The Christmas Crocodile
or THE KINGSTON CROCODILE to give him his proper name!
Our story of The Christmas Crocodile is based on the true story of The Kingston Crocodile, the toy made by Sopwith Munitionettes during WW1. He still lives in Kingston Museum (nickname, Snappity!) and he's the mascot for the children's activities on Friday mornings.
Meeting him was one of the highlights of the Heritage Lottery Funded project. Click here to read the blog post with all the details of how this theatre professional was star-struck by a 100-year-old Crocodile!
But now, the true story......
T. O. M. Sopwith
Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith discovered a passion for flying at Brooklands, and with the help of Harry Hawker and Fred Sigrist, started to make aeroplanes in a shed at the airfield. When the navy asked to buy one of their planes, they changed their business plan from flying school to airplane manufacturer, and in 1912 rented a skating rink on Canbury Park Road, Kingston, KT2.
With the start of WW1, the orders became much larger, and the Sopwith Aviation Company expanded further into Canbury Park Road. With conscription and a loss of men in the area, local women willingly went to work in the factory, carving wood, painting and skilfully sewing cloth onto the planes.
For this generation of women, it was the first time that they had been in a job with set hours, employed in large groups and with relatively good working conditions. Many of the munitionettes were in service before the war. Married women also worked in the factories, challenging the rule that they should be at home looking after the kids. Some factories even offered a free creche!
At the height of production, Sopwith also had a factory on Richmond Road, near Ham parade, now the site of a housing estate and the Hawker Centre (The Pod!).
When the war ended, some of the women were reluctant to return to domestic service or the homestead. Local legend has it that a small group of Sopwith munitionettes, keen to keep their jobs, took offcuts of wood from the planes and created the Kingston Crocodile. Bentalls bought the whole lot, and sold him in their Kingston store during Christmas 1919.
The company went through many changes over the years, including closing down just after WW1, re-opening as ‘Hawkers’, and in later years being nationalised into what we now know as British Aerospace. Planes were designed and manufactured in Kingston up until 1992, including the world famous Red Arrows!
As for the munitionettes, they proved that they were worthy of the vote, and in 1918 some of them received it. Their pioneering efforts mean that women are now welcomed in the workplace – and some of them even enjoy it!