Kingston Aviation
Stella Taylor
Transcript: 2
Sopwith seaplanes on the River Thames  

 The proximity of the Thames was one of the factors involved in Tom Sopwith locating his aircraft factory in Kingston. Sopwith Aviation was – in its early years – an Admiralty contractor and so built seaplanes. These were pushed down from Canbury Park Road to the bank near Turk’s Boathouse for taxying and flotation testing on the river. The Thames was in effect used as the company’s runway.

You knew someone who was a neighbour who had a connection with Hawker seaplanes, well no with the Sopwith seaplanes. Can you just tell me a little bit about that?

Yes, well he was an elderly man and retired, lived in my road – sorry I can’t remember his name. But he used to stand in the garden just waiting for a chat with people because he was lonely. So I always stopped to have a ‘natter’ with him. And he told me that he had been working at Hawkers when the seaplanes were being built. And he helped to push them down to the river. They were pushed down by hand, you know, loads of men and launched by Turk’s boathouse.

And indeed we’ve got pictures of aircraft down at Turk’s boathouse.

Have you, yes. Well, he was probably there because, and he told me how they, you know, had to run them up and down the river to make sure that, you know, everything was OK. So yes it’s quite interesting ’cause I didn’t know that. That was one thing I went home and told my husband. He said ‘how did you find that out’. I said ‘oh well you know, you talk to the right people you find out all sorts of things’.

So they actually pushed the aircraft …

They pushed the planes down

They physically pushed the planes down. They are quite big objects, aircraft. I mean did anyone object to them doing that?

I don’t think so, he never said. He said, ‘oh well’, he said, ‘they tried all sorts of ways of getting them down there’. They didn’t want to damage them in any way and there wasn’t much traffic in those days fortunately. And it wasn’t far from …

Canbury Park Road

Canbury Park Road to the river. So there they went up the Richmond Road. And I don’t know if they went down Bank Lane that’s sort of, ‘cause that’s right onto the – they probably went down Richmond Road, down Bank Lane right onto the Turk’s boathouse which had a big mooring – big enough to get the plane in to the river. But I was intrigued by the fact that they were pushing aircraft down and flying them up and down the river where I, you know, where I was working.

They used the Thames in effect as the Company’s runway.

Yes absolutely, yes it was very handy.