Short Brothers Aviation Pioneers

1884 – 1917

Timeline: 1884 - 1917


timeline 1884 - 1917HORACE entered the Risley Latin School, Erewash, Derbyshire where he learned drawing, at a fee of two guineas (2 pounds and 2 shillings or £2.10) a year. The family were living at Erewash at that time.

He won the Mathematical Prize two years in a row.

Left school and undertook a course of engineering training at Stanton Iron Works, Derbyshire. Later he worked for Colonel Crompton at his ‘Arc Electrical Works’ at Chelmsford, Essex.


Worked at Chatham Dockyard before working his passage to Australia to find his Uncle William SHORT at Lampton Colliery, New South Wales.

On the way he landed at The Samsa- Navigator Islands in the South Pacific where he was detained by native cannibals for fourteen weeks. He wrote home about his adventures when he finally reached Australia.

1891 - 1896

After leaving his Uncle William Short in New South Wales, Australia he made his way to Mexico and became the Chief Engineer at the Panuco Sliver Mines where he developed compressed air machinery using water turbines as the compressor. This revolutionised the entire method of working within the mines and was to occupy his mind on his return to England.


The Queen of the West balloonFrom the rooftop of their home at 15 Friargate, Derby, Eustace (17) and Oswald (12) saw a balloon rising above the nearby Co-op premises. It was filled with coal-gas from the adjacent gas works.

Oswald recalled in later years....

“Breathlessly, we scrambled up through the skylight onto the roof of our house in Friargate from whence we trained a telescope on to the balloon and watched every movement.

We could see the aeronaut moving about in the basket or car and occasionally throwing out small quantities of sand to preserve the equilibrium of his vessel. How grand it must be to float in space we thought. This man had the world to himself – what a tremendous field of adventure awaited him who possessed such a balloon. The imagination of Jules Verne could not improve upon it”. 

From the rooftop of their home at 15 Friargate, Derby, Eustace (17) and Oswald (12) saw a balloon rising above the nearby Co-op premises. It was filled with coal-gas from the adjacent gas works.

Very soon the paper fire balloons the brothers made from tissue paper and flour paste ascended from their roof and for the next year they worked on the theory and construction of balloons.

Oswald said they were the first products of Short aeronautical enterprises.

“Eustace and I were determined to possess a balloon of our own at any cost and this consequently shaped our destiny”.


After a long illness, Samuel, the father of four sons and a daughter, Ethel Alice, died at the age of 55 years and left mother Emma and the large family in poverty.

Horace was by that time in the Panuco silver mine in Mexico and Eustace was sent to find him and seek his help. The fare for this journey was raised by public subscription and sponsored in a Chesterfield newspaper that published Horace’s letter, sent home from Australia, about his experiences in the South Seas.

The headline read...


Horace gave Eustace £500 to return home and set the family ‘back on their feet’ whilst he wound up his affairs in Mexico.


Eustace used the money to buy a coal and coke business in New Maldon south London and the family; Emma (mother), Ernest an older brother, Eustace, Alice (sister) and Oswald moved to London.

Eustace purchased, repaired and learned to fly an old coal-gas filled balloon ‘The Queen of the West’ that enabled himself and Oswald to set up a showman aeronautical business giving displays at flower shows (Chesterfield), galas (York) and fairgrounds.

Horace returned from Mexico and, following his interest in compressed air machinery there, he invented and applied for a patent for a sound amplification system called an AUXETOPHONE.

He established a laboratory in Hove, Sussex for further acoustic experiments.


Horace took his AUXETOPHONE to Paris for the International Exhibition and arranged to broadcast, to the local people, a nearby concert from the Eiffel Tower.

His two brothers accompanied him but they were far more interested in the display of balloons than the magnification of sound. Here they saw the balloons of Edouard Surcouf who had developed the construction of truly spherical balloons


Eustace and Oswald constructed their very first balloon in the premises above Horace’s laboratory in Hove where they soon formed a partnership, in 1902, to design and manufacture truly spherical balloons.


Soon after Horace closed his laboratory and moved to Newcastle on Tyne to work for Charles Parson and the two partners moved back to London from Hove. The pair made and sold coal-gas filled balloons and sold some of the first ones to the Indian Government in 1905.


short brothers commemorative plaque railway arches queens park battersea londonThe business was located in railway arches 75 and 81 next to Battersea Gas Works for obvious reasons and from where they and the Aero Club flew their balloons.

They went on to produce quality balloons of varied design for such notable people as The Hon. Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame and other members of the Aero Club, later to become the Royal Aero Club.

They continued balloon production in the Battersea arches up to 1919, including World War 1


The Honourable Charles (Charlie) Rolls was instrumental in the appointment of Eustace and Oswald as aeronauts to the Aero Club which he, and wine merchant Frank Hedges Buttler, had established.


When Eustace and Oswald saw the market for heavier than air flying machines they asked Horace to join them in a new partnership and the company of Short Bros. was first registered with Horace as chief designer.


1909The new partnership took their first order in January for a Short No.1 that Horace then set about designing. It was built under the railway arches at Battersea for Frank McClean. The No.1, bi-plane, had a front elevator and wing-tip rudders and was originally fitted with a car engine.

This engine proved far too heavy and flight was not achieved. The need for a take-off area with flat land away from prying eyes took the brothers to Sheppey, Kent.

The site chosen was at Shellbeach and Mussel Manor became the Aero Club meeting room



Charlie Rolls took Horace and Eustace to Pau in south-west France to meet the Wright brothers at Pau near the Pyrenees where Wilbur Wright was demonstrating their ‘adventure’ into powered flight.

Horace sketched the details he needed to build an aircraft to the Wright brothers specification.


Horace, The Wright brothers and Griffiths Brewer at SHELLBEACH

The Wright brothers had met The Honourable Charles Rolls when he visited America to sell his motor cars and they were searching for a contractor to build Wright aircraft in the United Kingdom.

Due to the high quality of the work with balloons that they had done for Charles Rolls, et al, the Short brothers were recommended and chosen.

Oswald wrote the initial order book and it is exhibited in the Ulster Museum of Transport in Belfast close by the Short Brothers and Harland Ltd runway, now the City ‘George Best’ Airport and on the shore of Belfast Lough.

The MOST famous photograph – a who’s who in pioneering aviation

The Wright brothers visited Mussel Manor and the Shellbeach works on 4th. May and this historical picture was taken outside the Aero Club meeting room door.





Note the endorsement by the King on a Royal Visit to the factory in March 1939

THE MOVE from Shellbeach to Eastchurch. However, with the passage of time the site was found to be restrictive as flights got longer. The ground was too soft and there were ditches and so the move to Eastchurch in 1910, along with the Aero Club, was made. Frank McClean, George Cockburn and Horace Short set up a flying school at Eastchurch and the first four naval officers, to be taught flying were sent there. So began the Royal Naval Air Service

Training of naval officers led the Shorts to think that aircraft development would be based on using water for take-offs and landings as there were no hard runways.

Success led to the search for larger premises with access to a clear stretch of water that led to Borstal, Rochester on the banks of the River Medway. The land was purchased from a Rochester councillor and so The Seaplane Works was ‘born’.

Gradually the Shorts erected more and more ‘workshops’ with No.1 at the Rochester end and finishing with No.18 at the far end. As No.2 shop became available the workforce started their move away from Eastchurch to Rochester.


1917No.3 shop was completed with a long concrete slipway built for the No.3 Erecting Shop to enable aircraft of up to 26 tons to be launched even at low-tide.