Brownsfield Mill and Miles Platting
The firm of A.V Roe & Company (Avro) was first registered on 1st January 1910, with an address shown as Everard Works, Great Ancoats St, Manchester. At the time, this address was better known as Brownsfield Mill and it was the home of The Bullseye Braces factory, owned by Humphrey Verdon Roe (elder brother of Alliott Verdon Roe).
It was here that the various components of all early Avro designs (triplanes, etc.) were made in workshops in the factory basement. Women were employed extensively in the early days of aircraft manufacturing as shown by the scene below from the Heath Works, which suffered a major fire in 1917.
With a growing order book and continued investment into plant and machinery, during the early days at Brownsfield Mill the major financial investors came to an agreement with Alliott and Humphrey to turn the fast expanding A.V. Roe and Company a 'Limited' concern, which they duly registered on 11th January 1913.
After an order from the War Office calling for a large number of Avro 500s, and with the prospect of a further order, it was decided that they needed to seek larger premises and these were soon found in nearby Clifton Street, Miles Platting, Manchester.
With workers and materials quickly transferred from their basement home, the new works opened on 17th March 1913.
With start of the First World War, the company saw a huge influx of orders for the Avro 504 and it soon became obvious that the current floor space simply could not cope with the requirements of mass production.
Fortunately for Avro, local construction engineers Mather and Platt had just completed building the Park Works extension although the conflict in Europe had delayed their occupation. The site was ideal and Avro was immediately granted permission to use the new premises to meet the increasing wartime demands of the Royal Flying Corps.
With the extensive increases in production, there was an urgent need for test and pre-delivery flying and this became possible from a nearby field. However, this soon proved too small and the authorities developed a more suitable airfield (known as Alexandra Park) which it established as an 'Acceptance Park' and onward delivery depot for deliveries to the Royal Flying Corps around the UK.
This was an extremely busy period for the aircraft workers of Manchester and many associated manufacturing facilities were being operated 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week.
However, when the war ended on 11th November 1918, it created a number of major problems for aircraft manufacturers across the country and Avro was no exception. It had expanded very rapidly during the war and had invested heavily in both plant and machinery. Their new large factory at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath was almost complete when the war ended and it had been specifically designed for large scale aircraft production. The end of hostilities saw the immediate cancellation of large production orders for military aircraft and the sudden low order book created as real crisis as there certainly was not enough work for all of the numerous Avro facilities and so a number had to close their doors.
Newton Heath survived however, sustained by piece-work and with repairs to the decommissioned Avro 504s, which it converted into civilian and commercial mail carrier variants. After the necessary modifications, aircraft were transferred by lorry the short distance to the local railway depot for onward delivery to various Acceptance Parks around the UK.
It was decided that despite the post war recession, Newton Heath would survive at all costs and it turned its attention to other revenue streams such as the production of both motor cars and bodies. Avro produced various automobiles including the Harper Runabout, an ingenious single-seat 3 wheeler with a 269cc engine. It also manufactured the Avro Light Car, created from wood and aluminum by the workers who had honed their skills during aircraft production. Even A.V. Roe himself 'dabbled' with the design of a two-wheel car which featured outriggers that were deployed when stationary. Unfortunately, the 'Mobile' never entered production.
In August 1920, a controlling interest in Avro was acquired by Crossley Motors who desperately needed additional production space for their range of motor cars. Newton Heath became the Avro Head Office on 23rd August 1920 and in addition to managing the day to day business, it was ideally placed to start fashioning new design motor bodies for cars, coaches and military lorries. At the time, the Crossley 25/30 saloon was achieving excellent sales and Newton Heath predominantly manufactured all the bodies for this model. The factory also supplemented the companies finances in other ways such as the production of a variety of children's toys, tin baths, bassinets and a particularly good range of billiard tables.
Crossley Motors later hit difficulties during 1928 after an ill-judged merger with Willys Overland, an American automobile manufacturer. The financial crisis saw Crossley forced to sell their stake in Avro to Armstrong Siddeley.
By 1924, a serious problem had also arisen when the airfield at Alexandra Park was closed by the local authority and Avro, now firmly based back in the aircraft industry, were forced once again to find an alternative site for its test and delivery flights. A search ensued and eventually an ideal location was identified at New Hall Farm, Cheshire.
Known locally as Woodford, the new airfield was only fifteen miles from Newton Heath and perfectly placed at the foothills of the Peak District. With Stockport and Macclesfield on the doorstep to provide a willing workforce, Woodford (described elsewhere) would become one of the most successful aircraft manufacturing centres in the country.
Besides the excellent Avian, other types built at Newton Heath included three-engine aircraft such as the Avro Five, Six and Eighteen, all named as per the number of passengers carried.
One of the most successful types to emerge from Newton Heath was the Avro 621 Tutor, a series of aircraft which, besides serving with the Royal Air Force, sold extensively around the world in both military and civil roles.
Another interesting type built during the 1930s period was the Avro 671 Rota Autogiro which was later to prove invaluable in radar trials.
By far the most famous type to come out of Newton Heath was arguably the Avro 652A Anson.
Originally designed as a high-speed mail carrier, this low wing, twin-engine aircraft had a retractable undercarriage, the first on any Avro type.
The maiden flight of the Avro 652 mail carrier was on 7th January 1935.
The need for a military version did not escape Chief Designer Roy Chadwick either and he could see that with some changes (including a gun turret) it would meet Air Ministry requirements for a maritime reconnaissance aircraft for R.A.F. Coastal Command.
Work was soon underway on the Shop Floor and the prototype Avro 652A was completed in record time, with the new machines first flight taking place from Woodford on 24th March 1935. After excellent performance trials, full development was approved on 27th August 1935 along with the name Avro Anson. The first contract was for 174 aircraft in total but many, many more orders were to follow.
In May 1938, Avro received a wonderful boost with an order to build the Bristol Blenheim light bomber. Work on the type proved so successful that eventually a total of 250 Blenheim Mk.I and 750 Blenheim Mk.IV were manufactured by the company.
Pre-war and wartime expansion at Newton Heath added nearly 100,000 ft2 to the production capacity between 1938 and mid-1943 with production continuing throughout the Second World War. Work continued at a pace on the Bristol Blenheim, Avro Anson and on Avro Lancaster sub-assemblies and components but as war ended, the requirement for the facility all but ceased.
On 8th April 1947, the Newton Heath factory was closed with most of the personnel being transferred to the Chadderton factory (described elsewhere).
This 110-acre airfield was opened towards the end of the war in 1918 and it was mainly used by A.V. Roe & Company Ltd for test flying from May 1918 up to 30th August 1924.
The field was actually sited in Didsbury although it took its name from the nearest railway station.
An Aircraft Acceptance Park (No15 - Manchester AAP) also operated at the airfield from May 1918 and many surplus Avro 504 aircraft were stored in the various buildings. At the end of hostilities, the Avro 538 (K-132 - later G-EACR) made its first flight at Alexandra Park in May 1919.
Suddenly in 1924, the land owners (Manchester Corporation) insisted that flying must stop and that all associated buildings should be removed as it was intended to return it to its previous status as a public amenity. As a result, A.V. Roe & Company Ltd were forced yet again to move its test flying activities, this time to Woodford.
The 1924 Ordnance Survey map shows that the airfield was originally sited to the South of Wilbraham Rd, in the Whalley Range District of Greater Manchester and is an area now in use as Hough End playing fields. Today it is difficult to imagine active test flying just to the South of Manchester City Centre although there is a small housing estate close by, featuring street names such as Avro Close and Avian Drive.
Leeds and Bradford Aerodrome opened in October 1931, with regular flights linking it with London and Newcastle.
However, when war was declared in 1939, Avro built what is known as a ‘shadow factory’, right next door to the aerodrome, to produce the military aircraft that were needed for the war effort. It is had to imagine today but the factory building itself covered a million and a half square feet, at the time the largest single factory site in Europe.
Although there were several other shadow factories around the country, its size and significance meant that Yeadon was a high profile target for enemy bombers.
An elaborate camouflaging of the buildings took place, masterminded by specialists from within the film and movie industry.
Camouflage schemes consisted of covering the roofs with real grass with agricultural plants placed in pots, arranged to replicate a field pattern from the air. Some parts of the vast Assembly Shops were actually built underground or merged under the hillside, with all the external flat roofs being covered with grass and earth so they blended into the slopes.
Around the buildings were small imitation farm buildings, stone walls and even a duck pond with real ducks. Fabric hedges and bushes were regularly changed to match the changing colours of the seasons and 100s of dummy animals were moved around daily to fool any reconnaissance photographs. It must have been very convincing as no enemy bombers ever visited Yeadon.
In October 1940, work had started on a new fighter named the Hawker Tornado, but after initial design and some tooling had taken place at Yeadon, the project was handed over to the Avro Project Office at Chadderton. The whole programme was subsequently cancelled soon after the first production aircraft had flown from Woodford (in August 1941) as by then, the Hawker Designers had developed the excellent Typhoon.
Production of Avro aircraft at Yeadon commenced with the Avro Anson in late 1941 and the programme continued throughout the war with a magnificent total of 3,945 aircraft being built. Of these, some 2,368 were actually flown from the adjacent runway whilst the remainder were simly crated up for shipment overseas.
The peak months for Anson production was during late 1943 and early 1944, when a level of 135 aircraft per month were completed over a continuous five month period.
More than 17,500 people (mostly conscripts) were employed on the Assembly Lines, operating 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week. Workers were brought in by bus and coach from all over West Yorkshire, some working 69-hours over three-day shifts, followed by three-night shifts.
In order to add to the hidden identity, the army built a 'disguised taxiway' leading from the factory to the aerodrome runway and on one occasion Forces Sweetheart Gracie Fields visited the factory during the war to entertain the workers. It is said that more than 5,000 workers crammed into the works canteen for the concert.
The requirement for extra production lines for the Avro Lancaster saw the Yeadon factory commencing manufacture of the bomber in early 1942. The first of the type had its maiden flight in October of that year and by the end of hostilities some 695 Avro Lancasters had been built. In January 1945, Yeadon saw an excellent monthly production figure of 44 Lancaster and 32 Anson being manufactured.
After the war ended, Yeadon built a further 76 Avro Anson, 12 Avro Lancaster, 27 Avro York and 2 Avro Lincoln aircraft although by then the airfield had resumed civilian flights. Before long it had developed into the Leeds-Bradford International Airport that we see today.
The aircraft factory closed in 1946 with an Industrial Estate now standing on the factory site. On New Year’s Day 1947, Yeadon was handed over to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the magnificent Avro wartime production effort became just a distant memory.
However, the estate’s main building still remains and it is the same one that once housed the aircraft factory during the war. It appears to be part of an Aviation Academy which is probably fitting, considering its past usage. Parts of the remains of the old taxiway from the factory to the main airfield are also still visible, if you look hard enough.
A plaque commemorating the role of Avro Yeadon is displayed inside the airport’s terminal building although it is still hard to imagine, as you drive along the A658 past the industrial estate, that this was once a secret factory that contributed so much to Britain’s war effort.
The lack of experimental flight test facilities close to the Manchester factories led A.V. Roe to select Hamble on the south coast for aircraft erection and test flying.
His reasoning for the selection of a location so far from his manufacturing facilities remain a mystery apart from his love of the area, something exemplified when he sold his interests in Avro and took up a controlling interest in boat builders S.E. Saunders, based on the Isle of Wight in 1929.
The Hamble facilities also provided additional production capacity although the main use of Hamble remained the test flying of prototype aircraft.
A.V. Roe & Company Ltd used The Hamble for all new types until AV Roe left the company, after which their activities were increasingly centred on Manchester.
That said, all Avro activity at Hamble did not finally cease until 14th December 1932.
Aircraft were flown at Hamble from Spring 1916 with the first type to make its first flight being the Avro 523 Pike in May 1916.
Other Manchester locations
Trafford Park: During the First World War, A.V. Roe & Company Ltd made limited use of Trafford Park for flight test, and the occasional delivery flight. Any previous experimental flying was subsequently moved to Hamble.
One type that made its first flight at Trafford Park was the Avro 521, a single bay variant of the Avro 504 developed and tested from late 1915 or early 1916.
Failsworth: During the First World War, a small unit was purchased in Failsworth by A.V. Roe to manufacture small sheet metal components and this site became known as the Empire Works.
Later, the Ivy Works at Failsworth came into use in April 1936 and covered more than 200,000 ft2. Six Avro 641 Commodore were built here from May 1934.
The Commodore was an attractive cabin biplane whose design strongly suggested the influence of the American Waco design. Wartime usage of Failsworth included Bristol Blenheim components as well as sub-assemblies for the Avro Lancaster, Avro York and Avro Anson. Other Second World War activity included pipe manufacture for Avro York and Avro Lancaster.
In fact, the Empire Works remained open until it was closed finally by British Aerospace as recently as 31st October 1981 when the seventy-five sheet metal workers were transferred to the nearby Chadderton factory.
Ashton-under-Lyne: A.V. Roe & Company Ltd had production facilities at Whitelands Rd, Ashton with more than 200,000 ft2 capacity. These came into use when opened in December 1938 and were predominantly used to produce Avro Lancaster, Avro York and Avro Anson components and assemblies.
There were additional stores facilities (greater than 50,000 ft2) at nearby Dukinfield.
Wythenshaw: A.V. Roe & Company Ltd had a 100,000 ft2 facility at Wythenshaw which was used for Avro Lancaster and Avro York fuel tank manufacture (Dates unknown)
Avro Sites Timeline
|1910 - 1913||AV Roe & Company established at Brownsfield Mill|
|1913 - 1920||Clifton Street, Miles Platting|
|1919 - 1947||Newton Heath|
|1924 - 2011||Woodford Aerodrome|
|1938 - ?||Ashton-under-Lyne|
|1936 - 1981||Failsworth|
|1938 - 1945||Ringway|
|1918 - 1924||Alexandra Park|
|1941 - 1946||Yeadon|