Sharing the extraordinary stories of the people who made Spitfires in Southampton

Did you know that Southampton is the birthplace of the Spitfire?

Did you know that 8000 Spitfires were built in Southampton during the Second World War? And these were mostly built after the Supermarine Factory at Woolston had been bombed!

The true story of how these iconic aeroplanes were built is even more extraordinary; requiring at least 26 ‘dispersal sites’ in and around Southampton and collectively employing over 3000 people. This heritage will have touched the lives of all who lived in Southampton during World War 2.

Out Of The Shadows is a Heritage Lottery Funded Project which seeks to gather and share your extraordinary stories of this time, about Spitfire manufacture.

 


 

NST are taking two vintage buses to the following locations around Southampton:

  • Friday 1st June - Bargate, Southampton
  • Monday 4th June - Shirley Baptist Church, Church St, Shirley
  • Thursday 7th June - Peartree Green Church Hall
  • Saturday 9th June - Riverside Park, Bitterne
  • Wednesday 13th June - Bitterne Precinct
  • Friday 15th June - Hursley Village, The Kings Head
  • Thursday 21st June - Chandlers Ford Methodist Church
  • Friday 22nd June - Chamberlayne Leisure Centre
  • Saturday 23rd June - Lordshill Precinct, Church Hall
  • Thursday 28th June - Hamble Village Memorial Hall
  • Friday 29th June - Woolston, Oakbank Road
  • Saturday 30th June - Shirley Parish Hall
  • Sunday 1st July - NST City as part of Armed Forces Day

Come and tell us what stories you or your family know about this time; browse what we have learnt; see some videos from Solent Sky’s extraordinary collection; and help us reconnect Southampton with its awe-inspiring past! This is the hidden history of how Southampton built the icon that gave hope to the nation in its hour of greatest need. Join us 11am - 4pm. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southampton, 1940

Discover the real history behind the shadow factories in Southampton as we open Howard Brenton's The Shadow Factory in our new venue NST City. As well as coming to see the show, we also have a free Exhibition featuring the visually stunning set by 59 Productions. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Shadow Factories

 
  Workers building parts of the Spitfire in factories throughout Southampton during WWII.   
     
  Southampton Archives  
     
  Archive Footage  
     
  Hendys  
     

 

Southampton tool room  
 

       

 

 

 

The Bomb Sites

 
  Distruction caused during the bombing in Southampton in WWII.   
     
  Bomb sites  
     
  bombing  
     
  Southampton bombing  
     

 

   
 

Southampton Blitz

In Southampton the problems associated with relocating the workforce did not apply but the lack of machinery and skilled workers did. Also, unlike the other ‘dispersal areas’ Southampton was still a prime target for the Luftwaffe. The raids on Supermarine were only the beginning of Southampton’s ordeal. In November and December German bombing of the city reached a devastating peak. The raids between 22nd November and 1st December (including the two six-hour raids on the 30th November and 1st December) are often referred to as the Southampton Blitz. Much of the city centre was destroyed and many lives were lost as high explosive and incendiary bombs fell across the city.

 

 

Discover More

 

The Beginnings

Even before the failed raid on the Woolston Works, on 15th September, Supermarine had been drawing up contingency plans to avoid a major loss of production in the event of an attack. These involved the ‘dispersal’ of production around the city. However, the failure of the ‘Shadow Factory’ in Castle Bromwich to deliver any Spitfires until June, and then only in small (though increasing) numbers meant that Supermarine could not afford any interruption in production so no action was taken.


 

 
     
     
     
     
     
  Southampton Wool Mill  
     
  Southampton Jigs  
     
  Sunlight Laundry  
     

 

Southampton Tanks  
            

 

     

 

 

 

 
  bomb sites  
     
  Southampton bombing  
     
  Southampton bomb sites  
     

 

   
     
     
 

Amazingly none of the Supermarine workshops received a direct hit, although Hendy’s Garage in the city centre was put out of action for some time when a bomb hit the neighbouring building. However, the bombing did affect production. Transport, power and water were frequently interrupted, and workers again had to spend time finding places to live or attending to their families. But somehow Supermarine were able to continue.

 

 

 

Origins

Supermarine had been making flying boats in their workshops on the banks of the River Itchen since their earliest days. They had gained a reputation for high speed flight, winning the Schneider Trophy for Britain in 1931 with their S6B seaplane, but as the clouds of war grew ever darker the Woolston Works took on a new importance. However, it was not a flying boat but a land plane, a small aircraft they knew simply as "The Fighter", to which all eyes had turned.

 
     
     
 

Photographs

The following photographs show the Woolston and Itchen Works both before the raids in September 1940, and afterwards.

Visible in the foreground of the "Woolston Works, 1939 Wing Assembly" photograph are the vital jigs, the frames in which the wings were made.

 
     
     

 

Woolston Works

 
     
  Woolston Works  
     
  Wing Assembly  
     
  Woolston Works After bombing  
     
     

Discover More

     
     

From it's very first flight in 1936 it stood out. A rare combination of beauty, design and purpose. "The Fighter" was soon to get a name which still resonates today. That name was "Spitfire".

For the British government, desperately rushing to equip the RAF with fighter aircraft capable of matching the German Luftwaffe, the Spitfire was vital, and the Spitfire meant Woolston.

   
     
     
     

Visible in the background of the "Itchen Works, 1939 fuselage Assembly Stage 2" photograph can be seen Supermarine Stranraer and Walrus aircraft. Although neither as beautiful nor as famous as it's cousin the Spitfire, the Walrus played its own vital role as a reconnaissance plane for the navy but also performing Air Sea Rescue including recovering Spitfire pilots who had been shot down.

 

 

 

 

 

Itchen Works

 

 
     
Itchen Works    
     
Itchen 1939    
     

Itchen 1939

   
     
     
 

Southampton Municipal Airport

With no suitable airfield available near the Woolston Works “Southampton Municipal Airport” (although always referred to by locals as “Eastleigh Airport”) was used to complete the "final assembly" of Spitfires before flight testing and delivery to the RAF. The airfield was integral to the Spitfire story from the very first flight of the prototype on 5th March 1936.

 
     

 

Dispersal Sites

 
     
  Southampton Airport (called locally “Eastleigh Airport”) showing the two WW1 hangars used by Supermarine for Final Assembly of Spitfires.  
     
  Eastleigh Airport  
     
  Final Assembly of Mk I Spitfires in the Eastleigh hangars in 1939.   
  Eastleigh  
     

 

Discover More

 

   
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
  Eastleigh Flight Shed  
     
     
  Eastleigh Factory  
     
  The Hursley Road Stores in Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh.  
  Eastleigh Store  
     
     
     

 

   
            

 

 

Hursley Park

 
     
 

The raids on the Woolston and Itchen Works in September 1940 not only affected the production of Spitfires but also had a direct impact on the Design and Production Departments responsible for the continued development and management of Supermarine.

Following the death of R.J. Mitchell in 1937 responsibility for all further development of Supermarine aircraft, not only the Spitfire but also the Stranraer, Walrus, Sea Otter and Supermarine’s proposed heavy bomber, fell to Joe Smith and his team in the Design Office. Located on the top floor of the new art-deco office block built in the late 1930s, the Design team had been lucky to escape from the 26th September raid relatively intact; at least one bomb had passed through the Drawing Office, out of the window and into the mud on the river bank below, another went straight through the floor without exploding. Miraculously the majority of the designs also survived and the men and women of the design team were quickly moved to temporary accommodation in old WW1 army huts, being used by the University College in Highfield.

 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
  Hursley House  
     
  Drawing Office  
     
     
     

 

   
     
     
     

The Production Team moved to the top floor of the Polygon Hotel and began, under the leadership of the new Works Manager Len Gooch, to plan the formal ‘dispersal’ of production around Southampton and beyond. Gooch had become the de facto Works Manager following the 24th September raid when the then Manager, H.B. Pratt, had been wounded and badly traumatised by the scenes of carnage. One of the tasks that Gooch and the dispersal team had was not only to find alternative locations to restart and expand Spitfire production but also to find more suitable and permanent accommodation for themselves and the Design Team. By October a site had been identified and the requisition process initiated.

The site chosen was a large stately home to the north of Southampton called Hursley Park. The owner of Hursley Park, Sir George Alexander Cooper, had recently died, leaving his widowed wife, Lady Mary Cooper, living alone with her servants in the mansion house. Her son, and Sir George’s heir, lived nearby in Merdon Manor. An American by birth Lady Cooper had intended, as she had done in the First World War, to offer her home as a hospital for wounded Officers. The Ministry of Aircraft Production thought otherwise and requisitioned the House and part of the grounds for Supermarine.

   
     

Discover More

   
     
     
Hursley Park    
     
Hursley Staff    
     
     

 

   
  We've teamed up with Southampton Solent University students who have been busy delving into the history of the spitfire, dispersal sites, shadow factories and WW2 heritage.  
     

 

Lucy Mahoney - The New and The Old

 
  Look back in history to the devastation that happened in WWII on the streets that you walk down today in Southampton.   
     
  Lucy Mahoney  
     
  The old and the new  
     
  Southampton Solent University  
     
  Old vs New photos  
     

 

   
     
     
     
     

 

Soeren Pietsch - Up From the Air

 
  Showing the perspective from the point of view of the German Pilots when they flew over Southampton.   
     
  Up from the air  
     
  Solent University  
     
  Drone Photography  
     
  Birds Eye View  
     
  Drone View of Southampton