Aircraft factory built in about a month

There were no big headlines when aircraft makers Hewlett and Blondeau announced plans to transfer their factory from Vardans Road, Clapham, London, to a 10-acre field site in Leagrave.

A Leagrave district news paragraph in the Bedfordshire Advertiser and Luton Times, of May 22nd, 1914, announced rather blandly: "New works - Messrs Hewlett and Blondeau Ltd, aeroplane manufacturers, of Omnia Works, London, contemplate bringing their works to Leagrave. A site off Oak Road has been purchased from Mr H. Abrahams, and building operations will commence at once. The firm was induced to come to the village by Mr J. E. Upton, Secretary of the Luton branch of the Commercial Travellers' Association."

About a week later work had begun, but more of a clue to their operation at Leagrave and how quickly it was developed only came in June 1915, when it was revealed during a court hearing that London builders had been contracted to complete an aero building for Hewlett and Blondeau within 28 days from May 29th, 1914. The builders were claiming a balance on the contract price; the firm counter-claiming for bad workmanship and delays in the work that had damaged their business.

On June 17th, 1915, The Luton News reproduced the article below about the hearing that had been printed in The Builder magazine.

Mr Varcy, one of the High Court Official Referees, on June 2nd gave judgement, after an eight-day hearing, in an action in which Messrs G. A. Clarke and Co, builders and engineers, of Smedley Street, Wandsworth, claimed from Mrs Maurice Hewlett and Mr Blondeau, the famous flying man, trading as Messrs Hewlett and Blondeau Ltd, at Leagrave, near Luton, the sum of £417 9s 6d, balance of contract price for building aeroplane sheds.

The defendants, who were builders of the Beta and were engaged in the construction of aeroplanes for the Army and Navy, counterclaimed for bad workmanship and delay in carrying out the contract, and for damages to their business in consequence.

In May of 1914 it became necessary for the defendants to secure additional accommodation for their work, and on the 29th of that month the plaintiffs contracted to provide an aero building and complete it within 28 days of that date. This they did not do, and they alleged that delay was the result alterations in the original plans required by the defendants.

The Referee, in giving judgement, said that during the hearing he had gone carefully into the evidence of men employed over the work and of quantity surveyors, the witnesses for the plaintiffs having measured from the plans, while those for the defendants from the site, and he was of opinion that defendants' witnesses as to prices and quantities were more reliable. That being so, he found that the defendants were entitled to £36 12s of the £51 which they claimed, in addition to £80 16s in respect of certain allowances.

As to the claim for damages he said there was no doubt the plaintiffs knew that the defendants had to give up the premises which they had been using in June, and that it was necessary for them to have the new building ready by that date, and there was a verbal agreement proved that the roof of the main building should be ready by June 17th, and that the whole building should be completed within 28 days from June 2nd.

On the evidence he was satisfied that there had been delay in completing the work. The defendants said that they were making a profit of £50 a week, and there was a delay of four weeks they were entitled to £200 damages. The Referee found, however, that they were entitled to only two weeks.

As a result he ordered judgement to be entered for the plaintiffs on the claim for £314 5s 6d, with costs, and for the defendants on the counterclaim for £221 16s 9d with costs of the counterclaim.

[The Hewlett & Blondeau factory went into production in August 1914, employing 700 workers. During World War One it produced ten types of aircraft and supplied more than 800 military planes. After the war the factory turned to producing farming equipment until October 1920, when it closed and the site was put up for sale. It was sold to Electrolux in 1926.]