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[RAF Elsham Wolds] [Lincolnshire Aircraft Production WW1] [Robey and Co Ltd Lincoln]

Robey and Co Ltd - Lincoln

Prominent Lincoln aircraft manufacturer during WW1


The site of the old Robey Globe Works, Lincoln outlined in blue. The railway line runs along the top north side. Cranswick Road runs south to the old Bracebridge Heath airfield. Lincoln City football ground at Sincil Bank is bottom left

Robey and Co Ltd was a very successful engineering company based in Lincoln which can be traced back to the mid 19th C.

In 1854 Watkinson and Robey Engineers and Millwrights were manufacturing Portable Engines and machinery of every description in Rumbold Street, Lincoln. They were joined by George Lamb Scott, but in 1855 Watkinson, who had previously worked for Clayton & Shuttleworth of Lincoln, left the company. The business then became Robey and Scott and moved their premises by 1856 to Canwick Road, Lincoln. Another partner, Thomas Gamble, joined the firm and Scott resigned in September 1856 to found his own manufacturing company in Manchester. The company then became Gamble & Robey, but by 1868 was known as Robey & Co Ltd.

Robert Robey died in 1876 and the firm continued as a partnership led by John Richardson. In 1893 Robey & Co became a limited company.

Robey & Co were in the forefront of traction engine development in the international market and continued building traction engines and steam tractors into the 20th century. They were also a leading company in the field of electricity generating engines. By 1913 Robeys were makers of a wide variety of steam motor wagons, tractors and ploughs and during WW1 became an important manufacturer of aircraft.

After WW1 the company undertook a varied amount of heavy and complex fabrication work for many customers worldwide including converters for steelworks and parts for the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. In 1984 the company was taken over by Babcock International.

WW1 and Aircraft Production

During the WW1 Lincoln was a major centre of aircraft production and one of the Lincoln engineering firms engaged in this work was the long established Robey & Co Ltd whose factories were in Canwick Road. Early in WW1 they produced a small batch of the unsuccessful Sopwith Gunbus. In May 1916 they received a contract to build 30 Maurice Farman Longhorn aeroplanes and they established a small aerodrome at Bracebridge Heath from where these could be test flown. Only part of the order for Longhorns had been completed when the contract was cancelled and Robey went on to produce Short 184 seaplanes in great numbers. In addition they also produced and tested a machine of their own design, the Robey Peters Fighting Machine.

In 1918 Robeys also manufactured 10 tanks as their final contribution to the war effort.


Sopwith Gunbus

Sopwith Gunbus being transported to Bracebridge Heath

The Sopwith Gunbus was a British fighter aircraft of the First World War. It was a single-engined pusher biplane based on a float plane built by Sopwith before the war for Greece. Small numbers of a landplane version were built and used by the RNAS mainly as a trainer.

The landplane version was officially designated the Admiralty Type 806. It had a revised nacelle which was raised above the centre section of the lower wing rather than being directly attached and was powered by a Sunbeam engine. Six gun-armed aircraft were built by Sopwith with a further 30 modified aircraft fitted for bombing ordered from Robey and Co Ltd in May 1915. However only 17 of these were completed by Robey before the order was cancelled.

The Robey Scouts.

The Robey Design team under J A Peters worked on two single seater scout designs in 1915. One a pusher and the second a tractor. The airframe of the tractor bi plane was built but the project was delayed because of the unavailability of the Gnome Rhone engines and it never flew

Short 184 Seaplane.

Short 184 Robey built at Calshot


Robeys second aircraft order came in November 1915. This aircraft was widely subcontracted with Robey being amongst the second group of subcontractors and they built more of these machines than any other company, 256 out of over 800 built and reaching a production rate of one per day. These were built at Lincoln and then transported by road to various seaplane bases for testing such as Inverkeithing in Fifeshire, Calshot near Southampton and Killingholme on the Humber.

This seaplane was quite successful and the workhorse of the Admiralty in all naval theatres from seaplane stations and seaplane carriers. The machine was powered by a variety of Sunbeam aero engines and also the Renault Mercedes engine.

Used mostly by the Navy for spotting and bombing with a crew of two the 184 was also used as a torpedo  bomber with a 14.5 inch torpedo slung between the floats. In this role it was barely adequate because of the bulk and weight of the torpedo and greatly inhibited the 184 performance. With the torpedo only a pilot could be carried with no observer and the range and endurance of the 184 was greatly reduced. Be that is it may torpedoes from the 184 flown from HMS Ben-my-Chree damaged two small Turkish ships and sunk one more during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. These were the first successful torpedo strikes from any aircraft.

Another important first occurred during the Battle of Jutland when a 184 flying from HMS Engadene was the first to spot elements of the German High Seas Fleet prior to the major Fleet actin at Jutland. This was the first successful use of any aircraft in a Fleet spotting role. See Rutland of Jutland.

Maurice Farman Longhorn

Maurice Farman Longhorn at Bracebride Heath

In May 1916 Robeys received an order for 30 Maurice Farman Longhorn trainers. The Robey Farman’s were powered by 75 hp Rolls Royce Hawk engines. Only 16 were completed before the order was cancelled. Most of these were used for pilot training at Killingholme and Eastbourne

The Robey Peters Fighting Machine

Robey Peters Fighting Machine

This strange contraption was a three seater designed by Mr J A Peters and built by Robeys in which the pilot was positioned at the rear of the fuselage with 2 air gunners in nacelles in the upper wing either side of the fuselage. The port nacelle was equipped with a 303 Lewis gun with 300 rounds of ammunition and the starboard nacelle was fitted with a Davis recoilless gun with 10 rounds of ammunition. The aircraft was powered by a Rolls Royce engine. The purpose of this machine was anti Zeppelin and U Boat patrols along the coast.

The first prototype was completed in September 1916 and test flown at Bracebridge Heath successfully. Three days later it crashed due to engine control malfunction into the roof of the nearby St John’s Asylum. Fortunately the pilot Captain Hammond survived relatively unhurt and subsequently tested the second prototype which was an improved version of the first and included 2 Davis guns. However the Admiralty lost interest in the project and cancelled the order.

The second prototype was test flown at Bracebridge Heath and crashed when it stalled on take off. Hammond again survived without serious injury and moved on to less hazardous test flying for the British Colonial Aeroplane Co. Peters also left and joined the Alliance Aeroplane Co.

The Robey Seaplane.

In February 1917 prior to leaving Robeys J A Peters designed a single seat two winged float plane to carry 2 x 65 lb bomb for the Admiralty. This was powered by a 200 hp Hispano Suiza engines. Three prototypes were ordered in April 1917. However the project was dropped when Peters left the Robey company.


Robey’s factory site today

Robey Cranswick Road Lincoln

Robey Cranswick Road Lincoln

Robey Globe Works Cranswick Road Lincoln

Robey Globe Works Cranswick Road Lincoln


Robey’s production

Short 184 in Robey factory

Short 184 in Robey factory

Robeys factory. Longhorn in foreground and Short 184s in background

Robeys factory. Longhorn in foreground and Short 184s in background

Robey Peters 2nd prototype under construction

Robey Peters 2nd prototype under construction

Robeys rib shop

Robeys rib shop

Robeys sewing room

Robeys sewing room

Compiled by David Fell. Credit to the Robey Aircraft Production booklet by John Walls published in 1974 for most of the content and photos.


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