BRITISH POWER BOATS AND RAF HYTHE
The Solent area, whilst famous for the aviation history of the various companies along the coast and on the Isle of Wight, will always be intertwined with the nautical heritage and boatbuilding companies who often moved into the new science of aviation in the early years of the 20th Century.
Hubert Scott-Paine, the founder of British Power Boats, had been a yacht dealer with the entrepreneur Noel Pemberton Billing, and in 1913 he joined Pemberton Billing’s fledgling aviation company based in Woolston, Southampton.
Designing a variety of aircraft, at the outbreak of the Great War, the company began to design and manufacture various naval floatplane aircraft for the Royal Naval Air Service. Shortly afterwards, Scott-Paine became the General Manager when Pemberton-Billing joined the RNAS.
As the telegraph address was ‘Supermarine, Southampton’ - Pemberton-Billing using the Latin vernacular, because as he said ‘’we make boats that fly’’ - the company name was therefore changed from Pemberton-Billing Ltd to Supermarine Aviation Works Ltd in 1916 after Pemberton-Billing sold his shares to Scott-Paine both to reflect the company’s products and also to prevent confusion with the previous company name.
Scott-Paine was instrumental in developing the company’s own aircraft, along with a young designer brought in – a certain R J Mitchell – and they supplied the RNAS with new wartime flying boat designs, such as the Supermarine Baby.
At the end of the Great War, Supermarine bought back some Baby flying boats from the RNAS, and converted them to civilian aircraft as the Supermarine Channel, starting pleasure flights along the coast in 1919. By 1923, Channels and the new Sea Eagle flying boats were plying regular commercial passenger services from Southampton to the Channel Islands and in particular Guernsey, along the South Coast and to Le Havre in France.
Having been involved in an unsuccessful 1919 Schneider Trophy attempt, Scott-Paine developed the Sea Lion II aircraft to win the Trophy in 1922.
For some reason, Scott-Paine was not presented with an individual trophy, as most winning pilots, constructors and local dignitaries were after winning the 1922 contest.
He decided therefore to have a large replica trophy made for himself! Solent Sky Museum has this unique artefact in our archive.
Scott-Paine then seems to have had a falling out with the rest of Supermarine’s Board and left the company shortly afterwards.
After a brief interlude, Scott-Paine, utilising his knowledge of fast yachts and modern engineering methods started British Power Boats on 30 September 1927, with the company moving to its Shore Road, Hythe factory shortly afterwards.
Scott-Paine had bought the factory site from Supermarine, who in turn had purchased it only a couple of years earlier from a shipbuilding company, May-Harden-May Ltd, who had produced aircraft under licence during the War.
BPB’s main income was in building naval launches and pinnaces for the Admiralty and small seaplane tenders both for the RAF and also Imperial Airways.
Part of the complex was leased by Imperial Airways [later BOAC] for flying boat maintenance which continued until BOAC gave up their flying boats in November 1950.
An entrepreneur and innovator, the success of the company allowed Scott-Paine to concentrate on his new passion – water speed record boats - such as Miss England II [98 mph] and Miss Britain III [103 mph] – extremely fast boats that utilised racing aero engines and high speed aircraft design and construction techniques.
The factory suffered a severe fire in 1931, but was very quickly rebuilt.
T E Lawrence, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, under one of his RAF guises of Aircraftman Shaw, had a roving commission and was attached to BPB from the RAF’s High Speed Flight at nearby RAF Calshot, having lodgings close to the factory at the end of Shore Road, and he was involved directly with some of the military boat designs.
Scott-Paine went to the US in 1938 to assist Elco in the design and construction of PT Boats for the US Navy – the kind of fast naval attack patrol boat made famous by the young skipper of one particular boat - PT109 – the future US President John F Kennedy.
Between 1939 and 1945, BPB built large quantities of armoured target boats for the RAF, MTB’s, MGB’s, air sea rescue launches and other fast military boats both at Hythe and at Calshot.
The end of the war saw the US, Canadian and British contracts cancelled, and both the company and factory closed in 1946, with Scott-Paine then retiring and emigrating to the USA, where he became an American citizen.
Sir Christopher Cockerill moved his Hovercraft Development Company to the vacant site in 1960 from the Saunders-Roe base in Cowes, Isle of Wight
The site eventually passed to the MOD, and was finally occupied by the United States Army under the loose name of RAF Hythe from 1967-2006.