British shadow factories

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British shadow factories were a plan developed by the British Government to implement additional manufacturing capacity for the British aircraft industry, in the buildup to World War II. Developed by the Air Ministry under the internal project name of the Shadow Scheme, the project was created by Sir Kingsley Wood and headed by Herbert Austin.

Background[edit]

Up until 1936, the Air Ministry had been headed by Lord Swinton, who at that point had been forced to resign his position by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain due to a lack of progress in re-arming the Royal Air Force. Swinton's civil servants approached their new boss, Sir Kingsley Wood, and showed him a series of informal questions that they had asked since 1935 on the subject, such as those posed to Morris Motors with regard to aircraft engine production capability at their Cowley plant in Oxford.[1] Wood's immediate response was to put forward a plan which would enable the trebling of aircraft production and manning.

Implementation[edit]

The plan had two parts:

  • Development of nine new factories
  • Extensions to existing factory complexes to allow either easier switching to aircraft industry capability, or production capacity expansion

Underneath the plan, there was government funding for the building of these new production facilities, in the form of grants and loans. Key to the plan were the products and plans of Rolls-Royce, whose Merlin engine powered many of the key aircraft being developed by the Air Ministry.

Wood handed the overall project implementation to the Directorate of Air Ministry Factories, appointing Herbert Austin to lead the initiative (most of the facilities to be developed were existing motor vehicle factories), and the technical liaison with the aircraft industry to Charles Bruce-Gardner. He also handed the delivery of the key new factory in Castle Bromwich, that was contracted to deliver 1,000 new Supermarine Spitfires to the RAF by the end of 1940, to Lord Nuffield.[2]

As the scheme progressed, and after the death of Austin in 1941, the Directorate of Air Ministry Factories, under the auspices of the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) gradually took charge of the construction of the buildings required for aircraft production. In early 1943 the functions of the directorate of Air Ministry Factories were transferred to the Ministry of Works.

Follow on initiatives[edit]

The shadow factory proposals and implementation, particularly its rigidity when bombed, meant that other key areas of military production prepared their own shadow factory plans:

  • Alvis had 20 sites in Coventry alone, producing vehicles and munitions.[3]
  • The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited alone during the war controlled 67 factories from Small Heath, employing 28,000 people operating 25,000 machine tools. This organisation produced more than half the small arms supplied to Britain's forces during the war. BSA's war production included 500,000 Browning machine guns, 1,250,000 service rifles, 400,000 Sten guns, 10 million shell fuses, 3.5 million magazines, and 750,000 anti-aircraft rockets.[4]
  • Ford of Britain at their Dagenham plant built over 13,000 tracked Universal Carriers, 250,000 V8 engines,[5] over 185,000 military vehicles,[6] and Bren gun carriers.[5] Agricultural vehicles were also an important element - at one point the Fordson represented 95% of UK tractor production.[5]

London Aircraft Production Group[edit]

In parallel with the Shadow Factory scheme, the London Aircraft Production Group (LAPG) was formed in 1940 by combining management of factories and workshops of Chrysler, Duple, Express Motor & Bodyworks Limited, Park Royal Coachworks and London Transport. The major activity of the group was the production of Handley Page Halifax bombers for the RAF, ammunition, gun parts, armoured vehicles and spare parts for vehicles. The group was led by London Transport from their works at Chiswick and later at Leavesden near Watford, which had a large purpose-built factory and airfield for production, assembly and flight testing of completed Halifax bombers.[7]

Due to the high priority placed on aircraft production, large numbers of workers were drafted with little experience or training in aircraft production, with over half the workforce eventually being female. At its peak the LAPG included 41 factories or sites, 600 sub-contractors and 51,000 employees, producing one aircraft an hour. The first Halifax from the LAPG was delivered in 1941 and the last, named London Pride, in April 1945.[7]

List of shadow factories[edit]

Location Owner Original use Wartime production Today
Acocks Green, Birmingham Rover Westwood's market gardening Parts for Bristol Hercules radial engine[8] Redeveloped as housing
Axminster, Devon Axminster Carpets Carpets Stirrup pumps Carpets
Blackpool, Lancashire Vickers RAF Squires Gate Bombers Blackpool International Airport
Broughton, Flintshire Vickers Farmland Aircraft production airbus
Banner Lane, Coventry Standard Bristol Hercules sleeve valve radial engines Engine plant for Standard cars and the Ferguson TE20 tractor. Later closed.
Browns Lane, Coventry Daimler Farmland Aircraft sub-assemblies Browns Lane plant
Castle Bromwich, West Midlands Nuffield Organisation Farm/Sewage works Supermarine Spitfire, Avro Lancaster Castle Bromwich Assembly
Crewe, Cheshire Rolls-Royce Farmland Rolls-Royce Merlin Bentley Crewe
Distington, Cumbria High Duty Alloys Ltd Farmland Aircraft parts made of Hiduminium Abandoned[9]
Drakelow Tunnels, Kidderminster Rover Company Hills Machining parts for Bristol Hercules Former coldwar site, preserved
Grantham, Lincolnshire BMARC Farmland Hispano-Suiza 20 mm cannon Redeveloped
Hawthorn, Wiltshire Bristol Aeroplane Company Quarry, Bath stone intended for aircraft engines but not used Abandoned under RAF Rudloe Manor
Hawthorn, Wiltshire BSA Quarry, Bath stone M1919 Browning machine gun Abandoned under RAF Rudloe Manor
Hillington, Glasgow Rolls-Royce Farmland Rolls-Royce Merlin Closed 2004, redeveloped as an industrial estate
East Lancashire Road, Liverpool Napier & Son Aircraft engine production Industrial estate
Longbridge, Birmingham Austin Farmland Aircraft production - Wellington Bombers Redeveloped as housing
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire BSA Farmland Hispano-Suiza 20 mm cannon Redeveloped
Newtown, Powys, Wales Accles & Pollock Farmland Tubular steel: aircraft frames, gun barrels Industrial estate[10]
Northampton, (Duston) British Timken Farmland Roller bearings Demolished - replaced by housing
Ryton, Warwickshire Rootes Group Farmland Aircraft engines Car production, now redeveloped
Solihull, Warwickshire Rover Farmland Parts for Bristol Hercules radial engine[11] Land Rover Solihull manufacturing
Stonehouse, Gloucestershire Sperry Gyroscope Co. Ltd Textile Mill Gyroscopes and instruments Industrial estate
Stonehouse, Gloucestershire Hoffmann Ball Bearings Farmland Ball bearings for aero engines Industrial estate
Swaythling, Hampshire Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Farmland Parts for the Supermarine Spitfire Ford Southampton plant
Trafford Park, Manchester Ford Derelict motor assembly plant Rolls-Royce Merlin Modern industrial uses
Willesden, North London Freestone and Webb Coach builders Wing tips for the Spitfire Housing

National Archive catalogue entries[edit]

Information concerning the Shadow Factory plan and Shadow Factories can be found among the following records and descriptive series list code headings held by The National Archives. For the full set of references (including German shadow factories) see the Catalogue below:

Catalogue reference description
AIR 19/1-10 Shadow scheme and factories, 1935-1940
AIR 20/2395 AIR 20/2396 Shadow factories schemes
AIR 2, code 6/2 Aircraft production, shadow factories
AVIA 15, code 25/1 Factories general
AVIA 15, code 25/5 Shadow factories
T 161/1070 Insurance of Government property managed or maintained by private contractors; `Shadow' factories
T 161/1156 Banking: Shadow factories banking accounts

References[edit]

External links[edit]