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Norfolk flies high to boost the efforts of World War One’s engineers

17:27 01 October 2014

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

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From boots to aeroplanes... A century ago the skilled men and women of Norfolk and Norwich were making a range of goods, equipment and machines for our forces in the First World War.

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

World-famous companies including Boulton & Paul and Laurence Scott & Electromotors were run by pioneering inventors and so was the much-loved and much-missed Mann Egerton.

Thank you for all your memories of ME following my story about the company in August and news of the reunion for workers which is taking place at the Oasis Sports and Leisure Centre, Thorpe St Andrew, this coming Friday at 7.30pm.

Among them were these wonderful photographs sent by Peter Bell of the production of aircraft at the Cromer Road site during the First World War which illustrate so well the work going on at ME.

“They are photographs of the exterior of the hangar and interior shots showing aircraft being produced,” said Peter, who worked at the company from 1960 as maintenance engineer, at which time the commercial vehicle bodies were being built.

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

“I was also there when the hangar was eventually demolished in, if I remember correctly, the mid-1980s,” he added.

It was in the 1890s when Gerard Noel Cornwallis Mann, a Cornish electrical engineer, spotted an advertisement that an electrical installation business in Norwich was up for sale so he arrived in the city and bought it from Laurence Scott & Company for £2,600.

Before long he teamed up with pioneering motorist Hubert Wingfield Egerton. They were two very clever and talented gentlemen and when they joined forces they became a formidable double act at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.

Customers came from far and wide to look at the new-fangled motor cars in their grand showroom in Prince of Wales Road, Norwich. The company was expanding fast and within a few years they were making bodies for another talented double act, Henry Royce and Charles Rolls.

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

They were ready to accept the challenges thrown up by the First World War. The Admiralty wanted ME to build aeroplanes and a war loan of £30,000 enabled them to acquire 60 acres of land at Cromer Road where a large wooden hangar was built and by 1916 a flying field was up and running.

Ten separate and distinct models of aircraft were produced by ME: Short Bombers, Sopwith IV, Strutter twin-seat fighters, single-seater French-designed SPA scouts, De Havilland long-range bombers and 184 Short Seaplanes.

As you can see from the photographs, this was a vitally important part of the campaign in the fight to win the war in the sky over the battlefields almost a century ago and more than 1,200 people were helping to build the aircraft in Norwich.

After the war, ME moved on to become a major public company with operations across the country making a huge range of goods where tens of thousands of people worked over the years.

Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.Scenes taken during the First World War, when Norwich engineering firm Mann Egerton turned its expertise over to building planes for the war effort.

In 1973 it was announced that Inchcape had put in an offer of more than £17.5 million for ME. It was accepted. It was the end of an era... but the memories live on.

Watch this space for memories of ME in more recent years and if you worked there then you will receive a warm welcome at the reunion on Friday which is a buffet. Tickets are £12.50.

• For more details, contact Liz on 01508 493958, Kelvin on 01508 492601 or Peter on 01603 486668. You can also email kelvin.goodrum@btconnect.com

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