Mary Sewell
6th September 2023

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Short Brothers’ factory closing in Rochester. The work on show will celebrate the skill and creativity of a remarkable workforce featuring original technical drawings, models, film and memorabilia.

A new free art exhibition celebrating the Short Brothers’ factory is set to open at Rochester Art Gallery that will run from Friday, 28 July to Saturday, 14 October.

The Short Brothers aeronautical company was founded in 1908 and was the first company in the world to make production aeroplanes. Originally based at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, the Short’s factory relocated to the banks of the River Medway at Borstal in 1917, for more than 30 years.

At its peak, the company employed 12,000 people and tested its innovative flying boats on the River Medway, including the famous Empire and Sunderland models, as well as developing the World War II Shorts Stirling, the first four-engine bomber. 

At the centre of the exhibition will be a large oil and charcoal painting of the ‘Canopus’ flying boat by internationally acclaimed Medway artist Billy Childish. There will also be a reminiscence wall, where visitors can add their memories of the Short Brothers’ factory.

The exhibition will also feature designs from the exciting new artwork ‘Wings Over the River Medway’ by local illustrator Jon Schwochert. 

The artwork, created with augmented reality studio Arcade, will be installed on Rochester Esplanade. Audiences will see Jon's illustrations come to life over the iconic River Medway via augmented reality through their phones. The work tells the story of the Short Brothers with a dash of the surreal and was inspired by the creativity of the brothers and their workforce in Medway.

‘Wings Over the River Medway’ was commissioned by us, funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and supported by the Screen Archive South East.

On Saturday, 7 October, Liz Walker, the great, great niece of the Short Brothers, will be giving a free talk at Rochester Art Gallery from 1pm – 2pm as part of the exhibition.

This exhibition has been created in partnership with Medway Archives and the Guildhall Museum Rochester.

Rochester Art Gallery is open between 9am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday at Medway Visitor Centre, 95 High Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1LX.

Medway Aircraft Preservation Society (MAPSL)

MAPSL is located at Rochester Airport and is free to visit.  

The latest project currently taking place in the hangar workshop is the restoration of a Short S16 Scion II aircraft, which was designed in 1933 by the Shorts Brothers as a small twin-engine 4-6 passenger transport.

Originally built at Rochester as a floatplane and destined for service in Sierra Leone, West Africa with Elders Colonial Airways, the Scion was stored in a hangar at the airport where it suffered bomb damage during the War in 1940.  It was converted to a landplane and used as a communication aircraft, returning to civilian life, flying occasionally until 1953.

For more information and visiting times, click this link.

Further Research - Medway Archives Centre

For further research and to see the plans for planes, the factories, Short Brothers letters, news articles, and even a 'will', pay a visit to the Medway Archives Centre in Strood.