The Kingston Aviation Centenary Project
2012 marked the centenary of Kingston upon Thames’ first aircraft factory founded by aviation pioneer Tommy Sopwith.
Many of Britain’s most famous fighter aircraft started life on drawing boards and in factories at Kingston upon Thames but the fact that no other town in the country has contributed so much to the UK’s air forces has largely been overlooked.
Now a group of former employees and aviation enthusiasts are putting these achievements on the map, thanks to a £49,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Hawker Association’s Kingston Aviation Centenary Project brings to the public’s attention a roll of honour that includes the most successful allied WWI fighter, the Sopwith Camel biplane; the Hawker Hurricane – mainstay of the Battle of Britain in WWII – and the world’s only operational vertical take-off fighter, the Harrier ‘jump jet’. Other iconic names include the Hawker Hunter, once holder of the world air speed record; and the Hawk, used by the RAF’s flying display team the Red Arrows.
The Kingston Aviation Centenary Project””””””””””””””””s special celebration events include The Kingston Aviation Festival held in Kingston Market Place June 2-5 and a “Kingston Aircraft 1912 to 2012” Art Exhibition in Kingston Museum from 17th November to 12th January 2013.
Other activities include taking the portable history display to the Hook Centre, Wings and Wheels at Dunsfold, the Brooklnads Museum Aviation Day and the Rose Theatre in Kingston. This will contiue through 2013 with exhibitions in Tudor Drive, Surbiton and New Malden libraries
Illustrated talks have been given to dozens of local organisations, clubs, societies and school groups. You are invited to contact the project to arrange a talk for your group or organisation.
Sopwith Aviation evolved into Hawker Aircraft and this in turn became part of British Aerospace in 1977 and is now BAE Systems. For much of the last century, the aviation industry was the largest employer in Kingston with a workforce which often exceeded 3,500 men and women.
The factory closed in 1992 and part of the HLF funded project is to collect and record memories of former employees. This oral history archive will be duplicated in the Kingston Local History Rooms and at the Brooklands Museum. Excerpts from the interviews are already being added to this website. A digital photograph archive is similarly being developed as a legacy of the project.
The project is almost entirely run by Volunteers and a great debt is owed to over 100 who have already been involved in all sorts of roles.
The project is working closely with the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge where many exhibits and records are kept. Other material is being lent by the BAE Systems heritage archive.
The project has also received generous support from Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Council, Kingston First, Kingston Aviation Heritage Trust, John Lewis. Bentall Centre, Air Training Corps, Surrey Comet and Kingston Guardian, Guild of Aviation Artists, Radio Jackie, Hornby Ltd, Integrated Circles, Jaggerprint, Kingston College, Kingston University, Modelzone, Omni Local, Thames Sailing Club, Tiffin School and many other local organisations.
The Joint Project Leaders are David Hassard and Bill Downey.