British shadow factories

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Spitfire Mark IIa believed to be the 14th aircraft built at Castle Bromwich

British shadow factories were the outcome of the Shadow Scheme, a plan devised in 1935 and developed by the British Government in the buildup to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft using technology transfer from the motor industry to implement additional manufacturing capacity.

The term 'shadow' was not intended to mean secrecy, but rather the protected environment they would receive by being staffed by all levels of skilled motor industry people alongside (in the shadow of) their own similar motor industry operations.

A directorate of Aeronautical Production was formed in March 1936 with responsibility for the manufacture of airframes as well as engines, associated equipment and armaments. The project was headed by Herbert Austin and developed by the Air Ministry under the internal project name of the Shadow Scheme. Sir Kingsley Wood took responsibility for the scheme in May 1938, on his appointment as Secretary of State for Air in place of Lord Swinton.

Many more factories were built as part of the dispersal scheme designed to reduce the risk of a total collapse of production if what would otherwise be a major facility were bombed. These were not shadow factories, though some now use that name believing shadow refers to attempts to achieve a level of secrecy.

Purpose and use[edit]

It was impossible for these facilities to be secret, though they were camouflaged after hostilities began. They were war material production facilities built in "the shadow" of motor industry plants to facilitate technology transfer to aircraft construction and run, for a substantial management fee, in parallel under direct control of the motor industry business along with distributed facilities.[1] General Erhard Milch, chief administrator of the Luftwaffe, was in Britain again in the autumn of 1937 inspecting new shadow factories in Birmingham and Coventry, RAF aeroplanes and airfields.[2][3]


Up until the middle of 1938, the Air Ministry had been headed by Lord Swinton. He had been forced by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign his position due to a lack of progress in re-arming the Royal Air Force, the result of obstruction by aging Lord Nuffield. 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.[4] As it turned out, the specialised high-output engines required by the RAF were made by Armstrong Siddeley, Bristol Aeroplane, Napier and Rolls-Royce, all of which employed a high number of sub-contractors. Despite their new factories, protestations by Wolseley Aero Engines (Nuffield) and Alvis were ignored. Their products were not required. Engines were specified by the aircraft's designers.[5] Nuffield did participate after Wood's appointment, providing the Castle Bromwich factory, but after two years, management was so poor that not one Spitfire had been produced there. Castle Bromwich was withdrawn from Nuffield and placed under the wing of Vickers.


The plan had two parts:

  • Development of nine new factories. The government would build and equip the factories. Motor car companies would be asked to gain experience in the making of engine parts so, if war broke out, the new factories could immediately go into full production.[6]
  • Extensions to existing factory complexes to allow either easier switching to aircraft industry capability, or production capacity expansion.
De Havilland Mosquito
Standard Motor Co, Canley and Herts.

Under 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, as well as Bristol's Hercules engine. Bristol Aeroplane would not allow shadow factories to build complete engines, only components.[7] The exception was Austin.

The first motor manufacturers chosen for engine shadows were: Austin, Daimler, Humber (Rootes Securities), Singer, Standard, Rover and Wolseley.[5][8] In the event Lord Nuffield took Wolseley out of the arrangement and Singer proved to be in serious financial difficulty.[6]

The buildings[edit]

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 alongside 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, though in May 1940 the responsibility had to be taken from Nuffield and given to Vickers.[9]

The buildings were sheds up to 2,000 feet (610 m) long lit either by glazed roofs or "north-lit". Office accommodation was brick, and wherever possible faced a main road. These buildings were extremely adaptable and would remain part of the British industrial landscape for more than 50 years. One of the largest was Austin's Cofton Hackett, beside their Longbridge plant, started in August 1936. 1,530 feet (470 m) long and 410 feet (120 m) wide, the structure covered 20 acres (81,000 m2). Later a 15 acres (61,000 m2) airframe factory was added, then a flight shed 500 feet (150 m) by 190 feet (58 m) was attached to the airframe factory.[10]

Bristol Blenheim
Rootes Blythe Bridge and Speke

The new factory buildings were models of efficient factory layout. They had wide clear gangways and good lighting, and they were free of shafting and belt drives.[11] The five shadow factories in Coventry were all in production by the end of October 1937 and they were all making parts of the Bristol Mercury engine.[12] By January 1938 two of those shadow factories were producing complete airframes.[13] In July 1938 the first bomber completely built in a shadow factory (Austin's) was flown in front of Sir Kingsley Wood, Secretary of State for Air.[14] It was said eight shadow factories constructing aircraft components were in production in or near Coventry in February 1940.[15]

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.


There were three waves of construction of shadow factories and only the third and smallest reached Scotland in the shape of the factory at Hillington producing Rolls-Royce's Merlin engines.[16] Ferranti's factory in Edinburgh will have been secret.[clarification needed]


Similar plans were introduced in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.[17]

List of shadow factories (incomplete)[edit]

Location Manager for Ministry of Aircraft Production Original use Wartime production Today
Acocks Green, south of Birmingham Rover Aero Westwood family's market garden Parts for Bristol Hercules radial engine[10] Redeveloped as housing
Banner Lane, Coventry Standard
Aero No. 2
Golf course Bristol Hercules sleeve valve radial engines[10][18] Ferguson then Massey Ferguson tractors.
Closed 2002. Now housing
Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire Rootes Securities Blenheim, Beaufort, Beaufighter[19] Indesit cookers
near Bolton, Lancashire de Havilland Airscrews
Browns Lane, Coventry Daimler Farmland Aero engines,[20] Aircraft sub-assemblies[10] Jaguar's[21] Browns Lane plant, demolished 2008, now housing and an industrial estate
Burtonwood, Warrington Fairey Aviation Assembled and modified imported American aircraft
Canley-Fletchamstead Hy, Coventry Standard
Aero No. 1
Vacant land on Standard's Canley site Bristol Beaufighter
De Havilland Mosquito[18]
Standard Motor Company demolished after closure in 1980. Now housing
Canley-Fletchamstead Hy, Coventry H M Hobson Vacant land on Standard's Canley site Carburettors for aircraft engines[18] Standard Motor Company demolished after closure in 1980. Now housing
Castle Bromwich, West Midlands Nuffield Organisation then Vickers Farm/Sewage works 11,989 Supermarine Spitfires, Avro Lancaster Dunlop Research Centre,[22] Fisher and LudlowPressed Steel, Jaguar
Christchurch, Hampshire Airspeed Airspeed Oxford[23]
Clifton near Manchester Magnesium Elektron Magnesium alloys[24]
Cofton Hackett, East Works, Longbridge Austin Farmland in Groveley Lane Aero engines, Bristol Mercury and Pegasus[25]
Aircraft production – Fairey Battle, Stirling, Avro Lancaster, Wellington Bombers[10]
Redeveloped as housing
Coventry, Stoke Aldermoor Lane Humber Aero engines[26]
Crewe, Cheshire Rolls-Royce Farmland Rolls-Royce Merlin Bentley Crewe
Cwmbran, South Wales Lucas Farmland Aircraft turrets[27]
Distington, Cumbria High Duty Alloys Ltd Farmland Aircraft parts made of Hiduminium Abandoned[28]
Errwood Park, Stockport Fairey Aviation Beaufighters then Handley Page Halifax bombers
Drakelow Tunnels, Kidderminster Rover Company Hills Parts for Bristol Mercury, Pegasus and Rolls-Royce Meteor engines[29] Preserved as former Cold War site
Hillington, Glasgow Rolls-Royce Farmland Rolls-Royce Merlin Closed 2005,[30] redeveloped as an industrial estate.
Leyland, Lancashire, BX Factory Leyland Motors Greenfield site Armoured Vehicle production 1940-1945 Commercial vehicle production post war, site now re-developed
Meir, Stoke-on-Trent Rootes Securities Air Field Harvard assembly, Mustang modifications Aerodrome, now housing
Ryton, south east of Coventry Humber Farmland Aircraft engines[10] Car production, now redeveloped
Lode Lane, Solihull Rover Farmland Parts for Bristol Hercules radial engine[31] Land Rover Solihull manufacturing
Speke Airport, Lancashire Rootes Securities Speke Airport Bristol Blenheim, Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber aircraft[32] Dunlop tyres, footwear, golf and tennis balls,[33] now redeveloped as industrial estate
Staverton, Gloucestershire Rotol Staverton Airport Variable pitch airscrews[34] Rotol Gloucester Airport
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
Woodstock Mill, Oldham, Lancashire H M Hobson Cotton mill Carburettors for aircraft engines Distribution centre
Avro Lancaster
Cofton Hackett and Castle Bromwich

Strategic dispersal[edit]

The White Paper on Defence published in February 1937 revealed that steps had been taken to reduce the risk of air attack delivering a knockout blow on sources of essential supplies, even at the cost of some duplication, by building new satellite plants which would also draw labour from congested as well as distressed areas.[35] There were still areas of severe unemployment.

London Aircraft Production Group[edit]

Handley Page Halifax bombers 5 November 1944

In parallel with the Shadow Factory scheme, the London Aircraft Production Group[36][37] (LAPG) was formed in 1940 by combining management of factories and workshops of

Chrysler at Kew,
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, Aldenham Works and the new De Havilland factory at Leavesden, Hertfordshire, which had a large purpose-built factory and airfield (construction of both was authorised on 10 January 1940) for production, assembly and flight testing of completed Halifax bombers.[38]

The following list of eight members of the London Aircraft Production Group was published in March 1945:[39] This includes LAPG members with factories at Preston, Speke and Stockport.

Halifax has its 4 Merlins overhauled in a dispersal in Melbourne, East Riding of Yorkshire
English Electric in Preston
London Passenger Transport Board — made the centre section and installed fittings and equipment for the front part of the fuselage
Rootes Securities in Speke
Chrysler Motors — rear part of the fuselage
Express Motor and Body Works — intermediate wings and tail-plane
Duple Bodies and Motors — the shell and components for the front part of the fuselage
Park Royal Coachworks — outer wings
Fairey Aviation Company in Stockport[39]

from May 1941 they took responsibility for final erection followed by the test flight and their first aircraft was airborne before the end of 1941. They were allotted their own aerodromes instead of sending aircraft to the Handley Page aerodrome.[40]

At peak the group involved 41 factories and dispersal units, 660 subcontractors and more than 51,000 employees,[41]

Ultimately output rose to 200 Halifaxes a month and the group provided something like 40 per cent of the nation's heavy bomber output. Halifax bombers dropped more than 200,000 tons of bombs.[39]

Sir Frederick Handley Page's "thank you" to these "daughter" firms was a luncheon at The Dorchester at which the head of each firm received a silver model of a Halifax bomber and representative workmen received scrolls of commendation.[39]

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.[38]

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 dispersal factory plans:

  • Alvis had 20 sites in Coventry alone, producing vehicles and munitions.[42] Soon after the total destruction of the Alvis factory by enemy action in 1940 Alvis were operating eight dispersal factories and thus managed to resume deliveries of their most important products. They were allocated nine further dispersal factories following further enemy attacks and after Pearl Harbour at the end of 1941 Alvis organised, equipped and managed a new shadow factory to make variable pitch propellor hubs.[43]
  • Rover managed and controlled six shadow factories on behalf of the Government and ran eighteen different dispersal factories of their own.[44]
  • The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited alone during the war controlled 67 factories from Small Heath.

List of dispersal factories (incomplete)[edit]

Location Owner Original use Wartime production Today
Axminster, Devon Axminster Carpets Carpets Stirrup pumps Carpets
Blackpool, Lancashire Vickers RAF Squires Gate Bombers Blackpool International Airport
Belfast, Northern Ireland Short & Harland Bombers and Flying Boats Short Brothers
Birmingham Fisher and Ludlow[45]
Broughton, Flintshire Vickers Farmland Aircraft production Airbus Industrie, Broughton
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire Smiths Instruments Clocks and watches [46]
Distington, Cumbria High Duty Alloys Ltd Farmland Aircraft parts made of Hiduminium Abandoned[28]
Edinburgh Ferranti Electrical optical and mechanical assemblies[47] Ferranti
Grantham, Lincolnshire BMARC Farmland Hispano-Suiza 20 mm cannon Redeveloped
Hawarden, Flint Vickers Farmland Wellington bombers Airbus Industrie, Broughton
Hawthorn, Box and Corsham, Wiltshire Bristol Aeroplane Company Quarry, Bath stone Intended for aircraft engines but little used[48] Became Central Government War Headquarters, closed 2005
Hawthorn, Corsham, Wiltshire BSA Quarry, Bath stone M1919 Browning machine gun Abandoned under RAF Rudloe Manor
Hednesford, Staffordshire Roller bearings Fafnir Bearing[49]
East Lancashire Road, Liverpool Napier & Son Aircraft engine production, Napier Sabre English Electric then industrial estate
Linwood, Paisley Scotland Beardmore's Farmland High-grade Steel for guns Pressed Steel then Rootes Group's North Plant
undisclosed Manchester? Cossor CRTs for Radar[50]
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[51]
Northampton (Duston) British Timken Farmland Roller bearings Opened 1941, closed 2002 – moved to Poland. Demolished and replaced by housing.
Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire Walter Lawrence plc Existing construction joinery workshops Mosquito wings Housing development
Shaw, Oldham Lancashire GEC CRTs for Radar, instruments[52]
South Marston, Swindon, Wiltshire Phillips & Powis Aircraft Farmland Aircraft production, largely Miles Master, shadowing Woodley factory Honda car plant
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
Swindon, Wiltshire Plessey Electrical components Plessey[53]
Treforest, South Wales Smiths Instruments KLG spark plugs[46]
Tubney Wood, Oxfordshire Nuffield Mechanisation Bofors guns
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset Bristol Aeroplane Beaufighter[54]
Yeadon, Leeds, Yorkshire Avro Avro York Leeds airport
Ystradgynlais, South Wales Smiths Instruments Clocks and watches[46]
A Wellington bomber under construction at Vickers, Hawarden, near Chester, 1 June 1942


In June 1939 the response to a question in parliament was: 31 shadow factories were complete or under construction. The Air Ministry was responsible for 16 and, of those 16, 11 were working to full capacity.[55] By that time large numbers of Bristol engines and aircraft were being made in Government owned shadow factories and in the Dominions and other foreign countries.[19]

In February 1944 Parliament was advised there were 175 managing agency schemes or shadow factories.[56]

National Archives catalogue entries[edit]

Information concerning the shadow factory plan and shadow sactories 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


  1. ^ S E Little and M S Grieco of Oxford University quoted by Graham Robson in: The Book of the Standard Motor Company, Veloce, 2011, ISBN 978-1-845843-43-4
  2. ^ General Milch On R.A.F. Progress. The Times 25 October 1937; pg. 21; Issue 47824.
  3. ^ Martyn Nutland, p93, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  4. ^ "Shadow Scheme: Morris Motors Ltd". National Archives. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  5. ^ a b White Paper Aero-Engines. The Times, 29 October 1936; pg. 7; Issue 47518
  6. ^ a b Two Schemes Confused. The Times 26 October 1936; pg. 11; Issue 47515
  7. ^ Martyn Nutland, p45, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  8. ^ Martyn Nutland, p65, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  9. ^ "Labour unrest . . . Battle of Britain" The Spectator 14 November 2007
  10. ^ a b c d e f Martyn Nutland, p66, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  11. ^ Martyn Nutland, p97, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  12. ^ Equipment For The R.A.F. The Times, 26 October 1937; pg. 16; Issue 47825
  13. ^ Completing Shadow Factories. The Times, 15 January 1938; pg. 7; Issue 47893
  14. ^ News in Brief. The Times 23 July 1938; pg. 9; Issue 48054.
  15. ^ Great Britain In War-Time. The Times 8 February 1940; pg. 5; Issue 48534
  16. ^ Industrial Scotland. The Times, 23 November 1943; pg. 5; Issue 49710
  17. ^ Defence Forces and Policy. Cooperation with Britain. The Times 26 January 1938; pg. 54; Issue 47902.
  18. ^ a b c Graham Robson: The Book of the Standard Motor Company, Veloce, 2011, ISBN 978-1-845843-43-4
  19. ^ a b Bristol Aeroplane Company. The Times 21 July 1939; pg. 21; Issue 48363
  20. ^ The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited. The Times, 9 November 1939; pg. 14; Issue 48457
  21. ^ Jaguar Cars Ltd. The Times, 27 April 1951; pg. 10; Issue 51986.
  22. ^ Dunlop Research Centre. The Times, 9 June 1950; pg. 2; Issue 51712
  23. ^ Airspeed Limited, The Times, 16 January 1946; pg. 8; Issue 50351
  24. ^ Building R.A.F. Machines. The Times 9 August 1938; pg. 9; Issue 48068
  25. ^ Austin Motor Company. The Times 29 March 1946; pg. 10; Issue 50413
  26. ^ Aero-Engines At Coventry. The Times, 29 September 1936; pg. 16; Issue 47492
  27. ^ Martyn Nutland, p105, Brick by Brick: The Biography of the Man Who Really Made the Mini – Leonard Lord, Authorhouse 2012, ISBN 978-1-4772-0317-0
  28. ^ a b "High Duty Alloys Ltd", Distington Archived 2016-10-27 at Cumbria Archive Service YDB 68
  29. ^ Stokes, Paul (1996). Drakelow Unearthed. BCS/Paul Stokes. pp. 11–12. ISBN 0-904015-40-8.
  30. ^ Sherrard, Peter (2011). Rolls-Royce Hillington: Portrait of a Shadow Factory. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. pp. 108–110. ISBN 978-1-872922-45-4. Historical Series Nº 44.
  31. ^ Malcolm Bobbitt, Page 19, Rover P4 Series, Veloce, ISBN 9781903706572
  32. ^ Faster Bombers. The Times, 3 November 1938; pg. 11; Issue 48142
  33. ^ Dunlop Rubber. The Times 11 June 1945; pg. 10; Issue 50165
  34. ^ Rearmament Surveyed. The Times 3 March 1938; pg. 9; Issue 47933
  35. ^ White Paper On Defence. The Times, 17 February 1937; pg. 8; Issue 47611
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b "London Aircraft Production". London: Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  39. ^ a b c d Group Production Of Halifaxes. The Times, 21 March, 1945; pg. 2; Issue 50097
  40. ^ R.A.F. Bombers Built By L.P.T.B. The Times 7 December 1944; pg. 2; Issue 50010
  41. ^ Peter G Nancy. British Aircraft Manufacturers since 1909 Fonthill Media, 2014. ISBN 9781781552292
  42. ^ Stratton, M.; Trinder, B.S. (2000). Twentieth Century IndustrialArchaeology. E & FN Spon. p. 74. ISBN 9780419246800. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  43. ^ Alvis Limited. The Times, 3 January 1946; pg. 7; Issue 50340
  44. ^ The Rover Company. The Times, 4 January, 1946; pg. 8; Issue 50341
  45. ^ Company Meeting. The Times, 20 July 1940; pg. 9; Issue 48673
  46. ^ a b c James Nye, A Long Time in the Making, OUP 2014 ISBN 978-0-19-871725-6
  47. ^ How 30,000 Jobs Were Created by Sebastian Z. de Ferranti. The Times 23 May 1969; pg. III; Issue 57567
  48. ^ Historic England. "Personnel Lift 2, Spring Quarry (1576642)". PastScape. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  49. ^ Fafnir Factory Opening. The Times, 20 March 1962; pg. 19; Issue 55344
  50. ^ A. C. Cossor Limited. The Times, 24 October 1940; pg. 9; Issue 48755
  51. ^ "Top secret World War II past of Newtown's Lion Works". BBC News. 13 June 2011.
  52. ^ General Electric Company. The Times 19 July 1940; pg. 9; Issue 48672
  53. ^ Industry has only to . . . The Times, 28 March 1973; pg. 30; Issue 58743
  54. ^ Mr. C. H. Tucker. The Times 8 September 1955; pg. 14; Issue 53320
  55. ^ House Of Commons. The Times, 22 June 1939; pg. 8; Issue 48338
  56. ^ Capital Assistance for Industry, House Of Commons. The Times, 10 February 1944; pg. 8; Issue 49776

External links[edit]