April 7, 2011By

Founded in 1908, Shorts was the first company in the world to make production aircraft and was a manufacturer of flying boats during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and Royal Air Force bombers throughout the Second World War.Due to the success at the time of Seaplanes Shorts Brothers required a bigger site than theirexistingShellbeach Aerodrome site on the Isle of Sheppey (opened 1909) and also one that had direct access to the sea so in 1913 they bought an 8 acre plot in Rochester.By 1915 the first factory opened on the site, No.1 Erecting Shop. Soon after No.2 and No.3 Erecting Shops were built and a concrete slipway from the factory was built from No.3 Erecting Shop onto the Medway so they could launch planes straight onto the river.During WW1 over 900 Short Admiralty Type 184 (S.184) were built and it became their most successful aircraft. Also during this time they built over 50 flying boats. Between the wars Shorts were awarded the British Government defence contract for the Sunderland Flying Boat (The Flying Porcupine) and it became one of the most effective long-range seaplanes, eventually seeing heavy use inWW2 as an anti-submarine patrol bomber.By the time the Second World War came along they had run out of space at Rochester so Shorts requested permission from the Ministry of Aircraft Production to build an underground factory to accommodate new machine tools. The request was approved and two parallel tunnels were created, linked by four 75 meter adits that ran out to the back of the existing factory. Added to this were two ventilation shafts going directly to the surface. After the factory was built Shorts Brothers then constructed a huge network of Public Air Raid Shelters which consisted of two 300 yard tunnels with 14 crosscuts, connected to the Shorts Factory by a single 400 meter tunnel. There were entrance adits at various points along the tunnel as well as three ventilation shafts which doubled as emergency exits.

Due to the success of the Sunderland Flying Boat it won them the contract for the Shorts Stirling, the RAF’s first four-engine bomber and in addition to this A high-speed, long-range, four-engined flying-boat, the Short Shetland. During WW2 the Rochester site was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe resulting in many planes such as the Stirling being destroyed.

The demand for Seaplanes waned and by 1947 all of the Shorts Brothers Seaplane factories had been closed and in 1948 the Rochester factory finally closed and Shorts moved to Belfast. In November 1947 the site was purchased and conveyed to The Ministry of Supply on 12th April 1948.

The site was then used by various companies over the following decades (the most notable being Blaw Knox) and different parts of the site were leased to numerous different engineering companies until the site began to be sold off in sections.

CAV Ltd – Juy 1954
Blaw Knox Ltd – Dec 1955
Ozonair Engineering. Ltd – Oct 1958
Wm Palfrey Ltd – Nov 1960
City of Rochester Highway – March 1961
CAV Ltd – Nov 1963
Berry Ede & White – Sep 1975
Medway Borough Council – Feb 1978

By the 1990’s the Blaw Knox buildings started to get demolished and luxury housing was built in its place with the tunnel site remaining (but with some serious structural reinforcements in places!!).

Shorts Empire Canopus
Shorts Empire Flying Boat
Shorts Mayo Composite
Shorts Mussell II Monoplane
Shorts Factory 1950
Seaplane Factory
Entrance to Public Shelters from factory
Public Shelters
Lazy Wall

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    November 19, 2012

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    how do i get into the tunnels as i live were the factory used to be anyone please help

    • tocsin_bang
      November 19, 2012

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      I am sorry but I do not discuss access details but if you look hard enough you will find what you are looking for.

      • Chris
        January 18, 2015

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        Hi great bit of history and excellent capture of the tunnels. I’m really interested in having a look myself if anyone has info on the access could they contact me. Crussell86@hotmail.co.uk

        many thanks

  2. David Smith
    August 1, 2016

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    Strange, & very sad, that altho’ Shorts was the 2nd biggest employer in the Medway Towns( many thousands pre,during & after WWII at Seaplane Wks. & Airport), there is no monument or anything else to show of this- not even at the Museum. Dave55th Aug.1, 2016

    • sYnc
      August 2, 2016

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      Thanks for your comments, I agree it is a shame given the importance of the site.

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