Rugby museum exhibition marks first successful jet engine test’s 80th anniversary

Sir Frank Whittle carried out the first successful test of his jet engine at Rugby's British Thomson-Houston works in 1937. Photo: GE, Social History Collection, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum NNL-171104-155101001
Sir Frank Whittle carried out the first successful test of his jet engine at Rugby's British Thomson-Houston works in 1937. Photo: GE, Social History Collection, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum NNL-171104-155101001

A new exhibition celebrating the 80th anniversary of the first successful test of the jet engine at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum opens on Friday (April 14).

British Thomson-Houston & Whittle celebrates how Sir Frank revolutionised air travel while testing his invention at the company’s works in Leicester Road in April, 1937.

Apprentices hard at work at the British Thomson-Houston apprentice training school in 1930. Photo: GE, Social History Collection, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum NNL-171104-155049001

Apprentices hard at work at the British Thomson-Houston apprentice training school in 1930. Photo: GE, Social History Collection, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum NNL-171104-155049001

The exhibition also explores British Thomson-Houston’s (BTH) role in Rugby’s rich engineering heritage, manufacturing steam turbines, electric motors, generators and even light bulbs.

A number of items connected to the first successful test of the jet engine feature, including a plaque which was unveiled at the site to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic moment and a model Armstrong Siddeley Viper 8 Mk Turbojet engine.

Rugby Borough Council portfolio holder for growth and investment Heather Timms said: “British Thomson-Houston put Rugby on the engineering map and its legacy lives on to this day.

“The 80th anniversary of the first successful test of Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine provides a perfect opportunity to celebrate the BTH story and a moment which revolutionised the way we travel.”

BTH was founded in 1894 and at its peak had a 20,000-strong workforce in the town.

The company amalgamated with Metropolitan Vickers in 1928 to form Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), which was taken over by the General Electric Company (GEC) in 1967.

The exhibition also features a host of pieces from the British Thomson-Houston archives, including testing equipment, machine plates, photographs, company adverts and staff newsletters.

British Thomson-Houston & Whittle at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum runs until Saturday 3 June.