Fred Hughes, the Potteries
historian, writes this personal reminiscence about Mitchell...
Some years ago when I was a member of
a local rambling club, our Sunday morning walk took us around the
While passing along Congleton Road,
Butt Lane, one of my companions pointed out a low terraced house with
a modest front bay and a couple of flat casement windows above ground
There was nothing about the house
that commanded a second glance - stuccoed walls, an ordinary worker's
cottage, bland industrial architecture made worse by the very pale
pink exterior paint.
My friend then indicated a small
plaque set in the wall between the upstairs window on which an
inscription declared that Reginald J Mitchell had been born there on
May 20th 1895.
The Battle of Britain
Of course I knew that Mitchell had
designed the Spitfire - as a boy during the war I was very well
aware of the importance of that famous plane, a symbol that played
such a crucial role in the Battle of Britain. But in my maturing
years I was never able to connect the true effect of Mitchell and
how his aircraft saved Britain from invasion by the Nazis.
I remember as a boy being in a gang
of boys each playing the role of a war plane. Arms outstretched we'd
run around the streets and back entries, or the school playground
'buzzing' each other and 'blowing' each other out of the 'sky',
imitating the roar of the engines and the crackle of the guns.
Some of us would be Lancaster
bombers, or Lysanders, even American Dakotas which seemed to fill the
air of the Potteries day-in day-out with transports of personal and
equipment to and from the danger zones. But the more 'grown-up' of us
in the gang would select to take the part of the fighter planes. One
or two would be Hurricanes, but only one, yes, only the privileged one
would be a Spitfire - the strongest boy would be the 'Spit' - and he
would always win the schoolyard battles.
We really do owe our lives to RJ
Mitchell, a modest man, born in a modest home in a modest location.
Reginald had four other brothers and
sisters and the house in Butt Lane had become overcrowded so they
moved to Longton where his father took a teaching job.
Reginald was a pupil first at
Queensbury junior school but gained a scholarship to Hanley High
School where he revealed his skills in applied science. He was
fascinated by flight! - just think, he was an impressionable seven
years old when the Wright brothers made the first manned flight at
Kittyhawk travelling between 7 and 11 mph!
At 16 he became apprenticed to an
engineering firm in Fenton. Learning his trade on the shop floor he
graduated however to the drawing office where he very soon made a name
for himself as an innovative designer.
In 1916, at the age of 21 he was
offered a position at the Southampton air-plane company of the
Supermarine Aviation Works where he very quickly rose to become chief
engineer. He was noticed for his special designs of seaplanes and he
turned his attention to making them go faster.
High speed flight was a great feature
in post war international engineering and standards were set that
lasted to the rocket science in the 1960's.
His beautiful aerodynamic designs
earned the company the award of the Schneider Trophy annually for air
speed between 1922 and 1931 culminating with an air speed record of
407 mph in a seaplane, the S6b, which became the model for the
Sadly RJ Mitchell died in 1937 of
cancer aged only 42.
The Supermarine company was
commissioned to produce a fighter plane to combat the Luftwaffe at the
commencement of the Battle of Britain - they came up with the Spitfire
- Mitchell's plane - Mitchell's exact design - with a Rolls Royce
Merlin engine 'under the bonnet.'
It was a plane that came to symbolise
British spirit and freedom from aggression. A bird of paradise, and it
is still recognised in every country throughout the world.
Over 22,500 Spitfires in a variety of
forms were produced and their task was to turn away the mighty German
air force. And they did so famously thanks to Mitchell's famous
airplane for which the German's had no answer. If it could be said
that a single person did more than anyone else to win WWII - you'd
have to say that person was Reginald J Mitchell - a great