Blue Plaques

Short Brothers

Plaque erected in 2013 by English Heritage at Arch 75, Queen's Circus, Battersea Park, London, SW8 4ND, London Borough of Wandsworth

All images © English Heritage


Aeronautical Engineers




THE SHORT BROTHERS HORACE 1872-1917 EUSTACE 1875-1932 OSWALD 1883-1969 Aeronautical Engineers worked in arches 75 and 81




The plaque is on railway arch 75 on the slip road behind the petrol station at Queen's Circus

Pioneers of aircraft construction

Britain's first aircraft manufacturers, Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short achieved many firsts in aeronautics. They designed and built the first British-powered aircraft to complete a circular flight of a mile and created Britain's first-ever purpose-built aircraft factory on an aerodrome on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. Their pioneering work on the stressed skin principle of aircraft construction immediately after the First World War was also acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors.

The two younger brothers, Eustace and Oswald, began their careers as showman-aeronauts. In 1901 they built their first balloon, and in October 1903 they received their first contract to construct balloons for two military observation balloons for the Government of India.

Air Balloons at Battersea
Balloons at Battersea. © Courtesy of Bombadier Aerospace

Battersea Railway Arches

The Short brothers' association with Battersea began in June 1906 when they moved premises from Tottenham Court Road to the railway arches. This move was thanks to Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame, who incidentally also received an English Heritage Blue Plaque in 2010), who had chosen the brothers to build his entry - 'Britannia' - for the first Gordon Bennett international balloon race in September 1906. 

About thirty balloons were built by the Shorts in Battersea, mostly for members of the Aero Club (later Royal Aero Club), who made the site one of their chosen flying grounds. Balloons were filled with gas from the adjoining gas works.

In August 1907 Eustace and Oswald were appointed aeronauts to the Aero Club. In October 1908 they were appointed its aeronautical engineers, in recognition of the growing interest in aeroplane flight. Knowing that their mechanical skills were limited, Eustace and Oswald invited Horace to join them in this new venture and, in December 1908, he left his employment with the engineer Sir Charles Parsons in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to set up in formal partnership with his brothers in Battersea. However, even before Horace's arrival, Eustace and Oswald had tried their hand at aeroplane construction when, in 1907, they built a glider for the aviator (and later cabinet minister) J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon, to his own designs.

As aircraft construction became more important the focus of the Short brothers' business began to move away from Battersea, although lighter-than-air work continued and the Shorts did not leave the site until late 1919. The transition began in January 1909 when the aviator Frank McClean ordered Short No. 1. It was designed and built at Battersea, but needed a larger test site. The Shorts took a sub-lease from the Aero Club on land at Shellbeach, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, where completion and testing took place. The factory facility the Shorts built at Shellbeach has been described as "the first actual works put down in England for building Aeroplanes adjacent to an open space for use as a flying field'. Short No. 1, however, was a disappointment - for it was under-powered, too heavy and refused to fly.

The Wright Brothers

In March 1909 the Shorts received a contract from Wilbur and Orville Wright to build six Model 'A' Wright Flyers for sale to members of the Aero Club. The Shorts received £1200 for this, the first contract for batch production of aircraft to be placed in the United Kingdom. Even before the first Short-Wright flew, the Shorts had built Short No. 2, which had been ordered by J. T. C Moore-Brabazon in April 1909. On 30th October of that year Moore-Brabazon flew Short No. 2 on a circular flight of one mile to win the 'Daily Mail' prize of £1,000. Short No. 2's successful flights gave the brothers the distinction of being the UK's first sellers of a functional aeroplane as a proprietary article - and the foundation of the UK's aircraft industry may be dated from this point.

In the years before the First World War the Royal Navy was a major buyer of Short aircraft. The first Royal Navy officers to learn to fly did so in a Short aircraft (1911), the first aeroplanes bought for the Royal Navy were Short built (1911) and the first aircraft to take off from a ship of the Royal Navy was also a Short (1912). The Royal Navy's first seaplane (H1) was also delivered by the company in 1912. Short aircraft gave distinguished service in the First World War, during which the UK's first air-launched torpedo was dropped by a Short seaplane. After Horace's death in 1917 Oswald took over responsibility for design and carried out pioneering work in all-metal stressed-skin aircraft construction.

The Short brothers went on to become a world-famous name in aviation. During the First World War their business was concentrated at Rochester, where the Shorts built a series of flying boats including the Singapore, Sunderland and 'Empire' airliner, which set the standard for international air travel in the late 1930s. During the Second World War they built the Sunderland flying boat and the Stirling bomber and by the late 1940s the business relocated to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The firm was acquired by the Canadian company Bombardier in 1989.

Commemorated in 2013

Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short were commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former workshop in the railway arches by Queen's Circus, Battersea in September 2013. The plaque was unveiled by Jenny Body OBE, the first female President of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
"Whilst aerospace is at the cutting edge of technology and innovation, it is built on a foundation of great heritage going back to the pioneers of aviation like the Short Brothers," she said.

Howard Spencer, Historian for the English Heritage Blue Plaques team, said "The Short brothers were among the most outstanding British pioneers of air travel. It is excellent to be able to commemorate them in Battersea, where their formal business partnership began, and where their first heavier-than-air machine was made.'

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques

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