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"The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul." – Unknown

The Martinsyde Company had its origins in 1908 by Helmuth Paul Martin and George Harris Handasyde coming together to build aircraft, the company is formed as a partnership known as Martin and Handasyde. Their first plane was a no. 1 monoplane, build in 1908 in the ballroom of the Old Welsh Harp pub in Colindale; it lifted off the ground but was then wrecked in a gale. 

Martin, who was educated at Wellington College, was an engineer and Handasyde had been a marine engineer who then diverted to the internal combustion engine and was a very capable mechanic. In 1912, they renamed the company Martinsyde Ltd. By this time they had established themselves at Brooklands, but while Brooklands was necessary for flight testing the expanding company needed more space for manufacture.

Martinsyde 1912 Monoplane

In 1914, when Henry Leitner’s Accumulator Industries Company based on the former Oriental Institute (founded by his father Gottlieb) in Maybury (now the site of the Lion Retail Park) failed it was relaunched by Martin and Handasyde, who also transferred their aviation factory there.  The certificate of incorporation of the company as Martinsyde Ltd was 24 March 1915, and the institute buildings were bought from Leitner on 14 April that year for £4500, with the proviso that the revived Accumulator Industries should continue in their premises.

Besides using the central hall of the former Oriental Institute, the firm built a new factory heated by steam, with a ventilation system and employing over 1000 people, including women. It was large enough to support a football team, bowls, tug-of-war, and to have its own fire brigade.

The factory was at its busiest during World War I, being the third-largest aircraft manufacturer in the country by the end of the war, earning a royal visit in 1917 by King George V, Queen Mary, Prince Albert (the future George VI) and Princess Mary, Princess Royal. They were honoured by a flying display including a loop-the-loop over the factory, by their test pilot Woking-born Frederick Raynham.  

Interior of Martinsyde factory during World War I

They built a succession of monoplanes, but it was the S-1 (Scout 1) biplane that was the most successful, sixty being built.  The Elephant, designed as a fighter-bomber but better suited to being a bomber, was large and not very manoeuvrable, but 272 were built for the Western Front, Palestine and Mesopotamia. 

Another partial success was the Buzzard fighter, of which 333 were made, for both the Royal Air Force and for export, to the Soviet Union (100) and Spain (30) but after the Armistice the RAF decided it no longer required them and Martinsyde continued development of the Buzzard, buying back many of the surplus aircraft from the RAF, and producing two-seat tourers and floatplanes. After the war, many planes were sold to civil owners and used as tourers, racing aircraft and for survey and seal spotting work in Canada.

What might have been a highlight for the firm post-war was an attempt by Raynham and Charles Morgan to be the first to fly across the Atlantic non-stop, in response to Lord Northcliffe’s offer of a £10,000 prize for the first to do so.

In a much-postponed flight in 1919, in a Martinsyde Raymor, they crashed on its first take-off and a replacement was despatched by steamer, but suffered a similar fate, crashing, overladen, on take-off from St John's, Newfoundland, watched by a crowd of 10,000. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt and Raynham survived to fly gliders designed by Handasyde. Thus it is Alcock and Brown, rather than Raynham and Morgan whose names are remembered. A further Martinsyde disaster was the fatal crash off Corfu of a type A-1 plane being flown on an attempt to fly to Australia for a similar £10,000 reward.

Peace had meant that the demand for aircraft decreased and the company turned to making motorcycles, and farm carts. Designed by Martinsyde with the collaboration of Howard Newman, the motorcycles had a good reputation and over 2000 were made, mostly in-house. The motorcycles made their first public appearance at the 1919 Motorcycle Show at Olympia, displaying a 6hp combination powered by the 678cc version of Newman’s engine. Problems caused by unsatisfactory frame components having been overcome, motorcycle production got properly underway early in 1920.

The company’s first machines were marketed as Martinsyde-Newmans, abbreviated to simply Martinsyde after Newman’s departure.  497cc v-twin and 350cc single-cylinder models were added to the range and Martinsyde began to feature in competitions, achieving some notable successes at Brooklands and in other trials.

But production was slow, leading to cancelled orders and considerable financial losses, while a fire at the factory on 25 September 1920, starting in the erecting shop and spreading quickly was a further blow for an already struggling company. The costs were reckoned at £20,000-£30,000, as over 3,000 sq feet were gutted, and after a closure for stocktaking in October the 1000 men engaged in the factory were put on half-time working, and the company entered receivership, and there were large scale layoffs in 1921. One hundred of the Quick-Six, known as the King of Bikes, capable of nearly 80mph were produced as a final venture, but the company went into liquidation in 1922.  

Fire at Martinsyde, 25 September 1920

After the bankruptcy of Martinsyde in 1922, their aircraft were obtained by the Aircraft Disposal Company which continued to develop and sell F.4 variants for several years, one being sold to the Finnish Air Force who used it until 1934: preserved in the Aviation Museum of Finland, it is the only intact Martinsyde plane now surviving.

Martinsyde Buzzard in Finnish Aviation Museum

BAT Motor Manufacturing Co. took over the stock parts the rights to manufacture Martinsyde motorcycles and continued under the trading name of BAT-Martinsyde, but in 1925 financial problems meant that it was their final year and the firm ceased production.

One of 30 surviving motorcycles of the 2000-made are preserved at Brooklands Museum, and the only complete plane remaining is that in Finland, while half a Martinsyde propeller is displayed in Woking’s Story.

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