Southampton’s Secret Spitfire Shadow Factory Stella Performance

The Shadow Factory play by Howard Brenton. Secret Spitfire Factory in Southampton during WW2

The Shadow Factory play by Howard Brenton. Secret Spitfire Factory in Southampton

Some stories have a slow burn, but when they ignite, the flare casts light and shadow onto the subject.

In this case the ‘shadow’ is the secret shadow factories set up by Supermarine with help from the Ministry for Aircraft Production under Lord Beaverbrook to manufacture Spitfires. The ‘light’ is the spotlight shone onto Emsworth resident Stella Rutter who, among many others, form part of the whole fascinating story. This fascinating piece of history has now been developed into a play.

At the same time as the Secret Spitfire Factory documentary was being researched and filmed in Salisbury, a stage drama about a similar Supermarine scheme set in Southampton was being researched and written by Howard Benton.

The Shadow Factory will have its world premier at the new theatre in Southampton City Centre, NST City. It will run from February 7 to March 3.

Solent Aviatrix has featured the Stella Rutter story for 4 years now, since a chance meeting with her in The Spring Arts Centre in Havant. Over lunch she told her story, recorded in her biography, ‘Tomorrow is D-Day’. Now some aspects of Stella’s wartime experiences at Supermarine Vickers, have been incorporated into one of the characters in Howard Benton’s play.

After the Woolston and Itchen factories were bombed, the Works and Planning Department relocation to the Polygon. The Design Team moved to the University of Southampton. Later they all moved again to Hursley, Winchester.

Stella Rutter at Boultbee Academy Goodwood

Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley

Sam Hodges, artist director of Nuffield Southampton Theatres, who is directing The Shadow Factory told Solent Aviatrix,
“We have met Stella and she is very much an inspiration for one of our central characters. She is terrific, isn’t she? We’re hoping to include a video of her in our installation.”

So which of the play’s characters is inspired by Stella?

The cast includes Catherine Cusack who has a long list of stage and film credits to her name, including appearances at the Chichester Festival Theatre. In this production Catherine plays two characters, ‘Lil’ and ‘Sylvia’.

Eastenders actress Lorna Fitzgerald plays ‘Jackie’.

Anita Dobson, who established her name on TV many years ago as Angie Watts in Eastenders, takes on two roles portraying ‘Lady Cooper’ and ‘Ma’.

Stella Rutter

Stella Rutter in 1944

Which one of these three is our Stella? Go to the play and judge for yourself. Follow this link to Shadow Factory website for ticket and cast details.

Sam Hodges concluded,
“We’ve seen the Secret Spitfires documentary which is also fascinating. We’re thinking of screening it here.”

Follow this link to read the latest news on the Secret Spitfires DVD and cinema showings of the film.

Click here to learn more about Stella Rutter.



At Last! The Secret Spitfire Factory Movie Is Released

Secret Spitfire Factories of Salisbury made by Etham Media

Secret Spitfire Factories of Salisbury made by Etham Media

Good news at last about the filming of a local true story from the Second World War.

In July 2016 Gary Roberts contacted Solent Aviatrix after finding the article about Stella Rutter on this website. Gary, associate producer on the filming of Secret Spitfire Factory in Salisbury, wanted to talk to Stella about her autobiography, “Tomorrow Is D-Day”.

Stella worked in the Spitfire drawing office of Vickers Supermarine at Hursley, Winchester.

Supermarine staff outside Hursley Park 1943

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

Gary was put in contact with Stella and he interviewed her, at home in Emsworth, for the film.

At last the film has been released and for the last week has being showing at The Odeon in Salisbury.

Because it has been so successful, a full house at each viewing, the cinema intends to extend the screening of the film by one week.

Gary Roberts told Solent Aviatrix today (15 November) there is a possibility of other cinemas around the region showing the film if the cinema chain thinks there is enough interest by cinema-goers to see it. In other words we need to create a demand.

Surely it should be shown in Southampton and Eastleigh, home of the Spitfire?

Stella Rutter at Boultbee Academy Goodwood

Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley

As it was the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots at Hamble Ferry Pool, Southampton, who collected all these locally assembled Spitfires and delivered them to the RAF bases, this film has a great deal of interest local to the Solent area.

Some of the Spitfire Girls were Felicity Bragg, Jackie Moggridge, Lettice Curtis and Mary Ellis.

Gary said, “It is also out on DVD now which can be purchased from the film’s Producer Etam Cetintas.”

Go to Secret Spitfire website for full details of the film and to contact Etam about the DVD.

Stella Meets Her Spitfire

Little did I know when I started this website a few years ago how one thing would lead to another. A series of incremental steps led to wartime draughtswoman Stella Rutter having the opportunity to visit the Boultbee, which she knew was only a few miles from her home. As one of the founding members of the Spitfire Society, Stella has on occasions been to Spitfire events but not to Boultbee. So near yet so far.

My initial chance meeting with Stella was at The Spring, Havant, This year Stephen Mosley fulfilled Stella’s wish to visit Boultbee. Go to Stella’s page to read the start of her story.

Stella Rutter at Boultbee Academy Goodwood

Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley

I will leave it to Sussex aviation engineer Stephen Mosley to relate how Stella met Boultbee. Thus he fulfilled her dream, all those years after D-Day. He has also provided the first positive identification of one of the signatures on Concord Morton’s painting of the Schneider Trophy winner. (G. W. Nicholas)

Stephen is writing here under his pen name of Actuarius. He is also an artist from the Futurist school of art, his idol being C. R. W. Nevinson.

Concorde by Futurist artist Stephen Mosley

Concorde painted by Stephen Mosley in ‘Futurist’ style

My thanks to Stephen for his contribution and his kindness to Stella. Anyone wanting to contact Stephen can do so via the Contact page.

Here then is his story of how the Past met the Present with a Futurist.

An Evening with Stella – By Actuarius.

The opportunities that come about in life are not always straightforward or predictable. Thus I started with an incomplete group of autographs, personally obtained over 20 years ago, and ended recently via a convoluted process with finally completing the set.

At the start of 2017 I made a couple of fairly rash investments through a well-known auction website, both being items related to the Schneider Trophy. This was an early 20th Century air race that ended when Great Britain won it for a third time in succession, in 1931, and therefore got to keep the trophy forever. Having done the deed I thought I ought to research new purchases but both of them proved to be rather difficult to find information on.

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner. Copyright Stephen Mosley

 Coincidentally, if anyone knows anything of 1929 commemorative “smoking stands” or the large model of the Supermarine S5 that was on display at Calshot up until the 21st Century, then I would appreciate your getting in touch.

However, it was during this exercise that I stumbled across a painting of an S6 by Concord Morton on the Solent Aviatrix website run by Anne Grant. It was chiefly notable for having a number of signatures under the image. The working hypothesis is that these were probably Supermarine staff, possibly those who had an involvement with the actual aircraft. However there was nothing to back this up.

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

The story now jumps back a couple of decades to 1997 and the presentation of a hand written book, listing the engineering staff at Supermarine who had worked on the Spitfire, to the Solent Sky museum in Southampton. My wife saw an article about it on the morning news and a rapidly arranged afternoon off ensured that I could attend. The staff at Solent Sky were very kind in allowing me to loiter for the price of a standard admission ticket whilst the purchase of a couple of copies of Chaz Bowyer’s “Spitfire” from their shop ensured I had something suitable to collect autographs in. It was an honour to meet the Supermarine staff present, and important to me that these largely unsung heroes and heroines should know the high regard they are held in. Aircrew and ground staff are rightly lauded by all but without the superlative aircraft the engineers provided their efforts would have been for nought.

Supermarine Staff signatures

Supermarine staff signatures collected by Stephen Mosley 1997

Back to the present day and this collection of signatures provided a handy reference for the painting. I contacted Anne to pass this on and it was during our conversation that she mentioned a member of Supermarine’s staff was still living nearby in Emsworth – and asked if I would like to meet her. Of course most of us would require no more than a moment’s thought before saying, “yes please!”

So it was that on 1 March 2017 I headed over and had a very pleasant evening chatting to Stella Rutter. As Stella Broughton she had become the first draughtswoman at Supermarine, transferring to their technical publications department from being a tracer at HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth.

Stella told me how, when she joined, Supermarine’s design office was located in a hanger in the field at the back of Hursley Park House. The weekday commute was from digs near Winchester and then walking through the formal gardens. Weekends were spent back with her parents in Bedhampton near Portsmouth so Mondays were more trying with a cycle commute to a friend’s at the bottom of Portsdown Hill and then a walk up to the top for the bus. Week in, week out despite blackout regulations, snow or “tip and run” raids by the Luftwaffe – and repeated in the reverse direction every Friday. The dangers and corruption of the everyday under wartime conditions were brought home when she told me how, whilst at Bedhampton, a bomb had exploded just past the end of their garden and the night’s sleep would invariably be interrupted by the sound of mobile anti-aircraft guns being moved up and down the coast.

Stella Rutter at Supermarine Drawing Office Hursley

Stella Rutter in the Supermarine Drawing Office 1943

Her move to Supermarine came about due to her father meeting Gerald Gingall, the head of the Technical Publications Department, and suggesting her for a vacant position. She believes her success was down to having inherited a notable ability for drawing from her parents (her father being the Vice Principle of the College of Art in Portsmouth), and from having older brothers meaning she was unperturbed by working in an entirely male environment. In her opinion she gained a mutual respect with the rest of the staff because in attitude she was “as much a man as any of the others”. When other women joined the staff later she found she had to be careful of her approach and activities because she “didn’t wish to end up being ostracised or the subject of malicious gossip.” Such considerations may seem almost unbelievably unenlightened to our modern sensibilities but these were different, and difficult times.

Stella worked as part of a small team under Gingall, “ a very stocky man”, virtually exclusively on the Spitfire; and covered all aspects of the aircraft. Their area in the hanger was located next to the obscured “secret section” and because theirs was a small section, and possibly because Stella was something of a novelty, the frequent visitors tended to stop off for a word.

Thus Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot and Joseph Smith, Mitchell’s successor, were known to her. She got on well with her boss and was even chosen to join him at home one evening to work overnight on a drawing that needed to be completed urgently.

I asked what it was like to work at Supermarine given the legacy of the S6, after all this was the catalyst for our meeting. She was sure that she’d worked with people who had been involved with the Schneider Trophy aircraft and this was part of what gave them a sense of being the “crème de la creme”.

Spitfire taken by Stephen Mosley

Spitfire flypast. Copyright Stephen Mosley

Let me put it this way”, she confided, “We were the company of the year.” There are further tales of pouring tea for Monty and being involved in a special party before D-Day, but that can wait for another time. As I was leaving she suddenly remembered how, when she was about 8 years old, she had climbed out onto the valley between the two pitches of the roof at her home to watch an aircraft fly up from the Southampton end of the Solent, turn and fly back. Conjecture I know, but the dates match so surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I was hearing the first hand account from a witness to that final Schneider Trophy win?

Today Stella is bright and articulate but has trouble accessing detailed memories, I suspect this being attributable to the ME she mentions in her excellent autobiography, “Tomorrow is D-Day.” There was so much I wanted to find out about her work and the people she knew but, frustratingly, a lot of these memories remained locked out of reach. Thankfully there is her autobiography, only written a few years ago, and enough still accessible to provide unique insights into her career and her life. Such considerations matter little though when you reflect on the singular honour of sitting and listening to these memories being related in person.

For some reason, although she was present, I’d missed the chance of getting Stella to sign my book in 1997 but her autograph now sits on the page surrounded by those of her colleagues – which is exactly how it should be.

As a postscript, Stella had mentioned how she knew of the Spitfires at the Boultbee Academy just down the road at Goodwood, but that she hadn’t had the chance to go and see them. Well, Boultbee are always keen to help reunite veterans with the aircraft, so a month and a half later my wife picked her up and we had a very pleasant hour in the hanger. Our sincere thanks to those who made this possible and who gave up their time for it.

Stella Rutter and Stephen Mosley ay Boultbee Academy Spitfires

Stella Rutter with ‘Actuarias’ and Boultbee Spitfire. Copyright Stephen Mosley

Painting of Schneider Trophy Winning Seaplane S1595 signed by Supermarine employees?

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Supermarine S1595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Isle of Wight artist Concord Morton painted this representation of Supermarine Seaplane S1595. Here we can see the plane in colour, instead of all those black and white photos of the era. The aircraft won the Schneider Trophy outright in 13th September 1931. This picture is held in a private collection, together with paintings by the same artist of Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison. It is shown here by permission of the owner.

Thirty-one men signed this S1595 painting but who are they? None of the signatures look like the well-known names associated with the aircraft, such as R. J. Mitchell or H. R. D. Waghorn. Could it be that Concord Morton asked the Supermarine engineers to add their names under the image? Why else collect these signatures?

Some of the signatures are readable, others not so easily deciphered. An attempt (with apologies for any errors) at identifying their names is listed below. Can anyone help to confirm these names or offer corrections? Are you a descendant of any of these men?  Did your grandfather sign this painting? Can you help to unravel the mystery of these names? Answers, in an email please, via the Contact page.

A close up of the signatures. attempts to identify the names are listed below the image.

Supermarine S1595 seaplane, Schneider Trophy winner. Painting by Concord Morton, circa 1931.

Supermarine S1595 seaplane, Schneider Trophy winner. Painting by Concord Morton, circa 1931.
Original in private collection. Shown here courtesy of the owner.

Attempt at identifying the signatures:
A. or D. Hinson?
G. Blake?
G. H. Thomas?
R. B. Kirby? A. Skingely?
D. C. Floyd or Boyd?
D, Miller or Millar?
C. Lang?
W. Power or Powell?
H. C. B…..?
F. Maulding?
C. Burrows?
B. G. Theobald?
F. Walls?
L. Raffery?
H. English?
Brown Minors?
H or A. Morrell?
T or J. Mathesson?
R .D. Johns?
F. George Jackson?
L. W. Riches or Richards?
J. Simmons?
A. Parfoot?
B. Nicholls?
R or B. Grice?
J. Baily?
I. W. G. Nicholls?
E. Smith?
G. B. Darken?

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.