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Town makes another move to mark its illustrious aviation past
Unveiling of plaque to commemorate the old Hawker factory. Front L-R Cllr. David Cunningham, David Edwards and David Hassard.
aThe extraordinary aviation history of Kingston has been officially recognised with a new commemorative plaque and exhibition.
Members of the Kingston Aviation Centenary Project joined ex-staff at the former British Aerospace factory in Richmond Road on Saturday, where the silver memorial was unveiled by Councillor David Cunningham.
Having celebrated the factory’s centenary last year, the plaque was the latest step to restore Kingston’s forgotten past as the centre of aeronautical innovation.
The ceremony on Saturday also marked the beginning of a week-long exhibition at Tudor Hall in Tudor Drive, featuring pictures and talks from former employees.
Project leader David Hassard said: “Kingston was home to one of the most important military aircraft design facilities in the world.
“The RAF has always had Kingston-designed airplanes such as the Sopwith Camel, and the Hawk advance jet training aircraft which they still use today.
“It is an extraordinary story and we would love even more people to come to the exhibition. It is packed with photos, model aircraft and books for children.”
Between 1918 and 1992, the Richmond Road factory produced thousands of aircraft, fighter planes, tanks and other vehicles, including the Sopwith Dolphin, the Hawker Sea Hawk and the Leyland Comet.
It was the town’s largest employer for much of the 20th century, with up to 3,500 people working there at its peak.
Michael Frain, a former engineer who signed the papers closing the factory 21 years ago, was among the contingent.
He said: “To many, it was not just a job, but a way of life, and a close association with some of the most brilliant aircraft produced.
“The closure of the Kingston site was not just a loss of employment it was the end of era and the loss of skills unlikely ever to be resurrected.
“I firmly believe that this wonderful piece of history should be remembered as well as fully understood.”
For more information visit kingstonaviation.org.
q The Surrey Comet’s feature editor June Sampson praised the work of Kingston Aviation Centenary Project, and stressed the importance of recognising Kingston’s engineering past.
She said: “It is an amazing thing they have done.
“How could this history be forgotten?
“At one point it was the most important aviation centre in the world, and the only memorial to it is languishing under ground in a car park.”