Olympia Works

hosted by

Oakwood Church Leeds

Home Walk Around The Clock

On 17 December 1903 Orville Wright flew the first powered aircraft just 37 metres in a flight lasting 12 seconds. In July 1909 Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across the English Channel

Robert (Bob) Blackburn had been born at Kirkstall, Leeds on 26 March 1885 and, after attending Leeds Modern School, graduated in engineering at the University of Leeds. He proved to be a man of great drive and imagination

Robert’s father was George Blackburn manager of the Smithfields ironworks of Thos Green & Son, North Street, Leeds who were famous for producing lawnmowers, steam tramway engines, road rollers and many other more mundane products

Robert had no capital of his own but George lent Robert money and practical help in the shape of a pattern maker / joiner called Jack Rhodes and the loan of a gifted apprentice Harry Goodyear. By April 1910 they had taken premises on Balm Road in Hunslet, Leeds

By 1910 the earliest Blackburn aircraft had been designed, built and flown by Robert Blackburn, though it crash-landed on a beach near Saltburn, North Yorkshire only a minute after take- off

He set about preparing a redesigned monoplane, which in 1911, piloted by B.C. Hucks, successfully flew along the beach at Filey to a height of 50ft, averaging 50 mph

In 1911, at the age of 26, he established the Blackburn Aeroplane Company; and, having rented an existing flying school at Filey, he renamed it ‘The Blackburn Flying School’

In 1914, aged 29, Robert married his first wife Jessica Tryphena Thompson who had inherited a fortune, set up home at Gledhow Lodge on Gledhow Wood Road, founded the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company with £20,000 capital half provided by Jessica and half by George and opened the Olympia Works at Roundhay Road in the former Olympia Roller Skating Rink

In the middle of their wedding reception, a telegram arrived for Robert from Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, with news of Robert's first government contract to build aircraft

Blackburn’s tested aircraft on Soldiers Fields (Roundhay Park) and gave regular demonstration flights for local crowds until the closure of the ‘Roundhay’ aerodrome in 1920

Jessica was one of the first women to fly in a British monoplane before the First World War, taking her first flight from Roundhay. She would also prove to be a major driving force in the success of the business

Many aircraft types were built at the rapidly expanding Olympia Works including over 100 BE2C army and navy biplanes and the famous Kangaroo, Swift and Sopwith Baby planes

In 1916 Blackburn built a new factory at Brough near Hull. The company flourished through the war years and the proximity of the River Humber meant the Brough factory was ideally situated for the launching of seaplanes

After World War One ended Robert tried to sustain his aircraft

manufacturing business by kick-starting commercial aviation. he introduced the first scheduled air service in Great Britain, offering half-hourly flights between Leeds (Roundhay) and Bradford. The Lord Mayor of Leeds was one of his first passengers

In 1919 he set up the North Sea Aerial Navigation Company, using ex-World War One war planes, which operated a regular passenger service between Leeds and Hounslow (London) and between Leeds and Amsterdam, as well as cargo flights

In 1917 he and Jessica had purchased Bowcliffe hall at Bramham near Wetherby. It was their home until their marriage was dissolved on 23 March 1936. On 9 April 1936 Robert married Phyllis Margaret Kirton

In 1936 The Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company changed its name to Blackburn Aircraft Ltd

The Olympia Works closed in the late 1920’s but was reopened for aircraft manufacturing in 1934

The aircraft most associated with Leeds is the Swordfish torpedo bomber. In May 1941, a Swordfish strike from HMS Ark Royal was vital in disabling the German battleship Bismarck.

In 1950 Robert retired, left Bowcliffe Hall and moved to Devon where he died on 10 September 1955 aged 70

In 1960 Blackburn Aircraft Ltd’s production facilities became part of Hawker Siddeley. The Olympia Works finally closed in 1961 and the Blackburn product name was dropped in 1963

In 1977 Hawker Siddley became a founding part of British Aerospace (now BAE Systems)



Aircraft in Peace and War PDF 12.0 Mb

Jessica Blackburn Obituary PDF 0.1 Mb



Robert Blackburn

by Sharon Donaldson

Oak Leaves ODHS

Part Three - Summer 2002

Early Birds Over Yorkshire

by Hilary Dyson

Part Four - Spring 2003

Letter from one of our Readers. re Blackburns by Vera Agar


Part Eight - Autumn 2008

Roland Ding, Dare-devil Pilot of Soldier’s Field by David Hanson


Olympia Roller Skating Rink

William Rowland Ding

BAE Systems Heritage > Blackburn


Graces Guide - British Industrial History

Flying at Filey

FLIGHT - 2 November 1944 p.471



More Local History Oakwood Clock

Oakwood Church Leeds


Colleen Kitching “My father was General Manager of Blackburn Aircraft...so that was quite exciting, going round the factory and the grounds, which we were allowed to...with my father shooting foxes in the grounds, where there was a wooded area.”

Colleen Kitching Blackburn factory.mp3