Appeal to restore Hampstead Cemetery graves of aviation pioneers

Oswald, Horace and Eustace stand left to right with the Wright brothers at a meeting of the Aero Clu

Oswald, Horace and Eustace stand left to right with the Wright brothers at a meeting of the Aero Club Isle of Sheppey. - Credit: Barrie Walker

The great, great niece of aviation pioneers Horace and Eustace Short has launched a fundraising campaign to restore their graves in Hampstead Cemetery.

Liz Walker and husband Barrie are appealing for £8,000 in grants and donations to repair the brothers' last resting place in the burial ground in Fortune Green Road.

The Shorts built planes for the Wright Brothers, pioneered designs for twin engine aircraft, and flying boats like the famous Sunderland, and made the first plane to drop a torpedo during the Battle of Gallipoli. During World War II their factory made the Stirling bomber but Liz says their "enormous contribution to design and manufacture of early aircraft" has been largely forgotten.

Charles Rolls visiting the Short Brothers' aircraft factory at Shellbeach, Isle of Sheppey

Charles Rolls visiting the Short Brothers' aircraft factory at Shellbeach, Isle of Sheppey - Credit: Archant

"As a first step we put up some information plaques near the graves which are in a bad state of repair," she said.

"They are curb stone graves in a prominent place on the circle near the chapel. You can no longer read the writing on the curbs and they have sunk possibly because cars have driven over them.


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"Horace is in one grave with his mother and sister Annie and Emma, who lived at No 1 Ranulf Road near the cemetery which gave them the burial rights. Eustace, who lived at 5, Hampstead Gardens, Golders Green  is in the other with his eight-year-old daughter Grace Olga who died in an accident when the car he was driving hit a tram stop in Finchley."

The Short brothers' great, great neice Elizabeth Walker at the Hampstead Cemetery graves. Picture: B

The Short brothers' great, great neice Elizabeth Walker at the Hampstead Cemetery graves. - Credit: Barrie Walker

She has already raised funds to restore the Sussex grave of third brother Oswald, who lived in Templewood Gardens, Hampstead until 1935 before moving to Linchmere.

Oswald Short. Picture: Barrie Walker

Oswald Short. - Credit: Barrie Walker

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Eustace and Horace started building coal gas balloons in Battersea before setting up the world's first aircraft factory on the Isle of Sheppey in 1909. They built Wright Flyers under license from brothers Orville and Wilbur before designing their own Short biplane.

"Horace went out to France to meet the Wright Brothers and sketched the design on the back of a  cigarette packet. They got the job as contractors to build the Wright Flyer but Horace discovered he could improve on it," she says.

Charles Rolls of Rolls Royce fame drove the Wright Brothers to the Isle of Sheppey to see the factory.

A statue in tribute to the Short brothers in Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Barrie Walker

A statue in tribute to the Short brothers in Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. - Credit: Barrie Walker

"They had no money. They were working class lads who did very well for themselves. Eustace was the practical one who did the flying, Horace was the designer and Oswald the businessmen, they really complemented each other."

The Shorts expanded to a bigger factory in Rochester which employed 12,000 people but was bombed in World War II when their company was nationalised and moved to Belfast.

Horace died of a brain tumour in 1917, and Eustace had a heart attack at the controls of his plane in 1932 as it landed in the Medway. By the time Emma died in 1936, she had buried three children and a grand-daughter.

"We are trying to raise £8,000," adds Liz "and we are putting in some ourselves. We hope a heritage organisation may be able to help. The cemetery has waived fees and as the closest relative, Horace's grand-daughter in New Zealand given permission to have ownership of the graves."

The daughters of the Short's former test pilot John Lankester Parker have also donated artwork by their paternal grandmother, and a Japanese vase to be auctioned off in aid of the restoration project.

Before the pandemic the Walkers gave talks and toured displays about the Short Brothers.

"I started looking into the family history when I retired and became aware of just how much these remarkable brothers contributed to aviation."

Find out more at http://www.shortbrothersaviationpioneers.co.uk/

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