A History of Shawcraft Models
Shawcraft was the company commissioned to fabricate the original Dalek props for Doctor Who (and the two Dalek movies) throughout most of the 1960s. However, Shawcraft’s work for the BBC is just a small part of their story.
To understand how Shawcraft came into being and what motivated their early work, it is important to understand a little about the backgrounds of the three individuals who started the company.
Reg Haynes had previously had a career as an army aircraft recognition instructor. He was also a talented artist who regularly submitted cartoons to aviation magazines.
Stan Wilkins was ex-RAF and had previously been employed as a tool maker.
Bill Roberts, originally from Penydarren, Merthyr, Wales moved to Southall before the start of WWII and had enjoyed a career as an aircraft engineer, working for Miles Aircraft.
All three had their roots firmly in aviation and the military. With this type of experience, it was easy for them get jobs after the war, working for Woodason Aircraft Models, a company set up in the 1930s and run by master model maker Victor Woodason (1904-1964).
Bill Roberts (centre) at the gates of the Shawcraft workshops, leaning on a familiar friend.
Woodason Aircraft Models was based at Heston Airport, Hounslow and this is where Reg, Bill and Stan met and began to learn their trade as aviation modellers. By 1947 Bill Roberts had decided it was time to move on and set up a workshop of his own in his private garage, in Southall, west London. Not long after, Reg Haynes and Stan Wilkins followed, teaming up with Roberts to form Shawcraft Models, registered at companies house as company number 590084.
Reading between the lines, it would seem that the parting with Woodasons was amicable. Woodason moved their business, around 1950, to a garage at Victor Woodason’s new private address – 604, London Road, Langley. This was directly opposite the Ford Motor Company’s van works. It is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that when Ford came looking for model makers to produce miniature versions of their latest cars, they would enquire across the road at Woodasons, who would in turn recommend Shawcraft as likely candidates for the work. More on this later.
The three’s previous experience making model aircraft, and the contacts they had established while working at Woodason’s, meant that aviation modelling was an obvious choice for the newly established company's focus.
As Shawcraft began to expand, it became apparent that their premises were too small and larger workshops were rented near Iver station. These comprised of an old carpenter’s shop, found through estate agent Alfred King. This shop had originally been used to produce doors and window frames during the construction of Richings Park.
The 90ft by 25ft workshop was made from weatherboard and sported a tarred, fibre ridge roof. In order to create some space for storage, the floor of the first 60 feet of the workshop was raised by around 4 feet on brick pillars. This created an underfoot space in which moulds, patterns and raw materials could be safely stored. This area was also the home to a growing population of rats that would often invade the workshop during the night.
The rear of the workshop was converted into a wood mill where large sections of bulk timber were machined to suit the various projects going on in the main workshop. The task of milling and preparing the timber was given to Barry Edwards, the nephew of Bill's wife Anne and an ex-Hurricane pilot who had fought in the Battle Of Britain.
In addition and using the same agents, they rented four nearby lock-up terraced garages, around 40 yards away, accessible from a cinder track, next to Hoey’s haberdashery on Bathurst Walk. Two of these were converted into a spray shop, managed by Charlie Carlton (another relative of Bill Roberts), who lived above Hoey’s shop. A third garage was used as storage for redundant moulds etc, while the fourth was set up as a small satellite workshop, dedicated to producing animated Rolls-Royce Dart turbo-prop engines, commissioned as part of a long running contract. These were made by Shawcraft employee, Ron Giddings, another former Woodason employee.
The main body of the workshop was divided into two main areas, one which housed lathes etc for woodworking and metalworking and one kitted out with benches for the use of the model makers.
The machinery consisted of a Drummond lathe (often used to make wooden bullets for films), a larger metal working lathe, a combined jigsaw and disk sander, a profile shaping machine and a pillar drill.
The internal partition walls which separated portions of the workshops were designed in such a way that they could be either hinged away or removed completely in order to facilitate the removal of larger props and models.
Shawcraft BEA Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador.
The office was at the opposite end of the workshop, near the main entrance. Due to the modification of the internal workshop floor, the bottom half of the office door was lost, below floor level! Next to the main entrance was an old electric cooker, which was used by the staff to make tea, heat up soup and melt blocks of Vinatex rubber for mould making.
The job of Foreman was given to Vic Bowden, an ex-RAF Meteor pilot. He joined the company in 1952 and remained with them for the next 42 years.
Note that despite the move to Iver, the company’s early links with Southall did continue. Many years after their move, in the mid 1960s, a Dalek on loan from Shawcraft was often seen on display, on a float at the Southall carnival.
At this point, almost everyone involved with the company had connections with the military and aviation. It is not known whether this was a deliberate choice made because of the types of work that they were taking on at this time or whether the management were more comfortable with staff from backgrounds they were familiar with.
This bias towards aviation-experienced staff paid off around 1952/53 when Shawcraft were commissioned to produce some components for the Somers-Kendal SK-1 – an actual, real lightweight jet aircraft. The work was put their way by aircraft designer and ex-test pilot, Hugh M Kendall who had previously worked with Bill Roberts at Miles Aircraft.
This lead to Shawcraft becoming ARB and AID approved, making the fuselage assembly jig, the jig for pre-moulding the front fuselage plywood skin, the jig for making the aluminium engine cowling, moulds for the fuel system’s synthetic rubber components, the wooden mould to make the vacuum formed acrylic cockpit canopy, the fibreglass nose and tail cones, the drag-chute housing, wing tips, undercarriage doors and footwell boxes.
An ash skid, fitted to the plane by Shawcraft actually saved the plane from severe damage when it bellied down the runway after a badly timed retraction of the undercarriage. Minor defects prevented the plane from participating in the 1956 Air Races and the aircraft suffered turbine failure while in the air, on 11th July 1957, and was grounded. After Storage at Cranfield it passed through various hands but was never restored and did not fly again. It’s current whereabouts are unknown.