KeilKraft

The model aircraft company

KeilKraft Works, Russell Gardens, Wickford

 E. Keil and Company Ltd originally made reproduction furniture. The company was founded by Edward Keil. He worked on the De Havilland Mosquito production line during World War II. His son, another Edward known as “Eddie”, got the idea of producing balsa wood models from a visit to America.

In 1954, in need of more space, the company moved from Hackney Road in London to Russell Gardens in Wickford, not far from the family home in Canvey. The company’s kits of rubber-band or small diesel motor powered model aircraft and boats became very popular with boys during the 1950s. The boxes they came in apparently had “Made in Wickford Essex” printed on them spreading the name of the town far and wide.

Aeromodelling was a major hobby in those days and kits sold in their tens of thousands through local model shops. Eddie was a member of the “Model Aircraft Traders Association” and the Wickford Chamber of Trade. Production continued into the 1970s. Eddie died in an accident on the A127 in 1968.

Ernie Webster, one of the design team, lived in Wickford with his family in a cottage called Ajax, next to one called Achilles, which the company built for employees. The Websters later moved to the Runwell Road. Ernie left the company in the 1960s and trained as a teacher of art and English. He taught in Wickford for a while but left the town to gain promotion. He moved back to Essex when he retired.

There is a “Factory Tour” film of the company available on the internet dating from the 1960s. Eddie Keil and many of his employees can be seen, as well as the factory building and the production processes. Warning: jaunty music can be heard and believers in “health and safety” may wish to avert their eyes at certain times. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIhs0ltNwK8

The Keil Kraft company, “the greatest name in model kits”, no longer exists but a company known as “The Vintage Model Company” still produce replicas of the original balsa wood models.

This information has been gleaned from the following websites:
For pictures of the contents of balsa wood kits and models, the factory in Wickford, the company handbook, exhibition stands and members of the Keil family go to http://www.model-plans.co.uk/ernie%20webster.html

The Keil Family : Canvey Island.org:The Canvey Community Archive. http://www.canveyisland.org/page_id__1084.aspx

There is also a photographic list of KeilKraft Handbooks available if you are interested http://www.aeromodellerinfo.co.uk/Fullarticle%20KKH.pdf

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  • I think that Ernie Webster was a friend of my parents and he taught pottery at Beauchamps School in the 70’s.

    By Kevin Mears (04/05/2019)
  • I had a summer job here in the early ’70s. You are right about health and safety, after 10 minutes training I was operating a planing machine, that reduced balsa planks to a uniform thickness. A number of the older guys had missing fingers!

    By Michael Hay (02/05/2019)
  • Remember them, they were still working there in 1976 when I had a look around the showrooms, with completed planes hanging from the ceiling.

    By Geoff Whiter (17/01/2019)

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