Alliott Verdon Roe

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Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe
Alliott Verdon-Roe circa 1910
Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe

(1877-04-26)26 April 1877
Patricroft, Eccles, England
Died4 January 1958(1958-01-04) (aged 80)
Portsmouth, England[1]
Resting placeSt Andrew's Church, Hamble
Occupationaircraft manufacturer
Known forBritish aviation pioneer
RelativesHumphrey Verdon Roe (brother)
Harry Stopes-Roe (nephew)
Roe in the cockpit of his Roe III Triplane in September 1910 during his visit to the United States

Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe OBE, Hon. FRAeS, FIAS (26 April 1877 – 4 January 1958) was a pioneer English pilot and aircraft manufacturer, and founder in 1910 of the Avro company.[2] After experimenting with model aeroplanes, he made flight trials in 1907–1908 with a full-size biplane at Brooklands, near Weybridge in Surrey,[3] and officially became the first Englishman to fly an all-British machine a year later, with a triplane, on the Walthamstow Marshes.

Early life[edit]

Roe was born in Patricroft, Eccles, Lancashire, the son of Edwin Roe, a doctor, and Annie Verdon. He was the elder brother of Humphrey Verdon Roe.[4] Roe left home when he was 14 to go to Canada where he had been offered training as a surveyor. When he arrived in British Columbia he discovered that a slump in the silver market meant that there was little demand for surveyors, so he spent a year doing odd jobs, then returned to England. There he served as an apprentice with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. He later tried to join the Royal Navy to study marine engineering at King's College London, but, although he passed the technical and mathematics papers, he was rejected for failing some of the general subjects. As well as doing dockyard work, Roe joined the ship SS Jebba of the British & South African Royal Mail Company as fifth engineer on the West African run. He went on to serve on other vessels, finishing his Merchant Navy career as third engineer aboard the SS Ichanga. It was during these voyages that he became interested in the possibility of building a flying machine, having observed the soaring flight of albatrosses.

Aviation career[edit]

In 1906 he applied for the job of Secretary of the Royal Aero Club. Although there were other better-qualified candidates, Roe's enthusiasm for aviation impressed Charles Rolls, who interviewed him, and he was given the job. Shortly after this he was offered a job as a draughtsman by G.L.O. Davidson, who had devised a twin-rotored aircraft and had secured the financial backing of Sir William Armstrong of Armstrong-Whitworth. This machine was being built in Denver in the United States. After disagreements about the design of the machine and problems with his salary, Roe, who had been sent back to Britain to deal with patenting the design, resigned.

He then began to build a series of flying models, and won a Daily Mail competition with a prize of £75 for one of his designs in 1907. With the prize money and the use of stables at his brother's house in West Hill, Putney, he then began to build a full-size aeroplane, the Roe I Biplane, based on his winning model. He tested this at Brooklands in 1907–08, later claiming to have made his first successful flight on 8 June 1908.[5] After encountering problems with the management of Brooklands he moved his flight experiments to Walthamstow Marshes, where he rented space under a railway arch at the western end of the viaduct. Despite many setbacks, Roe persisted with his experiments and there is now a blue plaque commemorating his first successful flight (in July 1909) at the site. His aircraft, Avroplane, a triplane, is preserved in London's Science Museum.[6] A working replica of this aircraft was unveiled on 7 June 2008 at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.

With his brother Humphrey, Alliott founded the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. on 1 January 1910, later renamed Avro Aircraft, at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester.[2] His most popular model, the 504, sold more than 8,300 units, mainly to the Royal Flying Corps and later to the Royal Air Force for use by training units. In 1928 he sold his shares and bought S. E. Saunders Co., and formed Saunders-Roe.

Personal and political life[edit]

Roe was knighted in 1929. In 1933 he changed his surname to Verdon-Roe by deed poll, adding the hyphen between his last two names in honour of his mother.[7]

He was a member of the British Union of Fascists[8] and during the 1930s he was a supporter of Oswald Mosley. He was a great believer in monetary reform and thought it was wrong that banks should be able to create money by "book entry" and charge interest on it when they lent it out. In this respect he shared the same enthusiasm for reform as the American poet Ezra Pound, who also wrote for the Mosley press.

During the Second World War, two of his sons were killed in action whilst serving with the Royal Air Force. Squadron Leader Eric Alliott Verdon-Roe aged 26, in 1941[9] and Squadron Leader Lighton Verdon-Roe DFC aged 22, in 1943.[10]

Between 1928 and 1940 Verdon-Roe lived at Hamble House, Hamble, in Hampshire.[11]

Death and burial[edit]

Verdon-Roe died on 4 January 1958 at St Mary's Hospital in Portsmouth.[1] Roe was buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St Andrew, in Hamble, and there is a commemorative plaque to Roe and his sons inside the church.[12]


On 28 October 2011 a green plaque was unveiled by Wandsworth Council and members of the Verdon-Roe family at the site of Roe's first workshop at West Hill, Putney.

In 1980, Verdon-Roe was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.[13]

Verdon Roe was the grandfather of professional racing driver Bobby Verdon-Roe.[14]


  1. ^ a b Pritchard, J. Laurence; Adams, Sylvia (2008) [2004]. "Roe, (Edwin) Alliott". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36641. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b ""A. V. Roe biography" at". Archived from the original on 17 May 2021. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  3. ^ Gibbs-Smith, Charles H. (3 April 1959). "Hops and Flights - a Roll-Call of Early Powered Take-Offs". Flight
  4. ^ Maude, Aylmer (1933). Marie Stopes: Her Work and Play. John Bale & Sons and Danielsson. p. 112.
  5. ^ Roots In The Sky - A History of British Aerospace Aircraft, Oliver Tapper (1980), ISBN 061700323 8; p. 7. "This historic flight, variously recorded as being between 75 and 150 feet in length, took place . . on the Brooklands motor racing track at Weybridge."
  6. ^ Roots In The Sky, pp. 7, 15. The craft was unusual in that pulling/pushing on the "stick" altered the incidence angle of the three main wing surfaces, while the three horizontal tail surfaces remained fixed. Bank control was by wing warping. By July 1909 it had achieved flights of 900 feet length.
  7. ^ "No. 33936". The London Gazette. 22 May 1933. p. 2983.
  8. ^ Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  9. ^ "Casualty". Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Casualty". Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Tony Blackman's Page". Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  12. ^ "History of The Priory Church of St Andrew the Apostle" at Archived 23 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Sprekelmeyer, Linda, editor. These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-1-57864-397-4.
  14. ^ "Strakka Racing Goodwood Revival summary". 26 July 2016. Archived from the original on 11 October 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2016.


  • Holmes, Harry The Archives Photographs Series – AVRO,Chalford, 1996
  • Holmes, Harry Avro: The History of an Aircraft Company, Marlborough: Crowood, 2004. ISBN 1-86126-651-0
  • Jarrett, Philip Trials, Troubles and Triplanes – Alliott Verdon-Roe’s Fight To Fly Ringshall, Suffolk: Ad Hoc, 2007, ISBN 978-0-946958-65-8
  • Jackson A.J. Avro Aircraft since 1908 London: Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-834-8
  • Ludovici, L.J. The Challenging Sky: The Life of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe London: Herbert Jenkins, 1956
  • Penrose, Harald British Aviation: the Pioneer Years London: Putnam, 1967
  • Prins, François (May–June 1999). "'AV'– His Life and Times: A Biography of A V Roe, First Briton to Fly and a Founder of a Dynasty". Air Enthusiast (81): 56–63. ISSN 0143-5450.

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