Sir Sydney Camm (1893-1966), designer of the Hawker Hurricane, began his aeronautical career in Surrey, joining Martinsyde aircraft works at Brooklands as a shop floor carpenter in 1914.
Sydney Camm was born in Windsor on 5 August 1893, the eldest son of Frederick and Maria Camm, both from Egham. He was educated at the Royal Free School in Windsor and left in 1908 at the age of 15 to begin an apprenticeship as a carpenter. It was at this time that Sydney started to take an interest in building model aeroplanes, which led to him forming the Windsor Model Aeroplane Club (WMAC) with his brother Frederick and a group of enthusiasts. Sydney and Frederick often visited Brooklands where, in 1913, they saw Adolphe Pégoud looping the loop in his Bleriot monoplane.
On completion of his apprenticeship just before the outbreak of the First World War, Sydney found a job with Woking aircraft producers Martinsyde, who were looking for woodworkers to join their production staff. The company, founded by Helmut Paul Martin and George Harris Handasyde, was established in 1906 and moved to Brooklands in 1909. The partnership became a limited company in 1915. Shortly after, it acquired the former Oriental Institute in Maybury, building a large factory on the site. During the First World War, Martinsyde became Britain’s third largest aircraft manufacturer, its biplane S1 being its most successful product.
In April 1917, King George V and Queen Mary paid a private visit to the Martinsyde factory. During the tour, which lasted over an hour, the Surrey Advertiser reported that the King and Queen “visited every workshop, and watched the different processes of manufacture with great interest, the King asking many questions, showing an intimate knowledge of the subject. During the latter part of the visit Mr F B Raynham, a well-known pilot attached to Brooklands, flew over the factory for some minutes and performed many wonderful evolutions in one of the firm’s latest type of machine.”
Early on Martin and Handasyde had recognised Sydney Camm’s creative talents as a craftsman and designer and provided him with an excellent grounding in aircraft design. By the end of the war, Camm had been promoted to the design office as a draughtsman at Martinsyde, and his application for membership of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1918 was sponsored by his employers.
When Martinsyde folded, George Handasyde set up a small aircraft design company, The Handasyde Aircraft Company, in 1922 and took on a number of draughtsman, including Sydney Camm as design assistant. The offices were at Maybury Hill, Woking. Two years later, the new company ran out of money and closed. Camm joined Hawker Aircraft in Kingston as senior draughtsman in 1923, becoming the company’s chief designer two years later.
In 1915, Camm had married Hilda Rose Starnes, sister of one of the WMAC members, J G Starnes, and they settled at Birchwood Road in Byfleet. They later moved to Thames Ditton, where Sydney remained until his death in 1966: he died aged 72 while playing golf in Richmond Park. Sir Sydney and Lady Camm are buried in the churchyard at Long Ditton and the tombstone has been restored by the Hawker Association.
Image of Sydney Camm courtesy of the Bristol Aero Collection
John E Chacksfield, Sir Sydney Camm: from Biplanes & ‘Hurricanes’ to ‘Harriers’, 2010
Ray Sanger, ‘Martinsyde Ltd. Aeronautical and General Engineers’ in Mayford and Woking District History Society Newsletter, 1995
Margaret Smith, ‘Martinsyde Aircraft at Woking’ in Mayford and Woking District History Society Newsletter, issue 58, April 1980
Alfred Vice, ‘Martinsyde of Brooklands and Woking’, Woking History Society Newsletter, issue 171, December 1999