World War One
Isle of Innovation Then & Now
The First World War has faded from living memory and yet its effects are still felt today in families and communities around the World. On the Isle of Wight all families were affected by the Great War, which proved to be a long and often painful road from the Victorian and Edwardian eras to more recent times. Society The war changed much in society and provided a spur to the development of new technologies. The Island saw growing confidence among women who had taken up often physical and dangerous jobs in war industries, shipbuilding and munitions and served as nurses abroad and at home. Their war experiences helped them to get the vote for women, develop their independence and begin to address the inequities of a highly stratified social class structure. Technology The needs of the Forces for new weaponry and communications demanded a great deal from the Islandâ€™s industries. From ship and boat building traditions came aircraft, fast boats and eventually rockets and satellites. Exhibition This exhibition explores some of these innovations over the past 100 years.
Wight Aviation The aviation division of J. Samuel White J. Samuel White were long-established shipbuilders of Cowes and became involved in the development of aviation in 1912. The British Government and Admiralty had ignored the potential of aircraft since the Wright brothers' first controlled powered flight in 1903. When the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Bleriot in 1909 showed that Britain was vulnerable to airborne attack the Government suddenly became aware of the strategic danger of airpower. J. Samuel Whiteâ€™s shipyard was already a major supplier of ships to the Royal Navy and was well placed to develop and supply the new technology. Whites employed the English engineer Howard Theophilus Wright, who had won much praise for his work in the 1910 Olympia Aviation Exhibition, to design and develop their aircraft division.
The Isle of Wight had a pool of workmen skilled in boatbuilding and crafting large structures, many already employed by J. Samuel White. Aircraft production started in 1912 at the Gridiron Shed at East Cowes under Howard Wright as general manager and chief designer. The combination of Admiralty support, looming war with Germany and a respected designer should have led to considerable success but this was not to be in the longer term. Under wartime conditions Whites built many aircraft but they were not as effective as designs supplied by Geoffrey de Havilland, Tom Sopwith, Sam Saunders and the Short Brothers and so after the war Whiteâ€™s aviation division did not flourish, finally closing in 1918.
White's Landplane 1916. Bomber prototype No. 9841 at Somerton airfield.
Number 2 Navyplane 1913 The model shown here is of the 3rd version of one of the first Wight aircraft introduced by Howard Wright, although the design was heavily Influenced by W.O. Manning. The first aircraft of the series was wrecked during takeoff of its maiden flight. This was possibly Howard Wrightâ€™s first and only attempt at piloting an aircraft. Subsequent to this event his interest in aviation declined although he spent much effort on filing patents. This aircraft is said to have pleased Winston Churchill greatly, although there were no government contracts for additional aircraft of the type.
Number 2 Navyplane taking off at Cowes 1913
Number 2 Navyplane on the slipway at the Gridiron Yard East Cowes 1913
Admiralty type 840 seaplane 1915 â€“ 1916 This aircraft design was intended for coastal defence work using a Sunbeam 225 hp engine and a tractor propeller. The initial order for 6 examples was followed by a contract for a further 52 machines, many of which were subcontracted to Beardmore (22) and Portholm (20). Wight Type 840 seaplane just after launching on the Medina.
The aircraft was said to have provided good solid service and was capable of carrying a 14 Inch Torpedo. It was developed by Wight Aviation to an Admiralty specification.
Wight Aviation Wight Quadruplane 1916 This was a single seat fighter aircraft driven by a tractor propeller mounted on a Clerget 110 hp rotary engine. The aircraft was equipped with synchronised twin Vickers .303 machine guns which could fire directly through the propeller arc. The use of 4 wings can be traced from the successful adoption by both Sopwith and Fokker of triplane (3 wing) configurations which proved to have excellent manoeuvrability. Howard Wright went one better and added a fourth wing below the fuselage. This was mounted very low, in line with the undercarriage axle and caused considerable problems with take off and landing owing to the restricted ground clearance. Howard Wright used his patented multi-camber aerofoil design for the wings despite tests showing that these caused far greater drag than a conventional convex curved upper surface. The Quadruplaneâ€™s wing design and layout proved grossly inefficient and initial flight tests showed significant difficulty with takeoff and a dangerous lack of control of yaw. The second example of the aircraft received a taller undercarriage to improve ground clearance and a much larger tail fin and rudder which greatly improved lateral control. The third and final version of the aircraft had the wingspan decreased from top to bottom wings so that the lower ones were smaller. The aircraftâ€™s modifications were not a success and it crashed into a cemetery. One example still exists at the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton. It is the only known surviving example of a Wight Aviation aircraft.
Wight Quadruplane 1916. Second version at Somerton airfield.
Admiralty Type 1000 (Project began in 1914, completed May 1916) Because of J Samuel White's close links to the Admiralty Wight Aviation concentrated on supply of aircraft to to the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) The Admiralty type 1000 was designed by Harris Booth, who was strongly supported within the Admiralty by Captain Murray Sueter, superintendent of aircraft construction. Booth created a series of ugly and under-performing aircraft including the type 1000. The design was intended to be a large offensive aircraft and the Admiralty insisted on additions such as armour plating to the floats, engine, radiators and crew positions, as well as attempting to install a very large and unsuitable 12lb naval gun. Aircraft number 1358 was even fitted with an enclosed bullet-proof glass cabin. These modifications and additions were far too heavy for the power available from the aircraft engines of the day. Its second flight was to Felixstowe RNAS for assessment, when it took 15 miles to become airborne. It arrived needing to be towed into Felixstowe by the Clacton lifeboat. Attempts were made to fit more powerful engines but it still would not fly and was abandoned.
Wight Type 1000, No. 1358 at Cowes
Wight Type 1000, No. 1358 at Felixstowe Wight No. 2 at the Gridiron Shed East Cowes
J S White Shipbuilding Yard West Cowes “White's built - Well built”
J Samuel White was the oldest shipbuilder on the Admiralty List. The company built 252 vessels for the Royal Navy. The company produced highly innovative Destroyers as well as Frigates, Torpedo boats, Patrol boats, Lifeboats and even Submarines. The firm began at Broadstairs, Kent in the middle of the Eighteenth Century, founded by John White (1732-1801). At first they built fast Revenue Cutters for the Excise Service which were used against smugglers along the South Coast of England. The firm also built larger ships including East Indiamen for trading to the Far East as well as fishing vessels. Thomas White (1773-1859), John White’s eldest son, moved the company to East Cowes in 1801. New ideas could be developed at East Cowes as there was deep water on the River Medina allowing larger ships to be built. Proximity to the Naval Base at Portsmouth also ensured that Whites was close to their main customer.
The Brothers, 1922 Penlee Lifeboat
Thetis Yard & Drydock at West Cowes were opened in 1815. In 1845, following large scale draining of marshland, they became the Medina Yard where they developed a self righting lifeboat, eventually building more than 700 of these craft.
J S White Shipbuilding Yard West Cowes First World War J. Samuel White built 27 Destroyers, 11 Patrol Vessels, six of which were `Q` Ships (warships that looked like cargo ships) 2 Submarines and 60 small craft during the First World War.
Top - Q Ship - a decoy ship with a concealed gun
HMS Broke, originally built by J.S. White as Almirante Goni for the Chilean Navy
Lower - Submarine E32
Torpedo boat 34, built 1886 by J.S. White
The Whitehead Torpedo, perfected in 1866, significantly altered naval capabilities and tactics and prompted Whites to develop a fast attack vessel capable of carrying and deploying these new weapons. In 1881, a 42 foot pinnace was built with the unique feature of having a rudder either end. This was the â€œTurnaboutâ€? torpedo boat which was extremely manoeuvrable capable of turning 360 degrees in 30 seconds enabling the speedy aim of torpedoes. The Admiralty were impressed, which led to Whites improving the design further. In 1886, 125ft Torpedo Boat No 34, was built.
Torpedo boat 116, built 1903 by J.S. White
J S White Shipbuilding Yard West Cowes Local importance of J.S. White By the middle of the Nineteenth Century the population of both East and West Cowes stood at around 10,000, with 500 craftsmen employed by Whites. This increased to around 2,000 by the start of the First World War, rising to 4000 as the war progressed. Almost every family in Cowes relied on White's yard for employment. Working conditions Working at Whites was a demanding job with many hazards in the yard. Health & Safety regulations were very limited and consequently accidents and injuries were common and deafness widespread. Working hours In 1906, the working week was 54 hours; Monday to Friday 6am to 5pm with a break for breakfast and lunch. Saturdays were 6am to Midday with a 45minute breakfast break. Sick pay This was required by law in 1906 for workers off sick. The rates were half pay up to 20 shillings (ÂŁ1) for over 21years old and 10 shillings (50p) for under 21`s.
Frank James Hospital â€“ East Cowes Workers also contributed to running of the Frank James Hospital. All those earning 30 shillings and upwards paid 2 pence per week, 24 to 29 shillings, 1.5 pence and 23 shillings and under, paid a penny a week. There were 20 shillings to a pound or 240 pre-decimal pennies to a Pound.
Frank James Hospital, September 2018, convertion into apartments
J S White Shipbuilding Yard West Cowes The Inter-war Years 1918-1939 At the end of the First World War, orders from the Admiralty dried up and the yard reduced working hours and many were laid off. J.S. White had to diversify into commercial vessels, ferries, tugs, barges, colliers and other vessel types. The RNLI gave them a big order for self-righting lifeboats.
Foreign Navies In 1924, Whites were awarded a contract from the Greek Government to refit four Destroyers. In 1928, the Argentine Government had three Flotilla Leader Destroyers built. 1936 saw the two Polish vessels, built, the Grom (Thunder) and the Blyskawica (Lightning). Anti-aircraft fire from Blyskawica on 4th May 1942 during a Luftwaffe air raid helped to protect Cowes.
Docking pontoon for flying boats operating from Southampton in the 1930s.
ORP Blyskawica; preserved in Gdynia, Poland.
Steam Yachts, Lightships & Fireboats Luxury yachts for the very rich were built, including the Xarifa III for the owner of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Lightships were built for the Calcutta Port Trust and Trinity House. The fireboat Massey Shaw was built in 1935 and played a vital role in the Second World War putting out fires in London.
Cowes floating bridge No. 3
Local vessels Cowes Floating Bridge No 2 was built in 1925 and No 3 was built in 1936. The Southern Railway Company Paddle Steamer Freshwater operating between Yarmouth and Lymington was built in 1927.
J S White Shipbuilding Yard West Cowes The Legacy Following the end of the Second World War, all Admiralty contracts were cancelled including five Destroyers that were to be built. Once again , Whites turned to building merchant vessels as shipping companies were renewing their fleets following War losses.
Times of boom and bust Susan Constant was the largest Merchant vessel launched in 1957 at 3466 grt. In 1958 Trinity House ordered four Buoy Tenders, Mermaid, Siren, Stella and Winston Churchill. This was followed by an order for two ferries for the Weymouth to the Channel Islands route. They were the Sarnia and the Caesarea (the Latin names for Guernsey and Jersey).
Caesarea, Channel Islands ferry
By the early 1960s the situation changed and the boatbuilding shed closed in 1964. Shipbuilding at Falcon Yard finished in 1965 and the workforce were made redundant before the 1965 Redundancy Pay Act came into force. J.S. White continued to build steam turbines for the Royal Navy until 1969. Whites then became Licensee for Elliot Turbomachinery Company and in 1972, the US Carrier Corporation took over running the Yard. On the 20th April 1977, the Company name changed from J.Samuel White to Elliot Turbomachinery Company.
HMS Arethusa was the last vessel built for the Admiralty; the 252nd over 269 years of Shipbuilding.
There has been nearly 200 years of shipbuilding and engineering in Cowes. Shed 117 now houses the Classic Boat Museumâ€™s internationally important collection of boats.
Fast boats to torpedo boats The Thornycroft family Sir John I Thornycroft and his family moved to the Isle of Wight, building a state of the art test tank at Steyne Battery Bembridge. The Thornycrofts continued to develop the design of high speed craft, the advent of powerful internal combustion engines making fast stepped hull designs practical. This led to the first fast Torpedo Boats for the Royal Navy
Indoor test tank built in 1909, under the control of Blanche & Sir John Thornycroft, in Bembridge at the Steyne Battery. The design was copied by the National Physical laboratory.
Ship models were towed along the tank by means of wires and fine cord. A descending weight applied constant force to the winding drum to ensure consistent model performance. This would enable the tested hull designs to be carefully evaluated. The winding gear also incorporated a smoked disk onto which a stylus recorded force and speed data.
Blanche Thornycroft was an outstanding mathematician and Engineer. She is holding a disk used to record the forces experienced by a test model hull. Test Tank Model A typical test tank model which is adjustable to allow tests to be made at variable angles of â€˜stepâ€™ in the hull design.
Fast boats to torpedo boats Stepped hull tank test models used to develop fast planing hulls for fast craft such as torpedo boats.
Thornycroft Torpedo Boat (below). The torpedo was launched from the rear of the boat with the explosive device pushing the torpedo aft of the boat. As the torpedo would immediately run under its own power following its launch, the boat then had to turn rapidly to avoid the armed torpedo now on its way to the target.
Thornycroft design drawing for an explosive torpedo launching mechanism.
Thornycroft stepped hull torpedo boat
The Royal Naval College Osborne 1903 - 1921 The college was opened at Osborne in 1903 to train all officer cadets aged 12 - 14 in engineering skills. A new training college was needed quickly as Britain was building many more warships.
Until 1903 engineers had been considered as lower class, men who got their hands dirty. Officers did not. “It was borne upon us that everyone had to know at least something of the other man’s job and the upper deck officer had to know the problems of the engineer and the conditions under which the stokers worked.” Capt H Gairdner
First Sea Lord, Lord Selbourne decided that every officer entering the Navy should study engineering until he was a sub-lieutenant. He could then opt to be either an Engineering Officer or Executive Officer. This was an innovative idea and by 1914 gave the Navy a core of young officers who either were interested in engineering or at least understood the engines of their vessels.
Royal Naval College
Osborne would be the ideal location, handy for Portsmouth and with Crown Land available for modern engineering workshops by the Medina River. The stables of Osborne House were converted to classrooms for general education. The coach house became the dining room. 12 prefabricated dormitories each accommodating 36 boys, were rapidly built. There was a large gymnasium, numerous sports facilities, and staff accommodation for over a hundred men. Dormitory accommodating 36 boys
The Engineering Works and classrooms were built by the river linked to Osborne by a path, now called Cadet’s Walk. A naval vessel, HMS Racer, was allotted to the college for nautical training and moored near the Engineering works. “Part of the engineering course was to go out on the steam vessel. We got taken down to the engine room, slightly oily and hot smells down there. I can remember rolling about and feeling increasingly seasick in the middle of the Solent while the engineer officer lectured to us on what we had learnt academically ashore.” Cdr W O Bradbury
HMS Racer. Osborne House album of Mr Bossier
The Royal Naval College Engineering Workshops Cadets learning about boilers. “We had lectures on simple engineering, boilers, turbines, reciprocating engines, and the relatively new Benz-petrol engines.” Lt Cdr P Barlow
Plan of the engineering works c1915 Carpentry in the pattern shop
Cadets practising engineering skills.
“The curriculum at Kingston included pattern making, turning with a lathe, use of all tools – metal and woodwork – and each cadet made something of his own choice – calipers or the like.” Capt G A French
“Time at the engineering works was very useful to me all my life because it really did give a good background of what goes on in a steam ship.” Vice Admiral J C S Salter
The engineering workshop.
The Royal Naval College Osborne 1903 - 1921 “We are … an improvement on any [college] of its kind ever known before.” From the Osborne magazine, Easter 1904, following a visit from the King and the Prince of Wales.
What were the results of this innovative college?
The Academic staff
The establishment of the engineering workshops at Kingston by the Medina River was a vital new part of training Naval Cadets. By 1914 there were young officers with a much better understanding of technical engineering. This number increased as the First World War progressed. After the First World War, the demand for Naval Cadets was reduced and all four years of training could be accommodated at Britannia College, Dartmouth. Osborne College was closed in 1921.
Cadets outside the Stable block
In all, 3,967 boys started their naval careers at the Royal Naval College Osborne. By the time the Second World War started, these men were Captains and Admirals, the men in command. The executive branch now had a strong respect for the work of the engineer.
Stable block was converted to classrooms, with libraries later built above.
Engineer Officers were no longer treated as “second class citizens,” but as equals. This was beneficial and assisted in the success of the Royal Navy in the years after the First World War.
The water towers. One is now a music studio.
Hammerhead Crane 1911 : Crane Heralds bright future for Island shipbuilding The Hammerhead Crane was built by Babcock and Wilcox in 1911 into the new Quayâ€™s foundations of 1909. This heralded a new era of large ship construction at J.S. White in Cowes. The crane lifting capacity of more than 80 tons enabled the building and fitting out of large warships. In particular, installing the new heavy White - Forster boilers, and turbines. Building orders for naval destroyers during and in the lead up to WW1 meant a large workforce with high-level shipyard skills was developed on a substantial scale. In 1914 about 2000 men worked at the yard which doubled by the end of the war in 1918.
The Hammerhead crane Jib under some urgent repairs. The jib allows the carriage and hook to lift and place heavy loads, it is operated via an electric motor that moves the carriage along its length using strong wire cables.
The Giant Hammerhead Cantilever Crane lifts one of the White - Forster high pressure boilers into the Almirante Lynch destroyer being fitted out at the West Cowes new quay.
The Almirante Lynch was one of six super type destroyers ordered by the Chilean Navy before the First World War. At the time they were the world's largest destroyers. Four of the ships were requisitioned by the Royal Navy just prior to their completion at the outbreak of WW1.
Hammerhead crane carriage and hook mechanism
Hammerhead Crane Torpedoes & boiler design secure JS White Shipyards The Torpedo was invented by engineer Robert Whitehead. They were used via small torpedo boats, initially with the tubes placed on deck and launched sideways. Torpedo Boats were created to counter battleships and other slower heavily armed ships. They posed a threat to much larger vessels and fleets.
The use of torpedo boats in the late 19th century was a concern to the Royal Navy. To respond they needed smaller battleships to counter this with quick fire armament. These became "torpedo boat destroyers" and in early WW1 were deployed to scout enemy fleets, beat back warships with cannon fire and launch torpedos at battleships and cruisers.
The giant Hammerhead crane
Better armament, speed and agility became a requirement so such boats soon became much larger ships – Destroyers. HMTB 1-5
The White - Forster Boiler Andrew Foster was the inventor of what became known as the "White-Forster" water-tube high pressure boiler. This was supplied to the Royal Navy and several foreign navies. There were also the "White-Forster "automatic feed-water regulator", and the "Dummyless" turbine, oil fuel sprayers, and numerous other engineering components.
The tube curve design and method of their installation of the White – Forster boiler enabled replacement of tubes needed as part of running repairs at sea.
Using the lifting capacity of the new Hammerhead Crane, the new high pressure large boiler designs aided significant changes in ship construction and enabled fast, manoeuvrable and large destroyers to be built at White’s Shipyard.
Hammerhead Crane Crane Lifts War Effort – JS White ships in action
HMS Broke ramming the German Destroyer G42 at Dover Straits battle by Montague Dawson
IW CM S.1993.48
Battle of Dover HMS Broke was involved at the Battle of Dover Straits in 1917, as Destroyer leader alongside HMS Swift. This action was to thwart a raid by six German destroyers to bombard Dover. In the battle, Broke deliberately rammed the German destroyer G42 almost breaking it in two. The two ships became locked together with some fighting at close quarters on Broke’s deck until she managed to break free. G42 sank, some of the other German destroyers escaped. Badly damaged, HMS Broke was towed home by another ship in the small Flotilla.
HMS Broke’s action was recognized - Captain Evans ‘of the Broke’ was awarded the DSO, becoming a popular hero. She was in action again in the English Channel in early 1918, off Flanders and rammed and sank German Torpedo Boat A19. Broke was then torpedoed in error by French destroyer, Capitaine Mehl, and forced to limp home.
Women in WW1 The role of the WW1 nurse is still being uncovered today. Showing tremendous strength and courage, these nurses stepped out of the Edwardian drawing room to tend to wounded soldiers, many not yet grown men. The War Illustrated magazine noted “the part that women play in the war has continued to increase in importance.” In stiff caps, Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses or the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) nurses would become vital in the care of injured soldiers, experiencing the horror of war. The innovative VAD was formed in August 1909 by the British Red Cross in preparation for war. Initially they were trained to care for the wounded as they were being taken to hospitals and serve meals at train stations for soldiers. Later they branched out into a variety of roles that resulted in some being posted overseas to places such as France, Egypt, Gallipoli, Belgium, Malta, and Mesopotamia.
War Illustrated 22 August 1914
One of the wounded treated at Northwood House was, Frederick Turner, a driver with the Royal Field Artillery, who had been sent to Belgium in the first week of October 1914. He wrote a thank you poem to the staff at Northwood House.
Red Cross nurses at Newport in 1914.
Women also bravely left the Island to work overseas. Isabella Dickinson had been a nurse in the Park House Sick Quarters of the Royal Naval College from 1907 to 1915. She went on to become a Red Cross VAD nurse and eventually a QAIMNS nurse. She served in France, Serbia and Egypt placing herself at considerable risk. She earned herself a medal from King George V and King Peter of Serbia. By 1918 over 80000 VAD nurses and 10000 QAIMNS had contributed to the war.
My thanks I can’t express in words, Please kindly take for granted, If I possessed a thousand tongues All day it should be chanted. I hope that when these lines you read, My duty ne’er I shun Please one and all take thanks from mePoor return for what you’ve done. The Sisters and the Nurses all Have striven very hard To make my stay a pleasant one, And thankful is this Bard. Tho’ but gunner I may be And I am far away, They pleasant mem’ries will recall Of my brief Northwood stay. He died of his wounds on 24th October 1914 and was buried in Northwood Cemetery on 28th October.
Headstone of Frederick Turner, Northwood Cemetery, Cowes
Women in WW1 The French Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, was given to Margaret Cranfield of Freshwater, in 1999 when she was 102. At the time she was thought to be the only surviving female to serve in France. In 1915 she worked with army ambulances, ferrying wounded soldiers to field hospitals in the Calais area. It was there she met her husband whom she married a month after Armistice Day. In the interwar years nurses continued to be trained as VADs as their role had proven to be so vital in WW1. Jessie (known as Kit or Kate) Woodford trained as a VAD nurse with the Red Cross and went on to work at the Frank James Hospital for many years.
Margaret Cranfield of Freshwater, in 1999 when she was 102
Just before 11pm on 4th May 1942 German planes were in the sky. Their target was Cowes and East Cowes, centres of shipbuilding and aircraft for the war effort.
Nursing in nothing more than a tent. VAD nurses Springhill, 1929.
Maisie Frampton tells of the horrific night that she experienced as a ten year old: "Somehow we knew that this one was for us. My father leaned across and took my hand and my mother leant across me covering me with her arms. Our shelters had received a direct hit by a massive bomb.’ The young boy (Ernie Glass) who was living with them died along with 19 others in the two shelters.
Margaret during WW2 when she was involved in ARP
Molly Gustar, a VAD nurse experienced horrific things during the raid she was the one to discover the body of Ernie - an experience that never quite left her. She demanded that the Osborne Convalescent Home should accommodate the wounded in the air raid. At first refused, but eventually relented
Women, Weapons of War Early on in World War One nursing was considered an acceptable job for a woman. After conscription was introduced in January 1916 many more women joined the workplace, including engineering works like JS Whites. Field Marshal Joseph Joffre wrote, “If the women in the factories stopped work for twenty minutes, the Allies would lose the war.” Millions of women across the country took up the call to join the fight at home, keeping the country and the war itself sustained. Without the women working in such places, the war would have been lost. The beginning of the war saw an explosion of energy from thousands of women on the Isle of Wight who demanded to work to help the War Effort. Many jobs were becoming vacant with men being killed or going to war JS Whites munition girls tug of war team 1918
Innovation, no matter how grimy and desolate it appeared at that moment, was beginning to form. Eva Dunford, a worker in JS Whites, was the first lady to drive a crane in England.
Ada Carter became one of the most honored residents of the Isle of Wight, receiving a British Empire Medal in 1943 for her services to the aircraft industry. She started working for Sam Saunders at the Folly Works in 1914 and by Word War Two she was training women in the plywood department. At that time the women were involved in making 40% of all plywood that was manufactured in Britain for the purpose of making boats and aeroplanes. She retired aged 69.
JS Whites Engine Works Employees, 11.11.18
Ada Carter (centre) at Saunders Roe during WW1
Liquid Fuel Engineering Company “No smoke” “No smell” “Lightweight” “Perfect combustion” The Liquid Fuel Engineering Company or LIFU built fast steam launches and vehicles in East Cowes between 1894 1900. They were powered by liquid fuel (petroleum), which was cleaner, quicker and took up less space than coal. American inventor Henry House and his son set up a firm building liquid fuel steam engines for which they constructed launches, beside the Thames. In 1893 House senior was fined for speeding at 26knots. House must have been quite pleased at that advertisement, although it cost him a £10 fine!
View of works from River Medina
In 1894 House set up LIFU in East Cowes at the Columbine Yard. There were no speed limits out on the Solent.
The main LIFU innovation was the development of a vapouriser, which gave a very fierce flame to heat the water to make the steam. Burning liquid fuel in a vapouriser raised a head of steam quicker than a coal fire could. “Oil is forced through a series of passages in a chamber which is heated by a flame from below. In this way the oil is gasified and passing down through the vertical tube reaches the conical burner, from whence it issues as a powerful and intense flame of great volume.”
The fuel took up half the space of coal. Although it was more expensive this was not an issue for the rich people who bought LIFU launches. Queen Victoria’s son Bertie and the German Emperor were two of them.
Kariat was built in 1896 by LIFU and returned to Cowes in 2004. Sadly, in 2016 she was destroyed in a fire in Cowes when stored with many other vessels for the winter.
The Boiler Mr Henry House, with Mr Symon, as financial backer, developed an innovative and more effective boiler. The tubes could easily be examined or replaced individually. This lightweight boiler even worked on Mr Hiram Maxim’s Steam Aeroplane in 1892.
Symon House boiler
Liquid Fuel Engineering Company “a practical success” “immunity from breakdowns.” Steam Vehicles In 1896 LIFU produced successful steam vans using petrol as the fuel. The assembly line system was introduced. Two hundred men worked here using modern technology.
The LIFU workshop
By 1898 this is how the Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal described the LIFU delivery vans... "Every part was made to standard sizes. So if one part needed replacing, “on receipt of a telegram a duplicate part is taken from stock and sent away.” Each part had its own reference code." This was a novel idea in England in 1898! LIFU also produced a wagonnette which was ‘very speedy and reliable’ according to the Automobile Association. However, there were still speed limits in town of 8 miles an hour, and 12 miles in the countryside, introduced in 1896 when ‘The Red Flag Act’ was repealed.
Mr Henry House driving his LIFU lorry.
In 1899 Mr House received the first speeding fine on the Isle of Wight, doing 18 mph down York Avenue in East Cowes. “Motor cars are here to stay, and will be seen more and more in evidence on Island roads.” was his response in the IW County Press to those who hated horseless vehicles.
Royal mail Motor van
LIFU closed in 1900 in East Cowes when business partner, Mr Symons died. Everything was sold. The firm continued in Poole, Dorset, and a car survives from that time. 200 men had worked for LIFU in East Cowes. They had been highly trained in all the very latest technology and factory practice. This core of men were available to join J S Whites or other ship yards, and to gain employment with Sam Saunders when he arrived in Cowes in 1901, then going on to build aircraft in the First World War.
From plywood and cloth to a space rocket. Thames boat builder, Sam Saunders, invented a light but strong material he called Consuta for building boats. After moving to Cowes it was developed into a cutting edge material for fast motor boats. Later it would also be perfect for the new technology of aircraft manufacture. The original Sam Saunders' Consuta construction patented in 1898
Sam Saunders invented Consuta in 1898, which had four veneers of mahogany planks stitched together with copper wire with waterproof cloth in between. It was ideal for making fast launches and was so successful that he soon decided to move his business to Cowes in 1901 where he could build bigger and faster boats.
Ursula, 1909. An example of Consuta construction applied to fast motor boats
Once at East Cowes, Sam applied Consuta construction to fast motor boats for the rich, such as Ursula, made for the Duke of Westminster. These were aimed at the emerging powerboat racing scene.
His Majesty’s Airship No.1 or Mayfly
By 1909 a new department was started to concentrate on the new science and engineering required to make ‘everything needed for aero navigation’ His strong, light weight construction technique had found a completely new application! The first order for the new department was for gondolas or crew carriages for the naval airship, His Majesty’s Airship No.1 or Mayfly. The second order came from Tommy Sopwith for the hull of the first amphibian flying boat in Europe named the "Bat Boat."
The Bat Boat 1913
From plywood and cloth to a space rocket. At the outbreak of World War One, the government decided that Saunders should concentrate on aircraft rather than boats for the Navy. From 1914 to 1918 the government contracted the company to build about 1000 aircraft. They were mostly designed by other people and included 469 SE2a biplanes, 200 Avro 504J biplanes, 80 Short 184 seaplanes, 150 Felixstowe F2A and F5 flying boats and 24 Norman Thompson NT2B flying boats. Between the wars After the First World War the Saunders company started to develop marine aircraft design for the Admiralty with larger and faster planes. The first design was the twin engine, Kittiwake amphibious flying boat capable of carrying seven passengers. Saunders even set up an airline, with passenger flights from the Island to London and Birmingham. Kittiwake amphibious flying boat
By 1928 Sam Saunders was 71 and decided to retire. The company was taken over by Sir Alliot Verdon-Roe of the the Avro aircraft company. He renamed the company Saunders-Roe Ltd which continued to design and build many commercial and military flying boats taken up by the RAF. Aircraft continued to get larger and The London Flying Boat, of which 35 were built, was chosen to represent the RAF at the 150th anniversary of the founding of New South Wales. Five aircraft flew to Australia. Around 1930 Saunders-Roe acquired the Southampton based company Spartan and in 1933 Saunders-Roe started an air travel company using the Spartan Airways name and flew routes from Somerton and Ryde airfields to London and Birmingham. This became so successful that it eventually became part of Southern Railways and the Railways Air Services network! Spartan Airways merged with United Airways in 1935 which eventually became, through lots of mergers part of todayâ€™s British Airways.
From plywood and cloth to a space rocket. Princess flying boats In 1946 work was started on the Princess, the largest flying boat ever built. At 154 tons it was designed for intercontinental travel,carrying 220 passengers in comfort. However, the days of flying boats were numbered because of the great investment in land runways during the Second World War. In 1952 the Princess made its maiden flight but unfortunately BOAC, the intended customer, had just decided to cease flying boat services. Princess flying boat in build at East cowes
Jets and rockets
Princess flying boat over Southampton Docks
1954 saw the start of the SR53 project to build a jet and rocket powered fighter aircraft and two were made. It had a top speed of Mach2 and a fantastic rate of climb at 29,000 ft/minute. Development suggested that the aircraft needed to be larger to accommodate radar and tracking equipment so the SR177 was proposed with a top speed of Mach 2.35. In September 1956 the government ordered 27 but in April 1957 this was reversed by a change in government policy and the project was closed and resulted in the redundancy of nearly 1500 employees.
Black Knight BK02. Saunders-Roe Ltd. 1958 On display at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
During 1955 Saunders Roe, capitalising on its experience of rocket engines from the SR53 project, started developing a single stage rocket called Black Knight. The rockets were made in East Cowes, ground tested at High Down above the Needles and launched from Woomera in Australia, the first being launched in 1958. 22 rockets in total were launched between 1958 and 1965, all of which were successful. Later, in 1966, a three-stage rocket was produced, the Black Arrow, and four were successfully launched culminating in 1971 with the launch into polar orbit of the Marconi built Prospero satellite. The government cancelled research into space launch capability just when the use of communication satellites was expanding world-wide.
World War One
Isle of Innovation Then & Now
Very many thanks to our volunteers who have contributed towards the “Hidden Heroes of the Isle of Wight” project at the Classic Boat Museum. John Askham Chris Bancroft Gary Barrows John Beattie Jill Bredon Nick Bredon Owen Carver Mike Dixon Janet Dore Dominic Fontana Helen Gatehouse Charles Hawksworth Rodney Ireland Peter Jackson John Jefferies Rosemary Joy Lily Lovell Myrah Martin Annette Matthias Mark McNeil Kevin McSweeney Rod Moody Mike Smyth Steve Symons Todd Taylor Steve Terry Lawrence Thomson John Waterman Margaret Widger Brian Wright Many thanks also to our supporters Christopher Bland Tony Dixon Antony Roberts Bembridge Sailing Club Currys PC World (Newport) Isle of Wight Heritage Service Volunteering at the Classic Boat Museum If you have an interest in boats and some time to spare why not join our team as a volunteer? Please ask in the museum or visit our website at www.classicboatmuseum.com