20th May 1895 – 11th June 1937
Contrary to the various birthplaces given by some other websites and publications, Reginald Joseph Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, was born on the 20th May 1895 at 115, Congleton Rd. Butt Lane, Stoke on Trent, which is located between the town of Kidsgrove and the village of Talke, here in North Staffordshire.
All the founder members of this association live within two miles of his
birthplace, making him our true ‘local hero’.
R J Mitchell’s birthplace at Congleton Rd. Butt Lane with a plaque clearly visible. This plaque was recently restored, and during the removal work an earlier plaque was discovered underneath. RAF Stafford presented the Kidsgrove Rotary Club with their own R J Mitchell commemorative plaque, who during 2005, presented it to the people of Kidsgrove and Butt Lane on long term loan.
It is now displayed in Kidsgrove Town Hall, where it was unveiled at a ceremony on the 11/11/2005 by Wing Commander Tyler from RAF Stafford.
It is now 70 years since the Spitfire prototype, K5054, took to the air for the first time on the 5th March 1936. The rest as they say, is history.
It is well documented that Reginald Mitchell’s parents were Herbert and Eliza Jane Mitchell (nee Brain), who were married in 1893 at the Holy Evangelist Church, Normacot, Stoke on Trent.
Herbert was born in 1864 at Holmfirth, Yorkshire, to parents Joseph and Ann. He was one of three children, along with brother Arthur and his sister Mary.
Following his fathers death, the now 26 year old schoolmaster Herbert, together with his widowed mother and brother Arthur, can be seen on the 1891 census living at Congleton Rd., Butt Lane. It’s unclear from the census return, the exact house number, but it’s highly probable to be number 115, Reginald Mitchell’s birthplace.
Eliza Jane Brain was born in 1865 at Normacot near Longton, and was one of several children born to William and Sarah Brain. In 1871, the six year old Eliza was living at 109, High Street, Normacot with her family, headed by father William, a cooper by trade.
How did Herbert and Eliza meet and finally marry?
Solomon Bentley – ‘Go Between’ – The Boy Who Changed History
In the early 1950’s, Solomon Bentley was a pub landlord, like his father before him. After exchanging pleasantries with a stranger in his pub, which included discussing the recent war and it’s ending, Solomon uttered the following words, ‘Of course if it hadn’t been for me, we could have lost the war.’ Solomon went on to explain to the intrigued stranger, ‘When I was a young boy, I went to the village school on Congleton Rd. at the bottom of Millbank. The schoolmaster was a Mr. Mitchell, a bachelor. He was very interested in a young lady of the village and would write letters in pursuit of her hand. These letters were entrusted to me to deliver as soon as school was over. I did deliver those letters and in consequence, Mr. Mitchell married his young lady. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell lived right opposite the Millstone Inn and it was there that Reginald Mitchell was born in 1895. If I hadn’t delivered those letters, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell would not have married and there would not have been an R.J. Mitchell, there would not have been the Spitfire aircraft, and without the Spitfire we would probably have lost the Battle of Britain and subsequently the war.’
I have to thank Peter Lunt of Wolverhampton, Solomon’s grandson, who related this story in a letter to Philip R Leese, our local historian, who in turn allowed us to tell it to all.
Would Herbert and Eliza have communicated and eventually married without Solomon’s assistance? Probably, for Herbert’s schoolmaster resolve would surely have found other means to be instrumental in his courtship attempts, with the outcome of marriage to Eliza.
Does Solomon’s story stand up to question? I think the answer must be yes, for in 1891, six year old Solomon lived with his five brothers and sisters, mother Rosanna and his publican father Solomon, in Congleton Rd. Butt Lane. Although the public house is not named on the census return, an 1891 map of the Butt Lane area reveals just one pub in Congleton Rd., The Millstone Inn, which is coincidently directly opposite the Mitchell home at number 115. Solomon would have been the right age to attend Butt Lane boys school at the time that Herbert was schoolmaster there, and furthermore the closeness of his home to Herbert’s, would provide an additional opportunity to offer his ‘go between’ services, possibly making him the best choice.
One aspect which I have yet to investigate in Solomon’s account, is the description of Eliza as ‘a girl from the village’, for in 1891, the then 25 year old Eliza was living with her widowed father and other family members at 271, Normacot Rd., Normacot. She is shown as not having an occupation but is the eldest of the girls still living at home, a considerable distance and an arduous journey to Butt Lane in those times. Perhaps the N.S.Railway provided the link.
It still remains however that only two years elapsed between Eliza living at home with her family in Normacot and her marriage to Herbert in 1893.
How could the six year old Eliza in 1871, ever imagine that she would eventually marry a schoolmaster, and that her second born male child would become one of Britain’s greatest legends, and that she would survive him by some eight years!