In the 1920s and 1930s, the area around the Solent was a regional hub of aeronautical activity and a number of its leaders were already members of the Society. Another prominent group was the members of the Institution of Aeronautical Engineers. The need for a local branch was soon identified. In 1920, Alan Clifton, R J Mitchell’s assistant at Supermarine, wrote to the Society about the possibility of setting up a local Branch jointly with the Institution, Captain Pritchard, the Secretary of the Society, replied expressing his approval provided that the Officers of the Branch were members of the Society.
Not long after the request, it was acknowledged that most of the members of the Institution of Aeronautical Engineers were based around the Southampton area and, therefore, a unification of the two bodies was also recommended. This amalgamation took place in 1927 but the formal establishment of the then Southampton Branch did not materialise until 1935. This delay was due to the efforts that went into the successful Schneider Trophy races that took place during that period. The formal application was made on 3 September 1935, Society approval was received on 13 September and the first meeting was held at the University College, Southampton (now the University of Southampton), on 26 September 1935. The Inaugural Meeting was held on 30 October 1935, with Wing Commander T R Cave-Browne-Cave as the first Branch Chairman, S Scott-Hall the first Branch Secretary and B S Shenstone as the first Branch Treasurer, later to become a President of the Society.
The one key character missing was R J Mitchell himself. He left behind an enduring legacy of not only the birth of the Spitfire but also laid down the fundamental philosophy of aircraft design. In 1954, the first Society lecture held at the Southampton Branch was launched, rightly named the R J Mitchell lecture in honour of the remarkable designer and engineer. These annual lectures expose the Branch to many of the great names in the field of aerospace and it is still continuing to do so today.
The Branch has been very fortunate with its catchment area and enjoys hosting events for a good demographic in academic, industrial and military services sectors. The lecture season usually starts in late September and ends in June, aligned with university term times. There are usually seven to eight local Branch lectures held annually, free of charge. The attendance to lectures mostly comprises students, both working and retired members, enthusiasts and the general public. It is encouraging for the Branch to see that it can provide lectures that capture the attention of the wide range of audience local to the area.
During the past decade, with the Branch serving significantly more than just the Southampton area, it was decided to formally change the name from Southampton Branch to Solent Branch to be more representative of the current membership catchment. The format of lecture provision has also been modified with changing times. In recent years, an annual joint October lecture in partnership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers is held at the University of Southampton with an emphasis on career outreach with engineering students. With the presence of the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in Swanwick, quite a number of our lecture speakers are willing to deliver their pieces for NATS during the day before speaking in the evenings to our general audience. Collaboration is also established with HMS Sultan in Gosport and they have been providing a venue and support for some of the Branches’ lecture evenings.
The Branch promotes and supports relevant Society functions locally, from membership inquiries to professional accreditation, recognition and awards schemes, especially with the younger sector of the membership. The Solent Branch envisages continuing this current provision of services to Branch members.
This is an article orginally published in The Aerospace Professional
Named lectures R J Mitchell Lecture
Lecture Venues Murray Lecture Theatre and Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, and HMS Sultan