had been inspired by witnessing the first ever flights of the Spitfire right over their heads, including my father.

To me the facts are important, but it is the way in which I can weave lives of ordinary people through these facts that brings history to life. 

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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Research, Schneider Trophy, Southampton, Supermarine, The Great War, Woolston

Interview with guest author Diana Jackson

To mark the week up to a series of live events, the first of which being at Waterstones in Hitchin on Thursday 3rd October where I’ll be giving a talk, take part in a discussion and be available to sign copies of Ancasta (details in my last blog post) here is a post where I was interviewed online by TME Walsh earlier in the year. Thanks Tania. I enjoyed being your guest.


Today I have the pleasure in posting an interview conducted recently with author Diana Jackson.

Here she talks about her book ‘Ancasta: Guide me Swiftly Home’, the sequel to ‘Riduna’, the research involved and what inspired her to write in specific time periods.

1) Please tell us about your book, Ancasta: Guide me Swiftly Home.

Ancasta takes the family from Riduna my first novel, on to the next generation. The novel begins in Woolston, Southampton in 1910 and takes us through the Great War, but it’s an unusual story. We witness first-hand the early flight of flying boats which changed the lives and economy of the local people, especially the women whose perspective of life is altered forever. Ancasta means ‘The Swift One,’ and is allegedly the Anglo Roman Goddess of the River Itchen. There is a sense of prayer through the ages as my characters, like the Roman’s before them, looked out…

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Filed under Ancasta, Blogs, Events, Schneider Trophy, Supermarine, Talks

The Solent Area Virtual Tour no 7 ~ Woolston and Itchen Village

Solent map googleWoolston

Today I am going to share with you a snapshot of old Wooston through copies of my Grandfather’s book of postcards. They are not dated, but looking at postcards of a similar era I would certainly say they were Edwardian.

Portsmouth Road Woolston Southampton

Portsmouth Road Woolston Southampton

Above is the Portsmouth Road on its way down towards the Floating Bridge, and below is the Floating Bridge looking over towards Southampton:

The Floating Bridge Woolston

The Floating Bridge Woolston

Then, travelling up the road to the outskirts of Itchen is Pear Tree Green church, not changed much today and still on the green overlooking the River Itchen:

Pear Tree Green Church

Pear Tree Green Church

Still on the Itchen side of the Portsmouth Road is Bridge Road. The little of it left today is under the new bridge:

Bridge Road

Bridge Road

Many locals will remember or recognise Ludlow School, still on the Itchen side of the Portsmouth Road although many called it Woolston:

Ludlow School Itchen (Woolston)

Ludlow School Itchen (Woolston)

Here we have Manor Road. Many of these streets in and around Woolston look much the same today:

Manor Road.tif

Now we move much later and here is an ariel photo of the Supermarine Works in Woolston which I date in the 1930’s. It was bombed and flattened in 1940.

Supermarine Woolston

Supermarine Woolston

Finally one of my own postcards from the 1960’s of the hovercraft which ran from just over the river to the Isle of Wight:

Hovercraft to Isle of Wight

….and so what are Woolston and Itchen Village famous for, apart from being the location from which my second novel Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home flows.

Firstly there’s Supermarine, initially famous for winning Great Britain the Schneider Trophy back in 1931. It was first opened and the name ‘Supermarine’ emblazoned on its roof 100 years ago in 1913. (even though the company was not registered officially under that name until 1916.) Famous in those days for its flying boats and then its sea planes, it must have been a wonderful site, watching them glide along towards Southampton Water and take off. Of course, most people know Supermarine for the Spitfire and it was here that RJ Mitchell developed the first prototype, which my father was lucky enough to see on its inaugural flight.

Even before Supermarine there was Thornycroft, whose land on the banks of the river has finally been made safe, flattened and is being redeveloped. Wikipedia says that the yard launched over 100 ships between 1876 and 1889 alone!

I am going to leave you with a lovely old photo of the River Itchen. Is this the mill at Swaythling just up the river in 1910 or in the late nineteenth century? I can find no photo which looks exactly like this but I’d love to know.

Mill Ichen river.tif


Filed under Ancasta, Schneider Trophy, Southampton, Supermarine, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, Woolston