WOOLSTON
PEMBERTON BILLING and SUPERMARINE

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Pemberton-Billing and Supermarine Production lists.
Updated 22 Nov 2014.

Lat/Long: 50 53 40N/01 22 59W

In September 1913 Noel Pemberton-Billing opened an aircraft factory on the east bank of the River Itchen at Woolston .Using the telegraphic address "Supermarine" he started building aircraft and flying boats to his own designs.The picture postcards below show a Sopwith "Hydro-Biplane"(top) at the Woolston slipway in 1914 and (below) taking off from near the Woolston works .

Three of his early efforts are shown below...(left)the PB23E(Supermarine Nighthawk serial no.probably 1388)and(right) the incredible P.B.29 Quadruplane Zeppelin Hunter- built in 1915.this eventually gave rise (below)to the PB31E Zeppelin Hunter(Possibly serial no.8487).

With the start of WW1,he left the company to pursue a political career and the business changed it's name to Supermarine Aviation Works in 1916.Throughout the war the factory built seaplanes for the RFC and Royal navy but when the armistice came the demand for military aircraft ceased.Supermarine initially concentrated on converting ex-military flying boats for civilian use,and also operated passenger services from 1919.(For more on this see the Southampton page).

Twenty years separate the pictures above.On the left Supermarine as it was in 1919,and ,right,as it was just before the start of WW2.The boatyard on the left of the 1919 picture has been replaced by the modern styled building in the later picture.

The photo below shows a visit by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to Supermarine at Woolston on 27th June 1924.The aircraft is a Supermarine Swan.

In 1928 the Supermarine company became part of the Vickers group,and throughout the 20s and 30s built several well known flying boat types,including the Southampton ,Seagull,and, probably the best known,the Walrus.

Also in 1928 on the 19th June , the record breaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart arrived at Woolston in the Fokker VII "Friendship" after flying the Atlantic.Miss Earhart and her crew were greeted by the Mayor of Southampton ,Mrs Foster Welch

A Sea Otter in front of the distinctive Supermarine Factory at Woolston.
A view from March 1928 showing a seaplane G-EBGP of British Marine Air Navigation Co.( from Britain from above)
A view,possibly from late 1928/early 1929, across the river Itchen at the Floating Bridge showing the Supermarine Works and slipway on the left, with a flying boat on the right .The aircraft is believed to be Imperial Airway's Short Calcutta G-EBVG.
A prewar view of Supermarines factory at Woolston.

It was during the 30s that R.J.Mitchell,who had joined the company in 1916,designed the aircraft that was to become possibly the best known aircraft of all time,the Spitfire.This was of course,a landplane ,and it's appearance in 1935 marked the beginning of a move by Supermarine away from marine aircraft.Although the company continued to build Walruses until late 1940,the emphasis was very much on the Spitfire.The bombing of the Woolston factory and also the new factory just up the river at Itchen in September 1940,put an end to full scale aircraft production.Production was moved out to "dispersed " sites all over the southern counties and Woolston was never again to be involved in production of complete aircraft.Upper photo below shows Spitfire production at Itchen in 1939.Lower picture is of the factory after the bombing.

For a few years after WW2 ,the Woolston factory carried out modifications and conversions on WW2 flying boats,but by the end of the 40s even that activity had finished and the factory was closed.

Now all that remains is a memorial to R J Mitchell, the Spitfire and those who flew them.

A difference of almost twenty years between these pictures above .Left:Pemberton-Billing design,the Admiralty Navyplane of 1919,serial No.9095,and right,K5772,the first production Supermarine Walrus ,delivered in 1936.

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