Reginald Mitchell was born in Kidsgrove, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1895. He left school at 16 to take an apprenticeship in a railway works and later studied engineering at night school. In 1917 he joined the Supermarine aviation works at Woolston as personal assistant to the company’s director Hubert Scott-Paine. He made an immediate impact and in 1919 was appointed chief designer. In 1920 he became chief engineer and in 1927, technical director. From 1920 to 1936 he designed 24 types of planes ranging from light aircraft and fighters to flying boats and bombers. Supermarine was primarily a manufacturer of flying boats and many of Mitchell’s earliest designs were in this category, including the ‘S’ series that won the bi-annual Schneider Trophy for the Great Britain team three times in succession from 1927 to 1931. The final plane in this series, the S 6B (image 2), won the 1931 race, thus winning the trophy outright, and later broke the world air speed record.

Mitchell is best remembered for designing the Spitfire fighter plane, which he developed between 1934 and 1936. Many of the technical innovations in the Spitfire had been developed by others, but it was Mitchell who brought them all together in a plane capable of high speeds. The first prototype Spitfire flew in March 1936 at Eastleigh and was judged an immediate success. The RAF immediately ordered 310, and by the end of World War Two almost 23,000 Spitfires had been built. They have been credited with enabling the RAF to gain mastery of the skies, particularly during the early years of the war, thus saving Great Britain from a Nazi invasion. Unfortunately, Mitchell did not live to see them in action - he died of cancer in June 1937, aged just 42.

He first lived in Radstock Road, Woolston, and then with his wife Florence and son Gordon in a house built to his own design in Russell Place in Highfield. His ashes were interred at South Stoneham Cemetery. There are blue plaques in his memory at 2 Russell Place and Hazel Road.

1. Reginald Mitchell

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R. J. Mitchell photographed on the occasion of the presentation to him of the CBE in 1932.

2. Supermarine S6B

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The S6B outside the Supermarine works in Woolston, 1931

Newspaper clippings (available online or in the Local Studies Library):

Widow of famous aircraft designer: Death of Mrs. Florence Mitchell - (Southern Daily Echo, 03/01/1946)
"He was so proud of his dad" - (Southern Daily Echo, 28/07/2009). Report of the death of Gordon Mitchell, Reginald's son. Describes Gordon Mitchell's work to commemorate his father.

Further reading:

Southampton People, by John Edgar Mann, p68-69. (HS/t)
Familiar and Forgotten, by Southampton City Art Gallery. (HS/t)
R. J. Mitchell: World Famous Aircraft Designer, by Gordon Mitchell. (HS/ph)
The Schneider Trophy Races, by Ralph Barker. (HS/ph)
Supermarine Spitfire, by David Oliver. (HS/ph)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 38.
'A Hampshire Adopted Hero', by Richard Cooke, in Hampshire, Vol. 46, No. 11, September 2006, p28-30, (H/y)


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