Shorts Flying Boat Factory & Underground Workshops
As a child I spent some time living in Strood which is the other side of the River Medway to Rochester.
The surrounding farmland, woods and the River Medway itself were our playground, there to be explored.
We fished at the dry dock although it wasn't so dry, from the floating pier beside the old Rochester Bridge, and also from little islands under the old motorway bridge that crossed the Medway, making makeshift rafts out of pallets and barrels to get from one island to another. We explored the river banks on both sides, cycling where possible or just climbing and occasionally even swimming, especially when we slipped and fell in to the murky cold Medway.
There was always lots to do around Strood and Rochester, we would cycle up to the old 'Arethusa' an old sailing vessel used for training (now I believe renamed and moved to the USA), and to Allhallows, Upnor and Hoo crossing the bridge that passed over the tank firing ranges. we would also explore around Chatham Docks.
On one of our exploration rides along the rivers edge on the Rochester side, we found the entrance to the hidden buildings where they made the Flying Boats, unaware of the complex tunnels that laid behind.
The Shorts Brothers built a variety of Flying Boats at their riverside factory, the area was a dangerous place to be in wartime due to the closeness of the Chatham Docks and liable to frequent air raids. To enable continuation of work in the war years they tunnelled into the hill behind making an underground factory and providing the local people with air raid shelter.
Not a lot remains visible on the outside now, the launching jetties have been removed apart from one which is now used by the Rochester Rowing Club, a recent video showing what is left can be found below.
The underground tunnel network is still there, and is still littered with paperwork and items from the time, the following two videos show the internal factory areas, and the air raid tunnels, I apologise in advance for the loud music that accompanies some of the videos.
Click to watch the video
A good source of information about the Rochester area and Chatham Dockyard are the members of the Medway History Group facebook page who post many photographs and articles about life in the Medway towns.
The Shorts Brothers played an important part in the design and manufacture of Flying Boats and showed a lot of innovation in to aircraft design, especially 'piggy-backing' aircraft, something that has been done since by the Space Shuttle on a Jumbo Jet. This idea is being re-tested in the hope of launching future Space travel
All aircraft made in Rochester by the Shorts Brothers factory were assigned names beginning with the letter C,
Those that were sent abroad to Australia were then renamed all beginning with the letter A.