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Mark XVI Spitfire at the Potteries Museum, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

Mark XVI Spitfire at the Potteries Museum, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

photo:  Sept 2008


 


 


Reginald Mitchell (1895 - 1937), 
designer of the WWII Spitfire aeroplane

photo: Carl Sharples

Statue stands outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley,
Stoke-on-Trent

The statue depicts Mitchell wearing a suit, pen in his right hand, book in his left. The low relief panel attached to the pedestal depicts two images of Mitchell from the waist up; in one he is smartly dressed in jacket and tie; in the other he at his drawing board, shirt sleeves rolled up. Above the two portrait images is a depiction of the Spitfire he designed.

Mitchell was voted the 'Greatest Midlander of all time'.  The votes in this television poll for BBC TV Midlands Today in 2003 were 25% in favour of Reginald Mitchell.  William Shakespeare took second place with only 17%.

Awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society and made an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1929.

Awarded the CBE in 1929.


Reginald Mitchell (1895 - 1937), designer of the WWII Spitfire aeroplane

Reginald Joseph Mitchell (1895-1937) was born in Butt Lane, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He trained as an engineer then joined the Vickers Armstrong Supermarine Co. in 1916, rapidly becoming chief designer.

He designed sea-planes during the 1920s and early 1930s, and from one of them, the Supermarine S6 which set speed records and won the Schiedner trophy in 1931, he developed the Spitfire. Mitchell did not live to see the success of his Spitfire in combat in World War Two.

 

Prizes

1922 - Mitchell's Sea Lion II won the Schneider International Seaplane Trophy.  It set world records for marine aircraft in distance, duration and speed (130 mph).

1927 - Mitchell's Supermarine S5 won the Schneider Trophy with a speed of 281.65 mph.  The same machine later established a world record speed of 319.57 mph.

1929 - Mitchell's Supermarine S6 won the Schneider Trophy again and established a new world air speed record of 357 mph.

1931 - Mitchell's S6B won the Schneider Trophy for the third time in a row, making Britain the outright winner.  The plane achieved a new world speed record of 407.5 mph.

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 Kidsgrove district.

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 level.

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.

Youth

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.

Aircraft design

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 Spitfire.

Sadly RJ Mitchell died in 1937 of cancer aged only 42.

The Spitfire

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 Staffordshire lad.

Mitchell Memorial Theatre in Broad Street, Hanley
Mitchell Memorial Theatre in Broad Street, Hanley

The theatre was opened in 1957 by Spitfire pilot Group Captain Douglas Bader.


Plaque on the house where Mitchell was born
Plaque on the house where Mitchell was born

Reginald J Mirchell
CBE AMICE FRAS
Designer of the Spitfire
was born here
20th May 1895

Reginald Mitchell's house
Reginald Mitchell's house

115 Congleton Road, Butt Lane.
 


Reginald Mitchell Spitfire Sea Plane
Reginald Mitchell's Supermarine Walrus Sea Plane
junction of Chatterley Road and Reginald Mitchell Way, Tunstall

the Supermarine Walrus was an amphibious plane desinged by Mitchell in the early 30s and first flying in 1933.