The company's origins date back to an ironmonger's shop
founded in 1797 in Norwich by William Moore. William Staples Boulton joined the ironworks firm of Moore & Barnard in 1844.
By 1870 Boulton had been elevated to a partner alongside of John Barnard and the firm was renamed to Barnard & Boulton.
A later partner in the firm was Joseph Paul, and the firm was again renamed to Boulton & Paul Ltd, which started its construction
engineering division in 1900. By the early 1900s, Boulton & Paul Ltd had become a successful general
manufacturing firm. In 1915, Boulton & Paul began to construct aircraft to support the war effort. Their first product
was the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b, contracts for which finally numbered 250. A new production site was built and an assembly and proving ground developed on
Mousehold Heath in Norwich rather than transport the aircraft to the Army at Thetford. The aircraft were built in conjunction
with another Norwich company, the coach building works of Howe and Sons at Chapel Field. Success with the FE.2b led to further
contracts; 300 FE.2d (with nacelles built by Garrett & Sons Ltd of Leiston), 70 Felixtowe F.3 flying boat hulls and most significantly the Sopwith Camel, of which the company built more than any other manufacturer. Success as a builder of aircraft led to the company forming
a design department. John D. North, who had been with the Austin Motor Co as superintendent of their aeroplane division, was engaged as chief designer, and he at once set to work on producing military
aircraft. None of these resulting aircraft made a significant impact while the war lasted; the P.3 Bobolink was overshadowed
by the Sopwith Snipe, the P.6, one of the first aircraft to be designed for aerodynamic research, was a handy two seater biplane which, after
the war it became the company's own transport and the Armistice beat the P.7 Bourges into production. Although not succeeding
with its own P.3, the company was well compensated with orders for 500 of the rival Sopwith Snipe, deliveries continuing through
October 1919 before the final 25 were cancelled.
After the war came first the P.8 Atlantic and then the P.9,
which was developed as a private light aircraft. Few orders were received because of the large number of cheap war surplus
aircraft that were on the market at the time. J.D. North was a strong proponent of all metal structures and the next model,
the all-steel P.10 biplane, created a lot of interest, so much so that North managed to convince the company that there was
where the future lay. Boulton and Paul soon became acknowledged leaders in the field, and this led to an order in 1925 for
the design and construction of the R.101 airship. That same year Malcolm Campbell pushed the land speed record to 150.87m.p.h.
in a Sunbeam car. Prior to the record attempt, Sunbeam sent a model of the car to Boulton Paul for tests in their wind tunnel.
After a series of tests Boulton Paul redesigned the car to improve its aerodynamic performance.
first significant aircraft to go into production was the Sidestrand bomber, 18 of which were ordered. The agile twin engined
aircraft first flew in 1926, could loop, spin and roll and had a top speed of 140mph. The aircraft entered service in 1929
equiping No.101 squadron. 1929 also saw W.H. Sayers join the company, whose first job was the design of the P.41 Phoenix light
sports aircraft. Today it is unclear whether Sayers, with his experience in light aircraft, joined to assist in the Phoenix
design, or whether the aircraft was a result of his joining Boulton & Paul.
The high speed Sidestrand made
John North realise that the nose gunner needed some protection. As a result he designed a fully enclosed, power operated gun
turret containing a single Lewis gun, powered by compressed air bottles, and a compressor driven from one of the engines.
This was fitted to the Overstrand which became the last of the company's designs to be built at Norwich.
In a depressed market in 1934, the aircraft division being its weakest, Boulton & Paul Ltd sold its aircraft manufacturing
component from the main construction business to a London financial group, Electric and General Industries Trust Ltd, creating
a new public company, Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd. North, along with Sam Hiscocks, who joined the company from
Armstrong Whitworth, were joint managing directors. This moved to Pendeford, Wolverhampton, in 1936 as the area had a surplus of skilled labour
and the council was able to provide an incentive in the form of a greenfield site and flying rights. Most of the 800 strong
workforce moved to Wolverhampton but further skilled labour was required. A number of people were recruited from Ulster and
Scotland, and a training school was set up at Cannock. Once again, subcontract work came to Boulton Pauls rescue with an order,
eventually numbering 106, for the Hawker Demon.
French engineer De Boysson of the Société d’Applications des Machines Motrice (SAMM) had
developed a 4 gun electro-hydraulic turret. John North saw its potential and superiority over his own design and the company
brought the manufacturing rights. This formed the basis for much of the company's future. The turret was an immediate
success and over the years a whole range of gun turrets were designed and fitted to many of the most successful aircraft of
The factory was extended in 1937, eventually covering three times the area of the original Pendeford
works and in March of the same year the company received an order for 87 Defiants, the first flight of which took place on
11th August. The Defiant fighter was Boulton Paul's first aircraft incorporating an all metal stressed skin and was fitted
with the company’s Type 'A' Mk.IID turret.
The Royal Navy put out tenders for a turret equipped fighter.
The contract went to Blackburn for its Roc aircraft. Blackburn had a lot of orders at the time for other aircraft, and so Boulton Paul was subcontracted
to manufacture the aircraft, which was basically a Blackburn Skua dive-bomber fitted with Boulton Paul type 'A' turret. Boulton
Paul did all of the redesign work, and the first aircraft flew on 23rd December 1938.
The Defiant was followed
by the subcontract construction of the Fairey Barracuda and following the end of the war 270 Vickers Wellington bombers were converted to T.10 navigation trainers. The Balliol T1 and T.2 advanced trainers were built for the RAF in reasonable
numbers, and there was an overseas order from the Royal Ceylon Air Force.
The company carried out a lot of modification
work on the English Electric Canberra's. They were the main Canberra contractor and continued this work for 14 years. The company became a world leader in the production
of aircraft power control units and fly by wire systems. The electronics department designed and built a computer called 'The
Brain' in the early 1950's. A lot of work was carried out on Vampires for de Havilland, and Boulton Paul became a subcontractor for Beagle Aircraft. The company built the wings and undertook structural testing of the fuselage. The last two Boulton Paul aircraft to fly
were the P.111 and P.120 delta wing jets.
In 1961 Boulton Paul Aircraft, by now a producer of aircraft equipment
rather than complete aircraft, merged with the Dowty Group to form first Dowty Boulton Paul Ltd and then Dowty Aerospace.
Boulton & Paul
Aircraft, Gordon Kinsey (Terence Dalton, 1992)
Boulton Paul Aircraft Since 1915, Alec Brew (Putnam,
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Note: In the Production Summary, conversions are only listed where
they result in a change from one Type to another. Changes to sub-type or Mark Number are not shown in the summary. For details
of these, see the individual listings.