“I will design boats that fly, rather than aeroplanes that float" Noel Pemberton-Billing
Supermarine began as a small marine aviation company in 1913. Based in Woolston on the Itchen River, it was started by Noel Pemberton-Billing who wanted to produce innovative marine aircraft. Pemberton-Billing was an eccentric inventor who had already made several attempts at building aircraft before coming to Southampton. He lived on his schooner yacht on the river close to the factory and famously bet he would learn to fly and get his pilot's licence all in a day. In fact he earned it after only a few hours flying, taking the test and passing before breakfast!
Officially called Pemberton-Billing Ltd, the company was referred to more as ‘Supermarine’, which was its telegraphic address. The factory’s initial designs were for an aircraft that had the ability to land on water, detach its wings to become a lifeboat and rescue stranded sailors from shipwrecks. Unsurprisingly it was never built but a later aircraft design did incorporate this ‘slip wing’ ability. The German Government placed orders for it in 1914 but the aircraft was never completed. War broke out and Supermarine came under the control of the Admiralty for its duration. A change in ownership also occurred at this time. As the company began to have money problems, Pemberton-Billing’s interest waned and it was left to his partner to bring the company around.