The Flying Boats StoryThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2016 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
The flying boats, built originally at the Strand Road works in Preston, started out as the work of Dick, Kerr and Co, an electrical equipment maker - and traditionally a builder of trams and electric trains - after the Government asked the company to help manufacture them .
That was in 1917 and is one of the earliest ever records of aircraft being built in the area.
The first to be built were Admiralty designed Felixstowes - twin engine biplanes. They had a new hull design, ﬁtted with wings and tail based on an American designed Curtiss H4 boat.
At that time ﬂying-boat hulls were made by boat builders and delivered bare to the aircraft works. Dick, Kerr, in this case, built the rest of the aircraft and assembled it. It would then take the wings off for transport by road to South Shields Naval Air Station, on the Tyne, for re-assembly and ﬂight testing before handing over to the customer.
But it was an arduous journey - a 150 mile, three-day trip by steam lorry. And it was for that reason that the Admiralty requisitioned land from Squire Clifton, at the East End of Lytham Green, and built two large sheds, an apron and a slipway into the river estuary, which led to the start of the aircraft industry in the area.
Towards the end of the First World War, Fairey Aviation were contracted to design a large ﬂying boat but this was too big for its own factory so Faireys contracted Dick, Kerr to complete the design and build one of the three ordered.
It was called the Atalanta and the hull arrived at Preston from the south coast in autumn 1918. Assembly began in 1919 at Lytham but completion was delayed until 1921, when it was delivered by road to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Unit at the Isle of Grain, Kent, and it didn't ﬂy until July 1923. At the time the Atalanta was the largest flying boat in the world.
By 1920, ﬁve companies with electrical engineering backgrounds – including Dick, Kerr and Co - had come together under the name English Electric, one of the most recognised and important forerunners to the modern day BAE Systems. The firm decided to continue aircraft work at Preston and Lytham.
In 1921 work began on a ‘fleet gunnery and spotting‘ ﬂying-boat called the Ayr, a 41ft span, three ton craft, with a single engine and a novel design. Design work also began in 1922 on the Kingston flying boat, for which an order was received in January 1923.
The ﬂight sheds at Lytham had not been used since the Atalanta left in 1921 and the site had been returned to its original owner. So on November 1 that year, English Electric acquired a lease and began recovering it from two years of dereliction. The Kingston was a ‘coastal patrol and anti-submarine’ flying boat, and for the ﬁrst time English Electric would build the hull at Preston, using specially recruited boat building staff.
Later in 1922 the company's chief designer, W. O. Manning, brought to fruition a vision he had long studied - the lowest powered practical aircraft to carry a person. The Air Ministry paid £600 to build the prototype. It was named the Wren and weighed just 232 lbs empty with a span of 37ft. Two more Wrens were eventually built and were sold for £350 each.
The sheds in Lytham closed for the final time in April 1926. The western shed was leased to the Parkstone Film Company for a while before being acquired by Cookson's Bakery of Preston in 1930, while the eastern shed was demolished in 1932 to make way for an extension to the bakery.
After the bakery closed the site lay derelict. The land was eventually bought by a local builder who demolished the original flying boat sheds. The site now has luxury housing built on it.
One of the Kingston flying boats was turned into a house boat and moored on a river in the south of England, but when the owners finished with it they simply left it to rot away.
Our Company was alerted about it some years later and recovered the remains which were brought back to Warton. We were then approached in 2011 on behalf of Lytham Heritage Group to see if they could acquire the remains so that some archive pieces from the flying boat could be preserved as exhibit pieces for their exhibitions.
Permission was granted and three members of the group were allowed on site to recover the remains. Today they remain in safe keeping – a permanent reminder of this important period in Lancashire’s military aircraft heritage.