Short Brothers

The Short Brothers were Horace,Eaustace and Oswald. They were the founders of the British Aviation industry.In 1908 they registered their partnership under the name Short Brothers. The American Wright Brothers contracted the new company the British rights to build the Wright Flyer,an initial order for six aircraft were taken.Short Brothers became the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world.

The Shorts Brothers came from Eastchurch (Isle of Sheppey) to Borstal (near Rochester) in 1914 due to the need for bigger premises.They made aircraft at it's factory on the Esplanade.On the River Medway they had a Slipway where they could launch the aircraft from.

Over the next few years they produced a variety of aircraft and during the first world war helped with the war effort by building fighter aircraft.In the depression of the 20's the company had to reduce it's headcount and also had to diversify,one way of doing this was that they produced lightweight bus and tram bodies for bus companies throughout the British Isles.

Through the 20's the only viable way to produce long-range Civillian aircraft was by flying boat as the runway infrastructure wasn't available at that time.Shorts took up the flying boat market.

In 1933 Shorts opened a new factory at Rochester airport which became most important for the land take-off planes they were now producing.

Workers leaving the Shorts Brothers Factory in 1936.


In 1937 the Mayo composite aircraft was launched by Short Brothers at Rochester.
It used the fact that an aeroplane can fly with a greater load than it will lift off the ground.
The Seaplane Mercury was carried into the air by the flying boat,Mother plane Maia,it then launched the Mercury into flight .

The 20th-21st July 1938 saw Mercury seperate from Maia over Ireland.
It made the first commercial non-stop flight between Britain and Montreal.

They set another Seaplane record flight between 6th-8th October,1938,flying from Dundee to Alexander Bay in South Africa.
The Mother plane Maia flew 1,000 miles before releasing the Mercury to complete the rest of the 5,000 mile journey

Maia and Mercury over Rochester.

In 1937 Shorts won a Government Military defence contract to produce "The Sunderland" which was nicknamed "The Flying Porcupine".The sunderland became famous as an Anti-Submarine Patrol bomber in WWII and became Short's best known craft.

A Shorts Sunderland on the River Medway in 1940.


During the Battle of Britain Shorts was heavily bombed and so much of the companies production was concentrated at its Belfast factory.

In 1941 Shorts Brother contacted the Ministry of Aircraft Production for permission to build underground works in tunnels behind the Esplanade factories in the Chalk cliff.permission was granted and they dug two 100 metres long parralel tunnels linked by four 75 metre long adits to the cliff at a cost of £20,000.The tunnels were all brick lined apart from one of the adits.There was also two 45 degree ventilation shafts to the surface.

One of the big Factory tunnels.


Also,leading off one of the factory tunnels,air raid shelter tunnels were built. These had benches either side and small rooms at regular intervals for toilet usage.From one of the factory tunnels was a single 400 metres tunnel,this in turn connected to 2 more parralel tunnels of 300 yards and the 2 tunnels were joined by 14 crosscuts and 9 more adits to the cliff face.There was also 3 vertical ventilation shafts that had ladders for emergency escape.much grafitti from WWII still exists etched on the walls.At the other ends of the tunnels are several rooms cut into the cliff that were used as a control centre and central First-Aid post.

Air-raid Shelter tunnel.


The well in the tunnels.



Unfortunatly in 1948 the shorts brothers Factory closed and operations were completely moved to Belfast.Blaw knox took over the site later and used some of the tunnels for storage,they moved off the site in the mid 1990's and the factory site was demolished and new housing was built.The tunnels were sealed but access was gained to them for a while by adventurers and "Mindless vandels".Recently several fires were started in the tunnels,so they will probably be permanently sealed now unless a use is found for them in the future.

Workers in front of the last Solent flying Boat built at Shorts in 1948 not long afterwards the Factory closed.


Commemorative Plaque on Rochester Esplanade unveiled by Lord Ivon Moore- Brabazon of Tara. Medway Mayor Cllr David Carrr and his wife Kirstine were also at the ceremony, which was watched by more than 50 former Short Brothers’ employees.