Concrete slipway c. 1936-37. Oliver Bernard, architect.
Reason for Listing
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The Supermarine Slipway is designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Historical interest: The slipway is the last remaining vestige of the Supermarine Aviation Works: a company which was responsible for developing some of the most important flying boats in the country.
* Historical interest: The Supermarine Aviation Works slipway is a tangible link with the work done here by RJ Mitchell, who became Supermarine's chief designer, and is memorably associated with the development and design of the renowned Supermarine Spitfire.
The Supermarine Company originated in 1913 as Pemberton-Billing Limited, and grew out of Noel Pemberton-Billing's desire to develop flying boats: the riverside location on the River Itchen, off Southampton Water, was thus of crucial importance. In 1916 it was renamed The Supermarine Aviation Works Limited. It was at this time that Reginald Mitchell, who was later to become famous as the designer of the Spitfire, joined the company. Mitchell, who was born in 1895, studied engineering, and soon progressed to the relatively new field of aircraft design. He joined the Supermarine Company in 1916 as a racing seaplane designer. A year later he was made chief designer. Hubert Paine, the owner of Supermarine, was determined to win the Schneider Trophy, the most prestigious race in marine aviation, and Mitchell designed the Sea Lion II, which won the race in 1922. Supermarine developed the Supermarine S5, which won the race again in 1927, followed by the Supermarine S6 which won in 1929, and the Supermarine S6B which won the trophy outright in 1931, and soon after broke the world speed record of 407.5 mph. By 1928 the company had been acquired by Vickers (Aviation) Ltd, and became the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd. Significant seaplanes like the Supermarine Southampton were developed here, and the famous Supermarine Walrus.
The Air Ministry was impressed with Mitchell's work on racing seaplanes, and commissioned Supermarine to design a replacement for the Bristol Bulldog fighter plane. Mitchell's first design was the Type 224, which he developed into the more advanced Type 300. In 1933 the Air Ministry asked Supermarine to develop the Type 300 for production, and it was this aircraft which, with the addition of a Merlin engine and other modifications, became the Spitfire. This is regarded as the most famous aeroplane ever to fly.
The prototype Spitfire made its maiden flight in March 1936 at nearby Eastleigh aerodrome, and subsequently the Air Ministry placed its largest ever order for 310 aircraft. Supermarine fitted out its factory at Woolston for Spitfire production.
The Supermarine Works were accordingly reconstructed in 1936-37, to the designs of the noted 1930's modernist architect, Oliver Bernard. They were designed in a deliberately forward-looking idiom, with streamlined lines and very contemporary styling. Much of the site was built on reclaimed land, and it can safely be assumed that the slipway in question dates from this time. However, due to the need for large quantities of the aircraft to be produced quickly, the work was contracted out to the Nuffield Group, who built a large new factory at Castle Bromwich near Birmingham, which only began production in mid-1940, almost too late for the Battle of Britain. However, Supermarine was offered further contracts for production of the Spitfire in 1939 just before the declaration of war, and the Woolston factory was thus of huge strategic importance to the RAF and the defence of Great Britain. Mitchell died on 11 June 1937, but remains very renowned. The 1942 Leslie Howard film 'The First of the Few' was devoted to his story, and in Southampton there is a museum named the RJ Mitchell Hall of Fame. An English Heritage plaque was erected on his house in 2004.
In 1938 the Company was taken over by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. During the war the factory was bombed on 24 September 1940, and again on the 26 September 1940 with 55 killed and 92 injured. The last Supermarine aircraft was built in 1963: this site thus has had a fifty year connection with aviation, and has an illustrious history. This slipway is all that remains.
The slipway is a platform of pre-cast, probably reinforced, concrete slabs, which appears to have had a tarmac cover of which only patches remain. Marks of repair and resurfacing can be seen on the concrete slabs. The platform runs down to the water and is supported by concrete beams, which in turn are supported by lines of square concrete pillars in groups of three, which are sunk below the surface of the water. This is the only structure to remain from the Supermarine Works, which stood directly behind.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.