Oliver Simmonds

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Sir Oliver Edwin Simmonds
Born (1897-11-22)22 November 1897
King's Lynn, Norfolk, England
Died 26 July 1985(1985-07-26) (aged 87)
Guernsey, Channel Islands
Nationality British
Occupation Aircraft engineer, Member of Parliament, Industrialist
Known for Aircraft designs including the Simmonds Spartan
Spouse(s) Gladys E. Hewitt
Children Doreen P. Kay, Geoffrey R. Simmonds, and Janette P. Gailey

Sir Oliver Edwin Simmonds, FRAeS, (1897 – 1985) was a British aviation pioneer, aircraft engineer and Conservative Party politician. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Birmingham Duddeston from 1931 to 1945.[1]

Early life[edit]

Simmonds was born on 22 November 1897 in King's Lynn, Norfolk, the elder son of the Rev Frederick Simmonds, a lawyer by training and a Congregational Minister by avocation. Simmonds was educated at Taunton in Somerset, gaining an Exhibition in History to Magdalene College Cambridge. In early 1916, with the required parental approval, he volunteered to join the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot. He was trained at Weybridge, Surrey, home of Brooklands the famous racing car track. He received his wings and in March 1916 and joined 25 Squadron in France. He piloted a FE 2 B, a light bomber and observation aircraft. Arthur Tedder, later an Air Marshall and Deputy Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces in Northern Europe in 1944/45, was also a member of 25 Squadron at that time. He was flying a single seat scout plane. Simmonds went up to Cambridge in 1919. He switched from reading History to Engineering, earning his degree in 1922. While at Cambridge he joined the Cambridge University Aeronautical Society, becoming its Honorary Secretary. (Hon. Sec. of the Royal Aircraft Establishmentuncertain of this fact. Aero Club of South Farnborough, Hampshire.

Aviation career[edit]

Oliver Simmonds joined the Royal Aircraft Factory on leaving Cambridge University in 1922. During his time at Farnborough, Simmonds wrote a joint paper with the only female engineer there on the results of a test in the Wind Tunnel in which an air foil was exposed to the passage of air at speeds in excess of the speed of sound. Simmonds was then transferred to the Air Worthiness Dept, which was responsible for approving and granting a British Certificate of Airworthiness to each newly designed aircraft. This position required him to visit the design offices of all the British Aircraft designers, where he saw first hand all the new design ideas that were evolving. After the US won the Schneider Trophy in 1924 at a speed of about 240 mph, the British Air Ministry called for a new monoplane challenger that could achieve 300 mph in level flight. In a search for new talent, R.J Mitchell at Supermarine interviewed Simmonds and invited him to join the design team. In the 1960s, while talking to another former Schneider team member, he was reminded how the fuselage diameter of the S5 was determined. Simmonds had asked one of the team to put a piece of plywood vertically against the wall. He then sat on the floor with his back to the plywood, while a colleague drew a line around his body. This became the fuselage diameter. Simmonds was a small man physically, which is the reason that the RAF pilots chosen to fly the aircraft were of a similar stature. This Supermarine series of aircraft won the Schneider Trophy in 1927, 1929 and 1931, thereby winning it outright. The last of the Series, the S6B was the first aircraft to exceed 400 mph in level flight,over the Solent, on 23 September 1931, piloted by Lt George Stainforth. In the following years under contract to the Air Ministry, Supermarine built a number of fighter prototypes based on the Schneider Cup Series design, eventually producing the superb Spitfire. During Simmonds time with Supermarine, he had begun, in his spare time, working on the design of a new light aircraft, which he later named the Spartan. It had interchangeable wings and interchangeable tail surfaces, a particular advantage in export markets. This resulted in a disagreement between Simmonds and Supermarine and the former announced in July 1928 that he was leaving Supermarine to form his own company to produce the Spartan.

In 1928 Simmonds formed two companies: Simmonds Aircraft, Ltd.— Capital £20,000, in £1 shares. With the purpose of acquiring interests in patents, licences, concessions and the like held or to be held by the Simmonds Interchangeable Wing Co., Ltd., and to acquire from O. E. Simmonds licences relating to the building, manufacture, design, sale or otherwise of the Simmonds Spartan Light Aeroplane, Chairman and permanent managing director: O. E. Simmonds. Solicitors : Rowe and Wilkie, 7, Queen Street, E.C.4. and Simmonds Interchangeable Wing Co., LTD.—Capital £100, in £1 shares. Under agreement with O. E. Simmonds, to acquire interests in any invention relating to the design, manufacture or use of aircraft on aircraft parts, in particular, interests in any patents, licenses, concessions and the like held by the said O. E. Simmonds. Chairman and managing director : O. E. Simmonds. Solicitor : C. F. Simmonds, 40/44, Holborn Viaduct, E.C. 1 Simmonds raised the Capital for Simmonds Aircraft by selling a 50% interest to Whitehall Securities in London, a Cowdray company. The company proceeded to produce a significant number of Spartan's and also De Havilland Moths under license. In 1931, as the US depression began to be felt in Britain, Simmonds sold his interest in the Company to Whitehall Securities Corporation, who merged the business with Saunders Roe, Ltd, in which they were already majority shareholders. When the first Simmonds Spartan was rolled out in 1929, Simmonds was able to announce the company had orders for 54 Spartans and had a contract to produce the Blackburn ?


In 1931 Oliver Simmonds decided to pursue other interests, and enter politics as a Conservative. He was elected at the 1931 general election as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Birmingham Duddeston, defeating the sitting Labour Party MP George Sawyer.[2] He held the seat until his defeat at the 1945 general election.[2] In the House Simmonds spoke on aviation, workers' conditions and Civil Defense. With other MP's he visited Spain during the Civil War there, to study the effects of aerial warfare on the civil population. On his return to Britain he formed the Air Raid Precautions Institute, of which he was the first President. This institute developed recommendations on the steps that would be necessary for the protection of the civilian population. in the event of war.[citation needed]

Simmonds Aerocessories[edit]

In 1931, following the sale of Simmonds Aircraft, Simmonds went to Paris to attend the annual Air Show at Le Bourget, which included a large fixed display of aircraft equipment suppliers. One of these was the Coursey Company which made push pull controls for use in operating aircraft control surfaces. The design of these were ingenious for their day in that you could push significant loads, as well as pull them. As Simmonds described it later, he did an instant market survey and realized this product could end the use of bell cranks and levers to control aircraft flight surfaces. He negotiated an exclusive license to produce and sell these devices in all the world except France.

Returning to Britain he set about forming Simmonds Aerocessories Ltd, entering into a manufacturing arrangement with Accles and Shelvoke in Birmingham and establishing a sales and administrative office in London. He soon had many customers.

In about 1933, Simmonds took ship for the USA and followed up with some of the US contacts he had made back in the Schneider Trophy days. One of these contacts showed him a new nut, which was unique in that it had a red fiber insert, which caused the nut to retain its position on a bolt, irrespective of vibration. Simmonds realized this nut, being produced by the Elastic Stop Nut Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio had the potential to do away with cotter pins, which at that time were used on virtually all aircraft fasteners. The holder of the worldwide patents was a Swede named Renefelt. After a number of meetings Simmonds obtained an exclusive license for the rest of the world, with the exception of the USA and Sweden. The two licenses for the Push Pull Control and the Elastic Stop Nut became the basis of the company's early rapid growth. In the second half of the 1930s Simmonds established his own manufacturing facilities in the UK, France, Poland, the USA and Australia. Offices were also established in Canada.

Following the outbreak of WW II, manufacturing facilities were rapidly expanded to meet growing demand. By this time the company had built its own headquarters and a major manufacturing facility on the Great West Rd in Brentford. Large manufacturing facilities were then acquired at Treforest, near Cardiff in Glamorganshire. The company also later took over the space owned by the Coty Cosmetics Company, also on the Great West Rd and further space in Sunderland.

In the late 1930s Simmonds had become the exclusive British and European licensee for the aircraft fuel gauging systems produced by the Liquidometer Corporation of New York, USA. It soon became apparent from flight tests that measuring fuel quantity with a float gauge was not very useful in an aircraft like a fighter that in combat was seldom in straight and level flight. As part of the company's entry into this market segment, Simmonds had hired a refugee Polish engineer. Between the two of them they conceived how such measurements might be done electrically thereby providing much greater accuracy, irrespective of an aircraft's flight attitude. They went on to patent and produce such a system, called Pacitor. The first British aircraft to use this system was the country's first jet fighter, called the Meteor, which first saw combat in 1944, chasing and shooting down many German V I unmanned missiles heading for London.

These Pacitor fuel gauging systems were licensed to the US Simmonds company and became the basis of that company evolving after WW II from producing mainly mechanical products to moving first to electro-mechanical products and finally in the 1960s to mostly electronic products.

After the end of WW II new orders for all military aircraft came to an abrupt halt. Simmonds decided to consolidate all its greatly reduced operations at its Treforest factory, near Cardiff. In 1947 British Overseas Airways (B.O.A.C.) took over the former Simmonds works on the Great West Road, London. These facilities had been built in the Art Deco style. British Airways later moved its operations to Heathrow and in 1955 the buildings were acquired by Beecham as their headquarters for Beecham Group Ltd. Since 2000, the building has recently been developed into executive apartments by Barratt and has been renamed Simmonds House. At the top of the main entrance tower is a sculpture of an angel/airman by Eric Gill who designed and created the famous sculpture of Prospero and Ariel on Broadcasting House and the typeface Gill Sans.after the latter moved the balance of all its UK aviation business to the Treforest factory, Cardiff.

In 1947 the Electric and General Industrial Trusts, Ltd., of which Mr. C. W. Hayward was chairman, bought the entire share capital of Simmonds Aerocessories, Ltd., and Simmonds Products, Ltd. It took over the responsibility for marketing and manufacturing all the products formerly produced by Simmonds Aerocessories in the UK including all the Simmonds parent company's developments in instrumentation for aircraft and other applications. Sir Oliver retained his interests in Simmonds Development Corp., Ltd, which held many of the Simmonds patents.[3] Sir Oliver retained his interests in the US, Canadian and French businesses. This last was also sold in the late 1940s to a French Company.[4]

Simmonds Aerocessories was the original manufacturer of surform tools.

On selling his Simmonds / Spartan companies Oliver Simmonds established Simmonds Aerocessories.[5] As the company grew it expanded its interests to producing aircraft controls and a fuel measurement tool that became a standard in the industry. Under his auspices the company grew rapidly spreading across all of Europe as a multi-national and then worldwide into Canada, the US and Australia.[6] In 1941 Simmonds Aerocessories built a one-off target drone the OQ-11 which was tested by the USAAF.


In 1948, Simmonds sold his British-based interests and moved to The Bahamas. He immediately became involved in starting a construction company and undertook the development of the Balmoral Beach Club,[7] a luxurious hotel on Cable Beach more recently known as Sandals Royal Bahamian resort. In its celebrity heyday, the hotel cultivated a relaxed, sophisticated atmosphere and hosted notable guests such as The Beatles who were here to film the movie Help!. Other luminary Balmoral guests included Richard Nixon and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson.[8]

Sir Oliver Simmonds also lent his energies to helping stabilize the hotel industry by becoming the President of The Hotel Employer Association and then the President of The Friends of The Bahamas, an organization encouraging the recognition of Bahamian creative talent in the hotel and music industries. Sir Oliver would later help The Lou Adams Orchestra[9] to become the first Bahamian band to perform in the dining room of the British Colonial Hotel, at a time when it was unheard of for local bands to perform in the dining room of any hotel in The Bahamas. Until this time, Bahamian bands could play by the pool areas and maybe the bars, but the dining halls were off limits to local artists. These dining rooms would have Broadway shows that would change each week when the cruise ships arrived at the seaport in Nassau. Sir Oliver built 'High Tor' with its 18-foot gracious high ceiling rooms it was designed with care and with an eye to detail still apparent to this day. Sir Oliver imported English oak panels for doors and an 18th-century carved wooden fireplace as well as many other decorative items. He was an inventor and engineer, there are still features existing today that were considered innovative when he designed them such as the floating spiral staircase and the enormous windows that slide down to disappear completely into the floor. He lived in High Tor until 1963 and he continued to live in Lyford Cay until 1977.

4CYTE[10] (foresight)[edit]

Sir Oliver invented a game club. The President of the club was Sir Oliver Simmonds, and he was the first 4CYTE champion. The International 4 CYTE Champions' Club is an unincorporated association owned by the International Parlour Games Corporation Limited, Nassau, Bahamas. Each player has an identical set of letters and a six-by-six grid. Players alternate calling letters and placing them on their respective grids. Each player may hold one letter as a stand by. When the grids are filled, the players score the six rows, six column, and two diagonals. When a player has spelled a word that is at least three letters long that player receives points for that scoring line. Longer words are worth more points. The player with the most points wins. In the solitaire version, a player selects thirty six letters and moves them around at will to score a personal best.[11]



  1. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "D" (part 2)[self-published source][better source needed]
  2. ^ a b Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918-1949 (3rd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-06-X. 
  3. ^ Google Patents: oliver edwin simmonds
  4. ^ Flight magazine 1947
  5. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1946/apr/16/messrs-simmonds-aerocessories-limited |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 421. Commons. 16 April 1946. col. 2522–2523. 
  6. ^ Advertisement in Flight magazine, 16 July 1942
  7. ^ http://www.balmoralbahamas.com/index.htm
  8. ^ Sylvain, Rick (31 March 1985). "A Hot Spot To Cool Out Near Nassau". Chicago Tribune. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved 8 January 2012. The Royal Bahamian, 10 minutes from Nassau, could pass for the tropical, baronial estate of some tycoon who hit it big in sugar or pineapples or something. Certainly, it is the most exclusive and fashionable resort in the Bahamas... 
  9. ^ http://bahamasentertainers.com/Artist/LouAOrch/la_bio.html
  10. ^ http://www.boardgamegeek.com/images/thing/8032
  11. ^ http://www.1stingames.com/rules/4cyte/index.pdf

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Francis Sawyer
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Duddeston
Succeeded by
Edith Agnes Wills