Short Brothers Aviation Pioneers

1917 – 1947

Rochester: 1917 - 1947

Rochester 1943 - 1947

1943 March of this year saw the takeover of Shorts by the government under the ‘guidance’ of Stafford Cripps and the compulsory acquisition was completed when the directors of the Company were ‘invited’ to resign. They all did so! 

1946 In June, more than five thousand workers marched through the Medway towns in the biggest industrial demonstration Kent had ever seen. The protest was against the proposal of a complete move of Shorts to Belfast.

Medway was in crisis! Short Brothers, that during the turmoil of World War II had employed, at its’ peak, twelve thousand men and women was now scheduled to close down the Rochester factories and all the production was to move to Belfast.

1947 By this time all the wartime factories had closed down and the move was completed. Some workers moved with the Company, many stayed in Rochester, some joined the Royal Air Force and some sought other employment in the Medway area. 

The 20th Century riverside site now shows little connection to the mighty Seaplane Works aside from a crumbling slipway/launching ramp outside where Number 18 shed once stood. New housing and a grassy bank cover the riverside where aviation history was once made and where thousands of men and women made their living. 

A ‘forgotten’ gem, still in good order, is the three or four miles of tunnels built by Oswald with no expense spared, without planning permission, when he, like many other industrialists saw that war with Germany was on the ‘horizon’.

These tunnels were the air-raid shelters for the workforce and hidden workshops, producing instruments and other aircraft parts essential to the war effort. It was thought that fifty feet of chalk rock above their heads would keep the employees safe and production in progress. Their present good condition speaks volumes




WINDERMERE. With the continuing pressure to keep producing aircraft during the Second World War and the risk of bombing of the Seaplane Works in Rochester some construction of Sunderlands by Shorts and others was undertaken away from the Medway area.

One such site, chosen by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, was on the shore of Windermere near Troutbeck. Windermere was and still is a ten-mile long stretch of open water well suited to the take-off and landing of seaplanes.

Sunderlands at anchor on Lake Windermere
Sunderlands at anchor on Windermere

Between September 1942 and July 1944 there were thirty-four Sunderlands built and launched from this production facility although not all the parts were made on this site. The wings were made in Rochester and moved by road to Windermere. That was a long journey in the days before motorways. John Lancester is the only pilot to land a Sunderland ACROSS Windermere.


During World War II it was common practice to outsource production to whoever was capable of building aircraft and spreading the locations reduced the impact of enemy bombing. Shorts aircraft were built at many locations other than Rochester.


  • Swindon
  • Austin Motor Works
  • Strood
  • Cambridge
  • Belfast