Tag Archives: Social History

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. 

Leave a comment

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

Inspiration for my novel writing ~ The five elements influencing my blog

There are now five major influences on my creative writing although these are ever evolving:

  1. My Family History ~ My quest to find out that my great-grandmother who was born on the island of Alderney and, not out of choice, relocated to Woolston Southampton.
  2. The island of Alderney itself. It is wild, beautiful and like no other and each time I visit I come to love it more.
  3. Woolston, Southampton, which holds many happy memories of visits to grandparents and holidays as a child.
  4. Social History ~ learning, and to a certain amount predicting, how events in history had an impact on everyday lives.
  5. Early Flight ~ With my uncle and grandpa working at Supermarine before the war, until it was bombed and they were relocated. Once I started my research I became fascinated by those early pilots; their daring in venturing into the unknown.

I have written a great deal about one, two and three above and so my next two blogs will focus on four and five. You can see these influences in the cloud of topics to the right hand side of this blog and, for those of you who like things neat and structured, I apologise. I can only follow where my heart leads me and I am glad many of you have enjoyed and shared my thoughts.

My ideas for future writing are beyond these five elements, but all seem to share a common thread.

What are the influences in your writing?

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogs, Writing a novel

The History of Aviation – A personal journey of discovery

A few years ago, if you had predicted that I would be fascinated by old aircraft and that I would carry out a substantial amount of research into flying boats and early aircraft carriers; would be a member of the SVAS, the Shuttleworth Veteran Aviation Society and also  regularly attend air shows, I would have been highly amused.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have always been interested in history, especially social history, and thinking about the lives of the people who flew in, worked on or maintained these aircraft, has made them even more precious to me.

On Saturday I was privileged to attend a Meet the Pilot Flying Day at

Shuttleworth, and if you enjoy air museums and have not already done so,
visiting this airfield in the heart of the Bedfordshire countryside is a must.

Firstly we strolled among the aircraft, pulled out from their hanger museum for our delight. When I look closely at the 1938 Hawker Hind, I thought of my elderly friend Norman who, at 102 years of age still remembers being a Capstan machine operator, making nuts and bolts at Hawkers back in the thirties.

Then, reaching further back in time to the 1918 Bristol Fighter F2b, I can’t help but look closely at the wings and admire the webbed stitching, probably carried out by the first women allowed to work in the factories during WW1.

It was an amazing day. Half way through the superb exhibition of flight, the commentator willed us to concentrate on the air sacks across the field, and within an hour our wish was granted and the air was still; perfect for flying the Old Edwardians.

As the 1912 Blackburn Type D Monoplane, the oldest British aircraft still capable of flying in the world, took off we gasped with pleasure, enjoying every moment of the display. Then, as the sun dipped below the cloud line, leaving a sunset of many coloured hues, the 1909 Bleriot XI lifted off the ground, filling us with a collective sense that we were experiencing a never to be forgotten moment in history.

The BleriotXI 1909 – September 24th 2011

My next novel to reach the press will refect my growing interest in the history of aviation.


Filed under Early Flight, The Shuttleworth Collection