Heritage Locations

Mussel (Muswell) Manor & Shellbeach Aerodrome

Flying ground of the Aero Club chosen 1909 by the Short brothers for the world's first aircraft factory, building Wright brothers' "Flyers"


Period of construction:
1000 - 1599

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:


Shellness Road, Leysdown-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

ME12 4RJ

Nearest Town:
Leysdown on Sea

Heritage Centre:

Although it was the Wright Brothers who are acknowledged to have been the first to fly a powered aircraft when they flew a heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 1903, in the UK the first fledgling steps in flight were carried out at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey.

It was here that two brothers, Eustace and Oswald Short later joined by their elder brother Horace, set up a factory to build aircraft. They became known as Short Brothers and had originally been constructing balloons for the Indian Army for observation at a site known as Battersea Arches in London. Influenced by the European visit of Wilbur Wright who began giving demonstration flights in France, their thoughts turned to powered flight. The European agent for the Wright Brothers, Griffith Brewer who was a prominent member of the Aero Club in the UK, had suggested to the Wrights that they allow Short Brothers to build their aircraft in the UK. By November 1908 the company of Short Brothers had been set up with a capital of £600 and had been contracted to build six Wright Flyers, all of which were bespoken by the members of the Aero Club, plus a glider for the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls. 

The company immediately began to design and build both the glider and also the first of the Short Biplanes which were copies of the Wright Flyers. Griffith Brewer meanwhile had found an unobstructed area of level marshland between Leysdown and Shellness on the Isle of Sheppey. It was here that Short Brothers erected several aeroplane sheds and began to build their own designed aircraft as well as the Wright Brothers aircraft.

Frank McClean, yet another member of the Aero Club, duly purchased a farmhouse which lay half a mile away to be used as a clubhouse. Named ‘Muswell Manor’ he also purchased the surrounding several hundred acres of land known as Shellbeach from which to fly the aircraft being built by Short Brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright visited Shellbeach on May 4 1909 and were pleased with the standard of workmanship being put into building the Flyers.

By August 1909, the company were employing 80 craftsmen and were building aircraft for such aviators as the aforementioned Charles Rolls, the co-founder of Rolls-Royce, and also J T C Moore-Brabazon, later to become Lt Col J T C Moore-Brabazon MC, specialist in aerial photography during the 1914/18 war.

The first Short No1, ordered by Frank McClean, proved unsuccessful but Shorts No2, built more along the Wright Brothers design, was flown by Moore-Brabazon with such success that on October 30 1909 he won the Daily Mail’s £1,000 prize for the first flight in the UK of one mile in a closed circuit by an all British combination of pilot, aircraft and engine.

Further success was to follow for Short Brothers and members of the Aero Club. As the club grew, Frank McClean became more and more interested in furthering British aviation to the extent that he purchased a large area of land below the village of Eastchurch. This enabled Short Brothers to leave the rather restricted area of Shellbeach and move to this new landing ground.

The extra space allowed them to build a real factory of corrugated iron and to continue to build aircraft for the Aero Club members thus making Eastchurch one of the major centres for British aeronautical development.

In 1910 the club was granted the prefix ‘royal’ by His Majesty King George V stating that from henceforward the club would be known as ‘The Royal Aero Club of Great Britain’. In November of the same year the club offered the Admiralty free instruction in flying for naval officers. This generous proposal was given by Frank McClean, on aeroplanes lent by himself. Out of 200 volunteers, four were chosen to be pioneers of the Royal Naval Air Service. This took Short Brothers into the design and development of seaplanes which made Eastchurch inconvenient. They looked for a water-front site and found one just above Rochester Bridge on the River Medway. In September 1940 the ‘Chatham News’ reported that:- ‘Messrs. Short Brothers, the world famous manufacturers of aeroplanes, and who have made Eastchurch famous, have entered into negotiations for the acquisition of Tower Field, Rochester where almost immediately they will proceed with the erection of aeroplane works’. With the move to new premises, Eastchurch was taken over by the navy as a war station and Short Brothers moved their entire operations to Rochester.

From those fledgling steps at Leysdown, Shellbeach and Eastchurch, flight in Great Britain went from strength to strength. There is a memorial in Eastchurch village which records the milestones of flight which proved successful in this little area of Kent. It was indeed ‘the cradle of aviation’, a birth that saw Short Brothers become one of the largest and most prolific aircraft manufacturers in war and in peace as well as the place where aviation became fact and not fiction.

Thanks to Robin J Brooks and Steve Robson for this entry.


SHORTS/SHORTS AIRCRAFT                          by    MIKE HOOKS 


SHORTS AIRCRAFT SINCE 1900                     by    C.H.BARNES

FLIGHTS OF FANCY                                            by    PATRICK LOOBEY

KENT AVIATION - A Century of Flight            by    ROY HUMPHREYS

FLYING INTO THE FUTURE - A Pictorial History of Shorts    by    MICHAEL DONNE

A SHORT HISTORY 1908 -1964                        by    J.M. PRESTON




THE BALLOON FACTORY                                 by    ALEXANDER FRATER

THREE BRILLIANT BROTHERS - My Great, Great Uncles  by  ELIZABETH M. WALKER   free from   liz.m.walker@gmail.com

Opening Times:
See web site. Muswell Manor is the reception and bar lounge for the caravan park. The bar area and lounge are full of historical aviation artefacts.


How To Find:

From J5 on M2 take A249 exit to Sittingbourne/Shellness, over the high bridge onto Sheppey. Take ‘Lower Road’ the A2500.  Look in at All Saints Church, Eastchurch and at the memorial opposite. Proceed through to Leysdown on Sea and head along the coast road for Shellness.

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