Rolls-Royce Hillington: Portrait of a Shadow Factory

by Peter Sherrard

Preparing for World War II, the Shadow Factory scheme was the British Government’s attempt to guard against the possible loss of key industrial sites, in this case the Rolls-Royce factory at Derby. The Hillington plant on the outskirts of Glasgow, adjacent to the Renfrew aerodrome, was Rolls-Royce’s first site in Scotland and, in addition to the factory at Crewe, the second Shadow Factory. Erected shortly after the outbreak of war, Hillington produced Merlin aero engines for Spitfires, Hurricanes, and other aircraft in huge quantities.

Postwar work of repairing and overhauling Merlin and Gryphon engines was in time supplanted by the production of gas turbine engines. By the time of its closing, or rather relocation, in 2005 the plant had produced compressor blades, vanes, seals, and shrouds for virtually every engine produced at Rolls-Royce.

Not only was Hillington critical for Rolls-Royce—exceeding its forecasted lifespan of 25 years by several decades—and the overall war effort but it also made an important contribution to Scotland’s social and industrial history. To this day, the Scottish sites (Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, and Fife) play a major role in the company’s aerospace and marine businesses.

Author Sherrard is Chairman of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust’s Scottish Branch whose home is at the Rolls-Royce East Kilbride factory (the largest jet engine repair and overhaul facility in Europe). As all the Trust’s branches, it is charged with the preservation and documentation of the engineering heritage of Rolls-Royce and its ancestral companies and product ranges. Thus, much of the material gathered in this book is culled from earlier writings by and for the Scottish Branch. The story, 1939–2005, is told more or less chronologically; much reference is made to primary sources which are quoted from or excerpted at length.

Readers already familiar with Rolls-Royce history will of course be aware of the staggeringly important role Ernest, later Lord Hives played as General Manager in the affairs of the company, and it will only serve to enhance their appreciation of him to come to see here the man’s enormous grasp of matters large and small, be they engineering minutia or politics, and also his strength of character in regards to his dealings with his fellow man.

It must be borne in mind that a key target group for the RRHT’s publications are the Rolls-Royce employees who either made this very history happen or, now, stand on the shoulders of their forebears. What to the outsider may seem an excessive naming of names or dwelling on internal micro detail is for these readers the very essence of what motivates them to work at Rolls-Royce. The firm’s well-deserved reputation, then and now, for engineering excellence is directly related to each individual employee’s commitment to the cause, and books like this serve to remind the reader of just that.

This is the first RRHT publication to be accompanied by a DVD. This being a British product, the 23-minute DVD documentary is formatted for the PAL system but elsewhere can be played on any computer or region-free DVD player. Narrated by “voice artist” Alan Turton (currently the voice of Pitch TV and Pitch World on Sky TV) who has been a Communications Consultant with Rolls-Royce Aero Engines sine 1985, it contains fabulous archival footage and you will meet a number of the actual people who worked here over the decades. Useful insight is given into modern-era workflow and working conditions, and also the particulars of going into Receivership in the 1970s. If nothing else it’ll give you a chance to practice your Scottish accent!

This is vol. 44 in the RRHT’s Historical Series.

Copyright 2011, Sabu Advani (

Rolls-Royce Hillington
Portrait of a Shadow Factory
by Peter Sherrard
Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 2011 (PO Box 31, Moor Lane, Derby DE24 8BJ, England)
134 pages, 88 b/w photos, softcover, plus DVD
List Price: £10 (£15 for non-members)
ISBN 978-1-872922-45-4
  • My father and mother worked there at RR Hillington during and postwar.

    Comment | John lambie , November 3, 2017
  • My father was a senior draughtsman in the Hillington plant of Rolls-Royce during the duration of the war years. The family was moved to be as close as possible to the factory and we lived in Rylees Crescent looking across to the test beds.

    Comment | Ian H. Stewart, CM , October 29, 2019
  • Served my apprenticeship there from November 21st 1960 (my 16th Birthday) and finished up in East Kilbride with the DART engine in 1965. Great engineering!

    Comment | Don Imrie , February 6, 2020
  • My father William Hood who was an electrical engineer worked in Rolls-Royce Hillingdon for nearly 40 years and trained many an apprentice. My sisters were gala queens and attendants at the regular yearly gala day held at the sports grounds at Crookston Rd.
    I remember when there was a massive fire there and the huge computer was damaged in the 60s—we didn’t see my father for days as he was helping out trying to save any further damage.
    We stayed in Langstile Rd. and I sometimes used to cycle to meet him coming out of work being careful not to get caught on the rail tracks entering the test beds

    Comment | Fiona Love , October 2, 2020
  • My father Harry Nixon worked as Engine Build Superintendent in Hillington throughout the war years. then left for Derby in 1956.
    We lived in Neilsland Oval & Binend Road, Pollock Estate.
    He had some great memories.`

    Comment | Barry Nixon , October 17, 2020
  • This information fills some gaps in my recollections from childhood. My father worked at the lathes, etc. at Hillington during the war years. He would have been in his twenties. The family lived in Knightswood. There’s something I can’t drill into my associates in Canada where I was born. In Britain, the war came to you. Everyone was in it in some manner including the service roles of women.

    My father then emigrated to Canada around 1951 to work at A.V. Roe outside of Toronto where I was the first in the clan NOT born in Scotland. That firm turned out Lancaster bombers during the war. I don’t know where their Merlin engines came from. By the fifties they were into designing jet engines and airframes. That’s a whole history in itself in Canada’s imagination.

    I still have a small collection of my father’s machining hand tools, some probably brought with him from RR Hillington but definitely from A.V.Roe. I’m disappointed that none of the aviation museums here have followed up on my offers to donate them.

    Comment | Charles Ross , November 23, 2020
  • My father Joe McKenna worked at Rolls Royce Hillington during the 1950s and early 1960, at that time we lived in Anderson. Ddue to the clearing of Anderson in the Sixties we moved to Whitburn in West Lothianwhere he worked at the British Motor Corporation (BMC) Bathgate; we emigrated to Australia in 1966.

    Comment | Joe McKenna , March 14, 2021
  • My father, Arthur Joseph Law, worked for RR after wartime service as a tank driver…we lived in Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow and family decided to emigrate to Australia March 1963.

    Comment | Ray Law , August 19, 2021
  • My father came up to Hillington from Derby and stayed there until he died in 1959. I too was with RR for the years. We lived at Corse Road in Penilee.

    Comment | Bob webster , October 17, 2021
  • My dad, Joe McCann was an inspector working on magnetos for the Merlin engine and later the thermo-couple harness for the dart. He talked about coming out of the factory at night to listen to the bombing taking place around the Clyde. He lived at the time in Cambuslang and remembers going home after a shift to find a large crater at the end of his street where a bomb had dropped.

    Comment | Fergus McCann , October 19, 2021
  • My father Richard McKay Kelly an original aero engine tester during the war and was with them from May 1940 to April 1942 when he had to leave due to an ear infection caused by noise!

    Comment | Patricia Dalton , December 6, 2021
  • My father, Edward Morier, worked at RR Hillington during the war and was a machine gunner on the roof during an air raid. We lived in Penile and we moved to Toronto in 1954 where dad worked at AV Roe and worked on the AVRO ARROW till the plant closed in late 1958.

    Comment | ALAN MORIER , December 19, 2021
  • My mother worked here during the war. Her name was Agnes Graham Johnston (Nan). She moved to Canada post war.

    Comment | Sharon , May 17, 2022
  • Trabalhei na Rolls-Royce em São Bernardo do Campo SP Brasil. Hoje tenho 81 anos. Meu sonho era conhecer as instalações na Escócia. Estou morando em Aberdeen. Tenho lembranças felizes.

    Comment | Zoraide Barbosa de oliveira , November 21, 2022
  • I own a solid oak roll top desk that has a small brass plate on it with the inscription
    Rolls Royce Ltd
    Glasgow Factory
    Property of Air Ministry
    it was used in our family business for about 40 years. I’m now retired and am in the process
    of refurbishing it for sale. can you tell me where I might find some history on the desk?

    Comment | Maurice J. Monn , February 2, 2024
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