Tag Archives: factories

Zeppelin raids and stockbroker soldiers

In this blog post, Jonathan Black, Senior Research Fellow in History of Art at Kingston University and Dan Todman, Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London look at the impact of the war on London and how it is being commemorated in the city.

As the World War One at Home project shows, the experience of Londoners during the conflict was distinctive, partly because of the sheer size of the city. ‘Often during the First World War,’ says Jonathan Black, who is Senior Research Fellow in History of Art at Kingston University, ‘things that were taking place elsewhere in the UK were concentrated and magnified in London. Everything was on a bigger scale, as the capital acted as a magnet for people, money and development.’

There were munitions factories all around the country, for example, and accidents took place in many of them. But the explosion at the Silvertown factory in West Ham created one of the loudest man-made noises that there have ever been. Fifty tons of TNT were detonated, the bang could be heard over 100 miles away, and the resulting fires could be seen for 30 miles: 73 people were killed.

And while Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart is now the place most closely associated with the treatment of shell shock, it was London’s Maudsley Hospital that saw by far the largest number of cases of this newly recognised condition. Craiglockhart looked after officers like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon; the Maudsley dealt primarily with the ordinary soldiers. And it was here that experimental treatments were first tried out – everything from massage and talking cures to electric shock therapy. ‘The lack of understanding of shell shock is shown in the variety of terms used to describe it,’ says Jonathan Black – many in the medical profession preferred to use the terms ‘neurasthenia’ or ‘Not Yet Diagnosed (Nervous).’

Record numbers of women were working in London factories, too. And London being what it was, women there were able to fill some unusual positions, left vacant by men in uniform – Maida Vale on the Bakerloo Line, for example, was the first Tube station to be entirely ‘manned’ by women. At the time, London was the only city in the UK with an underground network.

The civilian war
For Dan Todman, who is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London, it was the German bombing campaign against the city that really made Londoners’ war experience distinctive. ‘I was struck by stories of the raids by Zeppelins and German aeroplanes, many of which were to be echoed in the Second World War. And I was struck by the language that was used about those people who had died in air raids – that theirs was a sacrifice that had to be redeemed by victory.’ With London the principal target of the raids, anti-German feeling ran high among the civilian population: many Londoners continued to refuse to buy German products long after the war had ended.

One possible victim of the Zeppelin bombing in London was the cricketer WG Grace, who suffered a heart attack after one raid. The German airships had made him agitated: when asked why he allowed them to unnerve him, when he had stood up to countless fast bowlers undaunted, Grace replied: ‘I could see those beggars: I can’t see these.’

I could see those beggars: I can’t see these

As Dan Todman points out, though, it’s surprisingly difficult to gauge the impact of the First World War on the majority of working class Londoners. ‘Life during the war was very hard for many of them, and so they didn’t have much time to write about their experiences. It was members of the middle classes who tended to keep diaries, with a sense that they were writing partly for the historical record.’

The World War One at Home project has helped, though, to shed some light on the war experiences of ordinary civilians in London. It has led, for example, to the rediscovery of archives held by the London County Council, which had sent out investigators during the conflict, clearly concerned that the war was leading to social breakdown in the metropolis. Subjects that the investigators looked into include unrest among the cabinet-makers of Hoxton, after the war had put them out of work, and whether women in Lambeth were drinking too much, now that so many of them were alone, with their husbands overseas. ‘We don’t have a baseline for any of this,’ says Dan Todman, ‘to show how much had changed since before the war. But it gives us an idea of what the authorities were concerned about. And the fact that we have such records here is a sign of how well-developed municipal government was in London, compared to other British cities.’

London’s role as the centre of Empire is epitomised, meanwhile, in the story of Joe Clough, who was one of the first people to settle in London from the Caribbean. He became the first black London bus driver, in the face of discrimination – including one false, racially-motivated claim that he had been speeding (at 28 miles an hour). He went on to drive field ambulances for four years near Ypres on the Western Front.

Another distinctive feature of London is the role of the City. Volunteer battalions were raised in the Inns of Court, and among the stockbrokers of Lombard Street. As Dan Todman points out, ‘this was a distinctive feature of the First World War – the voluntary involvement of so many members of the upper middle class professions (many of which were based in London).’

The place of memory
Finally, it is London, of course, which is home to many of the national war memorials that were constructed after the conflict had ended. And so for art historians like Jonathan Black, the war memorials of London hold a special interest: ‘of the 54,000 or so World War One memorials in the UK, only around 300 have figurative sculptures on them, largely because they were expensive. But London has a much higher concentration of sculpture on its memorials than other places in the country.’


Among the memorials that are distinctive to London are the National Submarine War Memorial on the Victoria Embankment, which includes the first attempt to depict the inside of a submarine in sculpture. And round the corner, there is one of the first representations of a camel in a British city, on the memorial of the Imperial Camel Corps, which served in the Middle East.

With the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Cenotaph, and now the field of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, the capital remains the focus of remembrance in the UK.

For further information, please go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01nhwgx


Aircraft built in Lincoln – the home of the tank

In this guest blog, Dan Ellin considers the places and people behind aircraft of the First World War which were built in a city better known for producing tanks.

In the history of warfare and the Great War, the city of Lincoln has become synonymous with the tank. In 1915 William Tritton, the managing director of William Foster & Co and Major Walter Wilson first began drawing designs of was to become the tank in a room in a local hotel. After unsuccessful trials of ‘Little Willie’, ‘Mother’ the prototype of the Mark 1 tank was tested at Burton Park on the outskirts of Lincoln in January 1916. Shortly afterwards the first 100 tanks were ordered, and tanks were first used in on the Western front in September 1916. Tanks were built in William Foster & Co’s Tritton works in Lincoln, but the city’s other engineering firms also played important parts in the war effort. Ruston, Proctor & Co., Robey & Co. and Clayton and Shuttleworth were all involved in aircraft production, with one in fourteen British aircraft being made in Lincoln during the war. The city was one of the top five aircraft manufacturing centres of the Great War with over 5,000 aircraft being constructed in the city’s factories which employed around 6,000 men and women on aircraft work.

Image 1. 1000th Camel at Ruston works.
1000th Sopwith Camel made by Rustons in the factory with workers in the foreground. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

Ruston Proctor & Co. LTD.

First contracted to build B.E.2c aircraft in 1915, Ruston and Proctor built over 2,000 aircraft and more than 3,000 engines in purpose built factory buildings in the Boultham area of the city. The firm was the country’s largest supplier of engines and employed more than 3,000 men and women in aircraft production.

Towards the end of 1915 the company began building the far superior ‘Sopwith 1 ½ strutter’ aircraft, and in 1917, the famous ‘Sopwith Camel’. The Camel was the highest scoring fighter of the war and it took its name from the hump over the two machine guns in front of the pilot. Rustons built the majority of the 5,500 Camels manufactured during the war; by November 1918 the Lincoln firm had completed 1,600. The thousandth model off the assembly line was painted in an Egyptian winged sun theme and used for publicity.


Image 2. Robey Peters fighting machine
Peters in the gun nacelle of the prototype Robey Peters fighting machine. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)

Robey & Co. LTD.

Between 1915 and 1919 Robey & Co. built aircraft for the Admiralty, but were unusual in that they also designed, built and flew prototypes of their own aircraft. The firm began with sub-contracted orders to build the ‘Sopwith Gunbus’, a pusher biplane with the engine to the rear of the aircraft, and later ‘Short 184 Seaplanes’. At peak production they produced one seaplane a day.

The first aircraft Robey designed and built was a single seater scout biplane. The prototype was sent to Hendon, but was never tested as the Gnome rotary engine the designer had hoped to use was not delivered. The company’s most successful prototype, the ‘Robey Peters Fighting Machine’ also never went into production, but two were built and tested. It was intended that the aircraft would be used by the Navy for anti Zeppelin and U-boat patrols. It was a single engine aircraft with a crew of three, the pilot, and two gunners. The gunners were to sit in separate plywood nacelles in the wings. The port nacelle was to be armed with a Lewis gun and thirty rounds of ammunition, while the starboard nacelle was fitted with a seven foot long recoilless Davis gun and ten rounds of 2lb ammunition. The second prototype was intended to be armed with two Davis guns.

Robey Peters Fighting Machine 1 plan. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).
Robey Peters Fighting Machine 1 plan. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

The first prototype flew from Bracebridge Heath near Lincoln in September 1916. Its first flight, a circuit of the airfield was successful, but it overturned on its second flight. On its third test three days later, the engine overheated, the plane caught fire and crashed causing £50 damage to a hospital building. In April 1917 the second prototype stalled on takeoff and crashed on the edge of the airfield.

Robey Peters Fighting Machine 2 plan. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)
Robey Peters Fighting Machine 2 plan. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)
Handley Page 0/400 Bomber and Clayton & Shuttleworth workers. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).
Handley Page 0/400 Bomber and Clayton & Shuttleworth workers. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

Clayton & Shuttleworth LTD.

The company built aircraft on its 100 acre site on the East side of the city. They first built parts for Admiralty airships, but in 1916 they received orders to build the ‘Sopwith Triplane’ and in 1917 ‘Sopwith Camels’. Lincoln’s long association with bomber aircraft arguably began in 1916 when Clayton and Shuttleworth were given an order to produce ‘Handley Page 0/400’ bombers. Prisoners of war were used to build new aircraft shops in which the aircraft were assembled three abreast. The Handley Page 0/400 could carry the 1,650lb (748kg) bomb, the heaviest bomb used by the British during the war and they were so large they had to be flown directly from the factory’s ‘Handley Page field.’ In September 1918 a force of forty Handley Page 0/400s bombed targets in the Saar region of Germany. An order for ‘Vickers Vimy’ bombers was cancelled after the armistice when only three machines had been completed.

Aircraft built in the city were delivered to ‘No.4 Aircraft Acceptance Park’ on Lincoln’s West Common. The landing ground, impractically built on the hillside, overlooked the William Foster’s Tritton works where the first tanks were manufactured, and was only a mile south of the tanks testing ground. William Tritton has been commemorated by ‘Tritton road’ built in the 1970s. Although some industry remains in Lincoln, the Robeys works is now a builders’ merchant and there is an out of town shopping centre along Tritton road where much of Rustons aircraft industry was located. Much of Lincoln’s aircraft manufacturing industry has been forgotten.

Copyright for images in this post remains with the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology.