One of the memories that Eric remembers is that of his grandfather just three months before his death at the age of cycling around the garden facing backwards on his bike.
“He was the most amazingly energetic man” he recalls, fathering nine children, Eric is one of numerous grandchildren, too many that he can’t count, “but at family gatherings, there are over one hundred and that is just on his size of the family.
We are talking of Alliott Verdon Roe or AV, as we shall call him, who probably left one of the biggest legacies in Manchester’s industrial heritage and in worldwide production of aircraft.
He founded AV Roe and Co with his brother Humphrey in Manchester on the 1st January 1910, just four years later it was one of the biggest industrial Companies in England.Just six years earlier he had been living in a shed under a railway arch.
“His management expertise could have been written on the back of a stamp” says Eric.”He was just an inventor and yet he found himself at the head of a huge company.
The Avro 504 would become the most built aircraft of the First World War, and it would act as a training plane for the Second World War pilots during the 1920’s and 30’s.
The Company would give us the famous Lancaster bomber in the second conflict and it would continue into the cold war with the Vulcan which would still be playing a part in the Falklands war in 1982.
Eric was aware of his grandfather’s skills, “he used to fly aeroplanes” but to seven year old, it was only what someone in his family did, it wasn’t all that special.
But he was special, born in Patricroft, his father was a Doctor, his mother ran a children’s orphange, he didn’t excel at school,” he was asked to move on several times” and by the age of sixteen,he had enough of education.Extraordinary for that time,his parents said, well go and do something then and jumped on a boat to America, then caught a train to the West Coast, with one contact in his pocket.
He arrived too late for the Gold Rush which may have been his prior motive for the trip, but the trip opened his horizons, returning to the UK, joining the merchant navy.
It was give him the inspiration to fly, while sailing down the coast of Africa, he saw the albatross gliding on the air currents.”If it can fly without moving its wings, then surely we can as well.”
An apprenticeship in the railway industry gave him a good solid engineering basis, he combined that with a love of bicycles, the bicycle would play a huge part in early aviation, it had to be light and it had to have a mechanism to provide power.
He began with small models and in this he was quite successful. When the Wright brothers made the very first flight in a heavier than air machine at Kittyhawk, U.S.A. he was almost immediately in correspondence with them.
It was in 1906 that he patented the first aircraft control column, as previously two levers were required. It was as well he patented the idea as many years later a Frenchman tried to claim copyright and £1,000,000 damages
When Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail offered a prize of £250 for a model capable of sustained flight Alliott took the prize. Thus encouraged he designed and built his own real aircraft. He set up shop at Brooklands, near Weybridge.
On the 8th June, 1908 A.V. Roe actually flew for the first time, but his short flights were not registered officially by the Royal Aero Club and Lord Brabazon took the honour of registering first. Roe pressed on regardless. It was a challenging time as he had to learn so much. Designing, building and flying all at once! It was dangerous because things kept breaking. Controls were not correctly understood and engines were unreliable. On the plus side the aircraft of those days could glide and crashes were often not.
The first aircraft building Company in the world opened on the basement floor of the Everards Elastic Webbing Company at Brownsfield Mill in what is now the Piccadilly basin in the centre of Manchester.
It would quickly grow with orders flowing in for the 504, it moved to Clifton Street, Miles Platting and just a year later with Europe at war it moved again, this time in an extension to the Mather & Platt Works at Newton Heath.
Over 9,000 of the 504’s would be built, many were being used for survellance but they were were also involved in a hugely successful raid over the Zeppelin Works on the shores of Lake Constance.
Avro continued after the war but as military orders dried up, AV would eventually sell his shareholding to the Armstrong Siddley Development Group.
Both Alliott and Humpfrey, left to join S.E. Saunders Limited of Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. Saunders were exponents of the flying boat. The company became known as Saunders Roe and they produced a series of well know aircraft culminating with the “Saro Princess”.
They also produced the very successful “Skeeter” helicopter and the experimental rocket fighter, the SR-53.
With Europe once again plunged into conflict, AVRO in Manchester was once again in the spotlight.In 1938 they had opened a new 750,000 sq ft factory at Chadderton and an Experimental Department was established at RAF Ringway,now Manchester Airport .
The Company played a significant role providing over 7,500 Lancaster, Manchester and York aircraft to the RAF and Bomber Command.
The war over, AVRO would produce probably its most famous aircraft the Vulcan,designed as a nuclear strike aircraft and used to maintain the British nuclear deterrent throughout the early days of the Cold War. Some 136 aircraft were built and they would be brought back into service during the 1980’s Falklands conflict.
Long before then the AVRO name had disappeared,dropped by the Hawker Siddeley Group the name was last seen at the Paris Air Show in June 1963.The Chadderton site continued to operate until 2012 as part of British Aerospace Engineering.
The name of Avro will live on in Manchester as the very site where the first aircraft production began back in 2010.
Urban Splash are curently converting the building formerly known as Brownsfield Mill on Binns Place, just off Great Ancoats Street.
The lofts will be some of the biggest the city has to offer, with floorplates from 840 sq ft up to 2,600 sq ft – meaning there’s a range of homes on offer for buyers.
You can read more about the project HERE