Alliot Verdon Roe was born in 1877 in Patricroft, Manchester. His father was a Doctor and his mother was later famous for her work in organising and setting standards for day nurseries.

His father had hoped that his son would follow in his profession but the boy was more keenly interested in engineering. When he was fourteen he set off to Canada to work in a civil engineering firm, but the job did not last long. The young Alliott then engaged in an apprenticeship in Portsmouth dockyard which he duly completed. After studying marine engineering at Kings College, London as well as the dockyard the young man joined the ship S.S.Inchanga as fifth engineer. It was during this time that Alliott first turned his mind to the possibility of actually building a flying machine.

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. He applied for and took a job with the Royal Aero Club. Then found a job in the U.S.A. with a firm trying to build a gyrocopter. The machine was a failure and Alliott was back in Britain. But not discouraged.

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 fatal.

After being evicted from Brooklands, and then Hackney Marshes Alliott Roe set up his flying operations at Wembley Park, Middlesex, as it then was. Alliott’s brother, Humphrey, who was later to marry Marie Stoppes, came into the business and on New Years Day 1910 A.V. Roe became the first company ever to be registered as an airplane manufacturer.. The learning curve was so fast, that hardly ever were two aircraft built that were exactly the same. Improvements came along at a breathtaking pace.

Manufacturing moved to Manchester and with Brooklands under new management an Avro flying school was set up there, later moving to Shoreham. Other money-earning ventures were the founding of an aircraft spares warehouse and the invention and marketing of a turnbuckle for tightening the bracing wires used on aircraft in those days.

With the coming of the First World War, A.V. Roe and Co. had a first rate aircraft for the forces. It was the Avro 504. A good basic design that leant itself to a variety of engines. So good was it that it became a standard trainer after the war and soldiered on until 1940 during the Second World War.

After the First World War military orders dried up to a trickle and even with new designs Avro Avianorders were small. The civil market was hotly contested and Avro’s most successful aircraft was the Avro Avian. Even before this a considerable financial investment had been made in the company by the Groves family of Groves and Whitnall Ltd. the Manchester brewers. In 1920 Crossley Motors bought three fifths of the shares in the company.

In 1928 control of the company passed to the Armstrong Siddley Development Group. As a result both of the Avro brothers, Alliott and Humpfrey, left to join S.E. Saunders Limited of Cowes, 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.

Alliott was Knighted in the New Year Honours list of 1929. AV, as he was known, became a strong supporter of Oswald Mosley during the 1930’s, and continued his support after the war with Union Movement. He was a great believer in monetary reform and thought it was wrong that banks should be able to create money by “book entry” and charge interest on it when they lent it out. In this respect he shared the same enthusiasm for reform as the American poet Ezra Pound, who also wrote for the Mosley press.

To sum up the attributes of this man, one can say that he was strong willed, brave, adventurous, inventive, enterprising and politically astute. In all, a very great Englishman.

Keith Thompson



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