Supermariners – Secret Spitfire Factories of Winchester

Supermarine Drawing Office Hursley Winchester

Supermarine Drawing Office, Hursley. Courtesy Hursley Archive Custodian David Hill

David Key has contacted Solent Aviatrix to augment the story of the Secret Spitfire Factories of Salisbury.

He is custodian of Hursley Park’s Spitfire heritage in Winchester. David is extremely knowledgeable about the largely Hampshire-based Dispersal plans carried out by Supermarine at Lord Beaverbrook’s instruction.

David says, “Many of those who helped setup the “dispersal” factories in Salisbury, Reading, Trowbridge, etc. were Supermarine workers from Southampton. They were sent out to help establish the new works. Often this was a real struggle for them as they, at least initially, left behind families in Southampton who were suffering the horrendous impact of the Southampton Blitz.

Hampshire continued to be at the very centre of the Spitfire story, even if this is largely misunderstood and forgotten, just as Gary Roberts has found with the Salisbury part of the story. Although the massive “shadow factory” at Castle Bromwich in the Midlands was finally beginning to deliver Spitfires (in the end it was to produce almost two thirds of the total number made) it was the small, dispersed, factories that played an essential role in enabling Supermarine to create the many different types of Spitfire so quickly.

Although their own factories at Woolston and Itchen had been destroyed Supermarine kept production going in Southampton even as the bombs landed around them. In garages, mills, even a laundry, Spitfires continued to be made before being sent to Eastleigh for final assembly and deliver to the RAF.

ATA memorial near Hamble Airfield site

ATA memorial near Hamble Airfield site

played a vital role with both the ATA, who delivered the completed (and repaired) aircraft to the RAF, and the CRO (Civilian Repair Organisation), who repaired damaged Spitfires so they could be returned to the RAF ready for combat. This work was to prove a crucial element in the victory of the Battle of Britain.

Other locations, like Winchester, played their part too. Again any and every suitable building was grabbed to keep the planes coming off the production line, often to the annoyance of the owner or other Government Ministries who found their requisitions being gazumped by those of Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry Of Aircraft production. Not least of these locations was the grand Edwardian country estate of Hursley Park which was to become the unlikely beating heart of Supermarine design and production.

Supermarine staff outside Hursley Park 1943

Supermarine staff outside Hursley Park 1943. Courtsey Hursley Archive custodian David Hill

It was from Hursley Park that the stream of modifications and enhancements, that kept the Spitfire at the forefront of fighter design throughout the entire war, originated.

However, sometimes the story bordered on comical with the bizarre situation of the elderly dowager Lady Cooper and her servants living cheek to jowl with the designers, draughtsmen and engineers making their top-secret machines. It was a clash of urban and country life on a grand scale topped off with crazy bus rides and much more!

Tomorrow Is D-Day by Stella Rutter.

Tomorrow Is D-Day by Stella Rutter. Image courtesy of Stella Rutter.

There are many local stories like Stella Rutter’s, and some of the Supermariners and their families still live locally and have wonderful and unexpected tales to tell.”

My thanks to David for sharing this incredible “largely misunderstood and forgotten” story.

Not forgotten for much longer, can we hope? The whole story sounds perfect for a TV drama series. Just up Sir Julian Fellowes street?

Supermarine Research Department Staff of Hursley Winchester

Supermarine Research Department staff picnic. Courtesy Hursley Archive Custodian David Hill

David Key has even provided the ideal working title: – “The Supermariners”. Any film producers and screenwriters reading this, please get in touch via the Contact page. Your enquiry will be passed onto David.

David Key, who is a volunteer in the custodian role of Hursley Park’s history, is keen to bring to life the stories of the forgotten many, who did their bit, to keep ‘The Few’ flying.