I’m joining the five minute friday link up, the prompt is COULD, after a two months absence running a holiday programme in a remote holiday village on the Isle of Sheppey. The theme was the story of the Short brothers, Horace, Eustace and Oswald, who built the first aircraft factory in the UK at Shell Beach, at the east end of the island.
In 1909 the Wright flyer had been developed in the USA, and Louis Blériot was making the first flights over French soil, but the UK government refused to invest in ‘heavier than air’ machines, believing gas balloons to be the way ahead. The Short brothers, Eustace and Oswald, had a balloon factory under the railway arches at Battersea, but with their brother, Horace, were intrigued by the possibility of winged flight. Funded by members of the Aero Club of Great Britain, including Frank Maclean, Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce), and John Moore-Brabazon (later Lord Brabazon), they met with Warwick, Wilbur and Orvil Wright at Muswell Manor, Shell Beach in May 1909 and signed a contract to built Wright flyers. In October 1909 Lord Brabazon loaded a pig into a basket, strapped it to a Voisin biplane and flew 3.7 miles from Shell Beach airfield to Leysdown. In November that year he won the Daily Mail prize of £1000 for the first circular mile, flown in a Short/Wright flyer.
The engine of the first Short plane was too heavy to take off but, undeterred, they improved their design. Shorts went on to build a range of aircraft including the Sunderland flying boat. When their Rochester factory was bombed in the Second World War they moved to Belfast. The firm was nationalised, continued to expand, and eventually became Bombardier. The early days of their venture are forgotten, except for the statue at Muswell Manor, Shell Beach. The bar of the pub and chalet park holds memorabilia of the early days of flying.
Their story is inspiring. They were excited by the possibility of flight and believed it could happen. Their ideas literally took off and Shell Beach became one of the cradles of British aviation. I had little time to write this summer, their example inspires me to keep trying till the right idea comes.