New Castle Vale development honours Spitfire heroes
The history of a former derelict site in an area synonymous with the iconic Spitfire plane has been honoured at a launch event organised by Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust.
The development is launched today with leading housebuilder Lovell Partnerships and The Pioneer Group. Representatives from all organisations will be joined by Squadron Leader Chris Wilson from RAF Cosford and the relatives of those being honoured with street names on the new development, now known as The Point. Also in attendance will be Air Cadets and representatives of the Royal Airforce Association.
The new development of 123 new homes, located on the former site of Greenwood Academy and near the site of an old Spitfire factory, will proudly feature road names in recognition of female Spitfire pilots Mary Ellis, Joy Lofthouse and Eleanor Wadsworth. Plus, designer of the Spitfire, R J Mitchell, test pilot Alex Henshaw, and Lord Robin Corbett of Castle Vale, who was MP for the area.
The development will also include 64 affordable homes for rent, 40 of which will be available for rent for people on Birmingham City Council’s waiting list and 24 of which will be for social rent to people on The Pioneer Group’s waiting list for residents of Castle Vale Community Housing Association. The remaining plots are available on the open market through Lovell Homes.
The Castle Vale site is synonymous with aviation and was an airfield during both world wars. The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Fighter and Avro Lancaster Bomber were manufactured opposite the site where Jaguar Land Rover now stands.
Councillor Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said: “This new development on Castle Vale is a great example of collaboration between BCC, the local housing association – The Pioneer Group – and developer, Lovell Partnerships. It will provide much-needed affordable homes for our tenants while honouring the history of the site. The homes have been built to be as energy efficient as possible which will help to keep all residents gas and electricity bills down while also showcasing how sustainably built new homes can help the Council reach its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”
Squadron Leader at RAF Cosford Chris Wilson said: “I am very glad to see these icons of aviation recognised in this way. Their names will live on at the site of Castle Vale, which holds a unique place in British military aviation history, for generations to come. It is testament to this area’s strong links to manufacturing and wartime Royal Air Force aviation.”
Stuart Penn, regional managing director at Lovell, said: “It is fitting to recognise a site with such a unique history by honouring local heroes through a permanent fixture like the street names. We have enjoyed the time getting to know and supporting local groups and schools in this area who made us aware of how important it was to link this site, which has been derelict for many years, to its significant manufacturing history.”
Road name information:
Mary Ellis (née Wilkins; 2 February 1917 – 24 July 2018) was a British ferry pilot, and one of the last surviving British women pilots from the Second World War. In October 1941, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, and was posted to a pool of women flyers based in Hamble in Hampshire. Over the course of the war she flew over 1,000 planes of 76 different types, including Harvards, Hurricanes, Spitfires and Wellington bombers. Some of her flights were to relocate planes from Royal Air Force airfields to the frontline, and others were to ferry new planes from factories to airfields.[
Eleanor Wadsworth (1917-2020) was a second world war pilot, who served as one of the RAF’s “Spitfire women”. Wadsworth was the oldest surviving pilot of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) before her death in December 2020. Wadsworth began her career at the ATA as an architectural assistant. In 1943 Wadsworth responded to an advert for people with no flying experience to train to become pilots for the ATA. Aged 25, she passed the medical examination and was accepted into the programme. She began her training in the ATA Initial Flying Training School at Thame in Oxfordshire.
From June 1943 to September 1945, Wadsworth flew 22 different types of aircraft, including the Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire. Her favourite aircraft to fly was the Spitfire, which she flew over 130 times. Throughout the war she was posted at several of ATA’s 14 ferry pools, earning her a Class 3 licence allowing her to fly light twin-engine aircraft. Wadsworth was among 165 other women who flew without radios or instrument flying instructions during the second world war. She completed 590 flying hours, 430 of which were solo.
Joy Lofthouse (14 February 1923 – 15 November 2017) was a British pilot having joined the Air Transport Auxiliary as an ab initio pilot in December 1943. She went on to fly Spitfires and bombers for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and was one of only 168 “Ata girls” who served. She was one of a total of 168 women who were members of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Her job was to deliver aircraft from the factories where they were made to the airfields where they were to be flown from by Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots. Lofthouse was able to fly 38 different types of aircraft.
R. J. Mitchell
Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE, FRAeS, (20 May 1895 – 11 June 1937) was a British aircraft designer who worked for the Southampton aviation company Supermarine from 1920 to 1936. He is best remembered for designing racing seaplanes such as the Supermarine S.6B, and the Supermarine Spitfire. Between 1920 and 1936 he designed 24 aircraft, which included flying boats and racing seaplanes, light aircraft, fighters, and bombers. From 1925 to 1929 he worked on a series of racing seaplanes, built by Supermarine to compete in the Schneider Trophy competition, the final entry in the series being the Supermarine S.6B. The S.6B won the trophy in 1931, and that year he was awarded the CBE. When in 1931 the Air Ministry issued specifications for a new fighter aircraft, Supermarine submitted Mitchell’s design, the Type 224, but this was rejected by the RAF. Mitchell was then authorised by Supermarine to proceed with a new design, the Type 300, which went on to become the Spitfire.
Alexander Adolphus Dumphries Henshaw,
Henshaw considered enlisting in the Royal Air Force at the start of the Second World War, but he instead became a test pilot for Vickers Armstrong. He subsequently took the rank of sergeant pilot to fly a fully armed Spitfire to defend the factory, if needed, although he was never called upon to fly in combat. Henshaw started with Wellingtons at Weybridge. In June 1940 Henshaw moved to the Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham, which had been taken over by Vickers He was soon appointed to the post of Chief Test Pilot, leading a team of 25 others. The factory built over half of the total output of Spitfires ever made, and 350 Lancaster heavy bombers; Henshaw tested both types of aircraft. Production/acceptance test flying was essential, ensuring that faults were detected before aircraft were delivered to the front line, but it was potentially dangerous: two of his team were killed testing new aircraft. Henshaw survived many forced landings and a catastrophic crash in Wednesfield near Wolverhampton on 18 July 1942 which destroyed his aircraft. Henshaw was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his wartime service.
Robin Corbett, Baron Corbett of Castle Vale (22 December 1933 – 19 February 2012) was a British Labour Party politician and journalist. Corbett sat in the House of Commons from 1974 to 1979 and then from 1983 to 2001, before being elevated to the House of Lords as a Life Peer.