Trafford's War Machines

Aerial view of Trafford Park

Aerial view of Trafford Park, c.1930s. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0934.

As a significant industrial centre, Trafford Park was called upon during the Second World War to support the war effort with manufacture. A new Ford Factory was built to produce Rolls-Royce’s famous Merlin Engines, to power both the Spitfire and the Lancaster Bomber aeroplanes. Metropolitan-Vickers turned their attention towards manufacturing the latter. Other companies also made gun bearings, tracks for tanks, and building materials for army huts. The importance of this area in terms of wartime production cannot be overstated.

Although the smaller of the two, the role of Broadheath’s industrial park, near Altrincham, was also significant. Factories produced instruments for planes and ships, armaments and uniforms for soldiers. The Linotype works, which usually made machines for the printing industry, began to manufacture parts for guns and tanks. 

The Ford Factory

Ford had established its first factory on British soil in Trafford Park back in 1911, but since completing its plant in Dagenham, had concentrated its efforts elsewhere. However, in October 1939, company chairman Percival Perry was approached by Air Vice Marshal Wilfred Freeman, the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, about the possibility of Ford manufacturing Rolls-Royce’s Merlin aero-engine. It was agreed and the government funded the construction of a new shadow factory in Trafford Park, especially designed for the purpose. By May 1941, the factory was ready.

Upwards of 30,000 engines were produced by Ford from 1941 to 1945. More than 17,000 people were employed in the factory, of which 7,000 were women. The production process was broken down into small tasks, so that people without prior experience of manufacture could be employed.

Remembering myself as a sweet and innocent 18 year old girl, I found it rather hair-raising. Full of noise and dirty streets. I was told to report to a small factory in Davyhulme. So I went off at half past seven one Monday morning to find myself going through the doors into a huge factory full of noise, smell, oil, food, anything you can think of really.  There was an engine running which I discovered was an engine for the Merlin Bomber planes.

- One woman’s experience of working in Trafford Park during the war. BBC People’s War website.

In 2015, Trafford Council unveiled a blue plaque at the Trafford Centre in recognition of Ford’s contribution to the war effort.

Metropolitan-Vickers

Aerial view of Metropolitan-Vickers

Aerial view of Metropolitan-Vickers, 1941. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0854.

Like Ford, Metropolitan-Vickers also turned their attention towards wartime manufacture. As well as making radar equipment, they also began production of both the Lancaster and Manchester Bombers, licenced from aircraft manufacturer Avro, in Trafford Park. The Lancaster Bomber’s design engineer Roy Chadwick was himself from nearby Urmston, so this truly was a local network of aircraft manufacture. 

The Avro Lancaster is the most famous and successful RAF heavy bomber of World War Two. It is a legend that lives on today and the contribution made by the aircraft and its crews to the freedom of our nation will, hopefully, never be forgotten. - RAF website

Metropolitan-Vickers Aircraft works

Metropolitan-Vickers aircraft works on Westinghouse Road, 1973. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0850. 

During the war Metrovicks employed more than 8,000 people in aircraft manufacture alone. Nearly half of these workers were women.

When the one thousandth Lancaster was built and was all ready, there was a box in which we all put our names and whoever's name came out the plane was called after them. It was a lady called Margaret whose name was pulled out, so she had the pleasure of calling the plane Margaret.

After I had been in the training school for three weeks I was put on the front centre part of the Lancaster Bomber. I was put with a male colleague who showed me what to do, how to drill a rivet and lots of other things, which we connected together. It was hard work but it had to be done. I met a lot of girls from other towns which were drafted to work at Metros. I was lucky really as I could get home.

- One woman’s experience of working in Metropolitan-Vickers during the war. BBC People’s War website.

The water tower at Metropolitan-Vickers, prior to its reduction in height

The water tower at Metropolitan Vickers, prior to it reduction in height. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0855.

The industrial capability of Trafford Park made it a significant target for the Luftwaffe. Metrovicks had reduced the height of its distinctive water tower from 200 feet to 50 feet high, so that it wasn’t such a landmark. Despite this, the factory was still hit on 23 December 1940, in what was later known as the ‘Manchester Blitz’. Thirteen Manchester Bombers were destroyed. 

It wasn’t long, however, before production resumed. At its peak, the factory was manufacturing 45 aircraft each month. In recognition of the company’s output, the crew of the Lancaster Bomber known as ‘S for Sugar’ visited Trafford Park, in 1944, to express their gratitude and to see where the aircraft they flew had started its life. By the end of the war, Metrovicks had produced more than one thousand Lancaster Bombers.

The Linotype Works, Broadheath

Detail: newspaper article about Broadheath during the Second World War

Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. LHC/616/4.

It was not an easy task for Broadheath’s Linotype and Machinery works to move from producing machines for the printing industry, to producing parts for the war effort, but that’s what they did from 1939 until the end of the war.

As part of the government’s dilution of labour policy, skilled roles were broken down into smaller tasks, so that inexperienced workers could learn new skills. Linotype set up its own training schools to teach milling, turning, drilling, planning, welding, and grinding. In total, 1,171 people were taught there, of which 918 were women.

More than a million and a half complete units and parts of howitzers, anti-tank guns, Bren guns, Bofors, Browning guns, 2-pounder tank and anti-tank guns, aeroplanes, armoured fighting vehicles, &c., have flowed from the works of Linotype and Machinery, Limited, since 1939.

- Undated newspaper article, circa 1945. 

Sources

BBC People’s War website. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

David Egerton, Britain’s War Machines, (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Robert Kirby, The Avro Manchester: the legend behind the Lancaster, (Fonthill Media, 2015)

Tony Littler, ‘Altrincham in World War II’ in Don Bayliss (ed.), Altrincham: a history, (Willow Publishing, 1992)

Robert Nicholls, Trafford Park: the First Hundred Years, (Phillimore, 1996)

Simon Reich, Postwar Prosperity in Historical Perspective, (Cornell University, 1990)

Patricia Southern, The Story of Altrincham, (Amberley, 2009)

Daniel Todman, Britain’s War: A New World, 1942-1947 (Allen Lane, 2020)

Gordon A. A. Wilson, The Merlin: the Engine that won the Second World War, (Amberley, 2018)

‘War weapons week is every week at Broadheath’, undated newspaper article, archive reference TRA616/4.

Trafford's War Machines