Mon, 04 May 2020
As we head towards the 75th anniversary of VE Day, West Berkshire Museum looks at ways in which the local area contributed towards the effort of the Second World War. One Newbury firm that played an important part was Elliotts, whose Albert Works were situated just behind the Methodist Church on the west side of Northbrook Street, stretching from West Street to Strawberry Hill.
Highlights of the West Berkshire Museum Collection 4; Elliotts and the war effort, researched and written by museum volunteer Val Pollitt and museum curator Janine Fox.
NEWBURY-born Samuel Elliott initially established a company called Albert Moulding and Joinery in the late 1800s. He built up a national reputation in manufacturing high-quality goods, for example, staircases and wood panelling. Customers included Manchester Town Hall and, more locally, Greenham Lodge, church and vicarage.
Following a disastrous fire in 1885, the company faced serious financial problems, culminating in bankruptcy by 1895. This led to the appointment of Edward de Vere Buckingham as receiver and manager of the company. Buckingham went on to successfully reconstruct the business as Elliott’s Moulding and Joinery Company Ltd and by 1939 the business had moved on from joinery products to the manufacture of domestic furniture, especially bedroom and dining room suites.
During the First World War, Elliotts produced ammunition boxes with a workforce of 90 per cent women. This experience stood them in good stead during the Second World War, when a largely female workforce produced components for aircraft. The factory’s output included parts for the Spitfire, Tiger Moths, De Havilland Mosquito, the Airspeed Oxford and the Horsa glider.
The main site for the production of Spitfires had previously been at Supermarine in Southampton, but the factory was bombed and destroyed in late 1940. Spitfires were then constructed from components made in a number of factories across Southern England, then assembled at the large Castle Bromwich Aerodrome factory, near Birmingham. Elliotts was so successful it
commissioned several films promoting its work during this period.
The West Berkshire Museum has several items in its collection that relate to Elliotts’ role in the Second World War. The museum owns the original commissioned films noted above, which illustrate the workers and production methods within the factory. These are now stored at Wessex Film and Sound Archive, where some have been digitised. Digitisation helps to preserve the footage so that it can continue to be accessible for years to come. Last year, the museum supported Wessex Film and Sound Archive in digitising additional films in this collection relating to the production of Spitfire components. These were then edited into a single film and screened at venues throughout the South East accompanied by oral history recordings and live music. You can see the edited film Working in Shadows on YouTube. Scan the QR code.
West Berkshire Museum also holds photographs of the wartime workforce and a card signed by Sir Stafford and Lady Cripps, commemorating their 1943 visit to congratulate the workforce on its achievement. A particularly interesting object in the collection is a bagatelle board game made by Elliotts workers from leftover airplane parts. Such games were sold to help the war effort as toys were in short supply. The donor of this piece used a knitting needle to fire balls around the board as the spring was not easy to use.
After the war, Elliotts prototyped and manufactured gliders and a light aircraft, the Newbury Eon, which became renowned throughout the world. It was not until 1948 that the Board of Trade granted a licence for the production of furniture once more. The firm went on to produce both aircraft and furniture, predominantly the latter, until the company closed in 1974.
The West Berkshire Museum holds brochures from the 1960s advertising Elliotts very modern and stylish furniture designs.
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Pictures courtesy of West Berks Museum
Pictures: Photograph commemorating the first flight of the Newbury Eon. Photograph taken by Central Press Photos Ltd, 1947; Bagatelle game made by workers at Elliotts; workers at Albert Moulding and Joinery, early 20th century and a still taken from film footage taken of Elliotts workers during the Second World War