Saunders Roe, Beaumaris
Date Visited: April 2009
I took a trip to Anglesey to indulge in a spot of sight seeing and thought I'd swing by and have a look at this place.
The site was built in the early 1940's by Saunders Roe (or SARO for the purposes of brevity), as much of their production capacity at Cowes on the Isle of Wight was taken up with the Supermarine Walrus. SARO were given the contract to equip the Catalina flying boats bought from America, and this site was chosen. The Menai Straits provided excellent water for flying boat operations, and was, I suppose, more accessible for the American built aircraft flying in over the Atlantic.
In total 399 Catalinas came through the site. Substantial work was done, including installation of ASV (air to surface vessel) radar, work carried out in strict secrecy.
The Saunders Roe design and development department had also moved to Beaumaris, as work at Cowes was being constantly interrupted by air raids. Two of the company sites at East Cowes were totally destroyed in one air raid in May 1942.
As well as the main effort on the Catalinas, a lot of other design work was done. One example was a wooden hull for the Walrus which was used in the final 191 Walruses produced. The first five of these hulls was made at Beaumaris.
Another undertaking was the wing for the Shetland flying boat, a project shared with Short Brothers who were responsible for the hull.
The flying boats were hauled out on the slipway which remains on the foreshore. Most of the wartime hangars remain on the site, although some have been substantially altered. During this period 2000 people worked on the site, and were bussed in from all over North Wales.
After the war had ended, the company decided to transfer its marine activities to the Beaumaris site, under the name Saunders Shipyard. At first, little shipbuilding work materialised. The exception was the motor torpedo boat P1602, which was the first in the world to be made of aluminium alloy. Other work included the refurbishment of wooden military bridging pontoons, many of which had been produced by the company in Edmonton.
The main product at this time was bus bodies for both the home market and for export, and 620 were built for export to Cuba.
In 1968, Laird (Anglesey) Ltd was formed and incorporated the Beaumaris and Llangefni factories of SARO and the engineering business of Birkenhead shipbuilders Cammell Laird. Laird developed the Centaur, which was half Land Rover and half light tank.
All manner of equipment was built including air bridges for middle east airports and bridging for military applications.
I'm not entirely sure when this site was closed, but I'm guessing 1997, which was when Faun Specialist Vehicles (who then owned the site) opened their new factory in Llangefni.
The fascinating story of a former SARO apprentice who went on to greater things at NASA can be found here: http://llanddaniel.co.uk/Tecwyn_Roberts.html