March 2020

Project update March 2020

The Spitfire Makers Project Team are very pleased to hear about the promise of long-awaited government funding for the Spitfire Memorial statue planned for Mayflower Park.

We look forward to seeing this go ahead as soon as possible. In the meantime, we agree with Southampton Itchen MP, Royston Smith, that it is to “remind people not just about the contribution the Spitfire made in WW2 but the sacrifices Southampton people made to keep this country free.”… which is where the our project, honouring the workers and the places where they became Spitfire Makers, dovetails with it rather neatly.

After the launch event last month we have been busy going through the response forms you kindly returned. There were lots of great ideas as well as offers of help and we have identified three areas where people would like to get involved. We are planning to arrange meetings to set these up in the near future.

1. Research

We have identified nearly 30 Spitfire related facilities within the city boundary alone and our researchers continue to find clues to more. If you know something about a location where Supermarine were active, even if it may be one we already know about, please do let us know:

if you or someone you know, would like to be a part of a Spitfire Makers “Dispersal Detectives” research group you would have plenty of lines of enquiry to follow up!

Our email address is spitfiremakers@btinternet.com or, if you prefer to write to us, our address is Spitfire Makers, c/o Shirley Parish Office, 133 Church Street, Shirley, Southampton, SO15 5LW

2. Plaque manufacture

We are working with a Southampton based graphic designer who is volunteering his services to the project and now need to look into the manufacture and placement of the memorial plaques. Again there are people already working on this but if you would like to join them we’d love to hear from you.

3. Sponsorship and fund raising

We have now established Spitfire Makers as a Charitable Trust and currently have three trustees who will oversee the running of the Trust. Bids have been submitted to council funds for our planned involvement in the VE Day celebrations – an exhibition in the Shirley Parish Hall with NAAFI-style cafe and WW2 costumed guided heritage walks starting from there to Spitfire sites in Shirley. Going forward we want to approach businesses and individuals with current or former links to the dispersal site premises and we have already had offers of financial support to get the memorial plaques made and erected. Do you have experience in getting sponsorship or organising fund raising that could help us here?

Don’t forget Alan Matlock’s future Spitfire Makers talks – Building Spitfires without a Factory.

If you have already attended one of Alan’s talks you might like to know that each one is presented with extra information relating to the area in which the talk is taking place.   

Thursday 12th March 2020 – 7.30pm for a prompt start at 7.45pm. Nursling and Rownhams Local History Society, Nursling Village Hall, Nursling Street, Southampton SO16 0XH

Thursday 4th June 2020 – 7.30pm – 9pm. Millbrook Local History Society, Holy Trinity Church Hall, Millbrook Road West, Southampton, SO15 0JZ

Saturday 13th June 2020 – 7.00pm. Bitterne Local History Society, Bitterne United Reform Church, Southampton SO18 5LF. (entrance in the Precinct, above Iceland, next to Bitterne Churchyard)

Tuesday 28th July 2020 – 2pm.  Winchester Parkinson’s Group, Tubbs Hall, Fraser Road, Kings Worthy, Winchester, SO23 7PJ

The individual organisations may charge a small entry fee.

4th March 2020

Notes from the chair... Alan Matlock, Chair the Spitfire Makers project

Working hard on my next, “Building Spitfires Without a Factory” talk. I always try to adapt the content of my talk to suit the locality where I’m presenting it and next week’s will be no exception. As well as all the background story of why Supermarine had to move their Spitfire production from Woolston to smaller facilities all over Southampton and beyond, I’ll be adding in some very local details. So, here’s a sneak preview for all our Facebook fans: I’ll be telling you how the first Ford dealer in Britain, a Russian Princess and her relative’s specially adapted Spitfire, a starfish that was nowhere near the sea and the seed suppliers by Royal Appointment to King George VI all had a part to play in the story of wartime Nursling and Rownhams.Plus, I’ll be telling you about a strongly-rumoured Spitfire factory just yards from where I’ll be speaking.

I’m off this morning to interview a gent in Totton who is going to tell me about “a barn just down the road from here” where, as a lad, he remembers they were making parts for Spitfires. Tomorrow members of the Spitfire Makers team are attending a special commemoration of the Spitfire’s maiden flight from Eastleigh Airport. Thanks to our friends at Solent Sky Museum who are organising the event. If you want to find out more about the Russian Princess and the starfish and that very special Spitfire, join me at Nursling and Rownhams Local History Society, Nursling Village Hall, Nursling St, SO16 OXH . Thursday, March 12th, 2020 at 7.30pm for prompt start at 7.45pm.

Keeping calm and (trying to) carry on…

So we’re all “enlisted” and “on a war footing”: – not so different to our Spitfire Makers of 80 years ago. But now, as then, ‘normal’ life is changing day by day.

With the latest restrictions in place, the team are having to find new ways to keep the project airborne and prevent it from stalling. Rather like Supermarine after the bombing of their main factories we’ve had to disperse and come up with new ways to continue working when we can no longer be under the same roof. We’ve not yet had an online video conference team meeting but it can’t be far away!

Research can carry on via emails, social media and online searches and just yesterday we heard from a Facebook contact about yet another possible Supermarine facility.

Image of the newly possible Spitfire fuel tank repair workshop: – HMGC.

The building is still standing, quite close to Southampton Airport where “Spitfire fuel tanks” were being repaired and “some Americans were there also”. It says elsewhere that the place was used for “munitions” – a rather general term but which could well have included the fuel tank repairs. Can you work out where it is?

We did have a tour of dispersal sites with a programme maker from the BBC in Bristol planned for today – unsurprisingly it’s not happening. She’s already done one interview and we visited the Shirley Parish Hall and St James’s Church to tell the stories of the jettison fuel tanks being made in the Hall and the Spitfire Sweethearts who were married and are commemorated at the Church.

Instead of the tour we’re going to do a phone interview later this week about the sites in Winchester Road – the Sunlight Laundry, Sewards Garage and the Hants & Dorset Bus Depot. It’s all for a World Services Radio programme they’re making called “Building the Spitfire” which was planned to go out later this year.

We were also going to go out of the city to see the evidence of dispersal sites at Bishops Waltham, Wickham and Marwell Hall (where the Zoo is) all of which have buildings and other signs of wartime activity still visible ‘on the ground’.

The Spitfire Heritage Walks, starting and finishing at Shirley Parish Hall that Alan Matlock was planning to lead on VE Day Saturday have also been postponed but we are looking at ways of putting a version of these online. Do please let us know if this would interest you.

Finally for now, any budding Dispersal Detectives with time to help out with research please let us know. There are all sorts of loose ends out there that can be followed up from the self-isolation of your home.

15th March 2020

A great turnout at my “Building Spitfires Without a Factory” talk on Thursday evening at Nursling Village Hall. People came from Salisbury, Farnham (!) and even Southampton!

If you didn’t make it and are wondering about those teases I put out here’s a quick rundown…

Percy Hendy was the first Ford dealer in the UK. He ran a successful family bicycle business in East St Southampton, but, having met Henry Ford at the dockside in Southampton, went on to establish the company that still bears his name today. He lived in a big house in Nursling, Mossleigh, later occupied by our Russian Princess – Mary, Elizabeth Dulcie Vaudrey (born a Barker-Mills). Princess Mary’s possible brother in law, Prince Emanuel Galitzine, was the pilot of the specially adapted high altitude Spitfire that totally surprised the pilot of a JU86 bomber at 40,000 feet over Southampton by attacking him from above, in September 1942, and led to the ending of these previously unopposed attacks. The starfish was the so-called Starfish Decoy Site at nearby North Baddesley. Part of the wartime “Directorate of Camouflage”, a team of RAF personnel was on hand to activate controlled fires in locations away from likely targets when an air raid was underway. “The King’s Seedsmen” were ‘Toogoods’ established 1815 and whose trial grounds and nursery were in Nursling – remembered with a road and a bus stop named after the company. I told the story of their giant seed warehouse, now the Solent Business Centre on Millbrook Rd, and how the basement was made available as a public air raid shelter to house 1,580 people! I also found out that The Horns Inn, a local Nursling pub, made its cellar available for the same purpose. The garage on the main road through the village is now called Brooklyn 4×4. I had had reports that, during WW2, when it was Webbers Garage, this was being used to make Spitfire parts.

This was confirmed by one elderly Nurslingite at the talk but documentary or photographic evidence would be great. Please email via spitfiremakers@btinternet.com if you’d like me to bring a similar talk to your group. The next one, virus restrictions permitting, is currently the VE Day heritage walks starting from Shirley Parish Hall on Sat 10th May. More details to follow.

Percy Hendy, 1874 – 1956, who lived at Mossleigh, off what is now Bakers Drove. Princess Galitzine lived there after the Hendys.

Image authors unknown

Prince Emanuel Galitzine in his high altitude Spitfire BF 273 and the pilot of the JU 86R, Oberfeldwebel Horst Gotz, are depicted at over 7 miles above Southampton in this painting by British artist Jim Mitchell. Both survived the war and 33 years later met up in London to compare their log books.

Toogoods, “The King’s Seedsmen” were an internationally known company until the 50s. This is their seed warehouse, now Solent Business Centre. The basement still has the feel of the wartime shelter that it was. If anyone knows why the company went out of business please let us know.

27th March 2020 – Alan Matlock

Just done a 2nd 2 hour+ interview with BBC World Service radio programme maker who is making a 10 part series on Building the Spitfire for broadcast later this year. Lots of stories shared about the Sunlight Laundry in Winchester Road below and the workers there and in half a dozen or more dispersal sites. Will keep you posted as to when it’s going out.

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