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 E. Keil and Company Ltd originally made reproduction furniture.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 after 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

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

The Keil Family : Canvey Canvey Community Archive.

There is also a photographic list of KeilKraft Handbooks available if you are interested

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  • I can remember visiting the Keil Kraft factory with friends and being shown around. Considering that this was the early 1960s and we were only around 13 or so at the time, I still remember how well we were treated, without a hint of condescension – most unusual for those times.
    I used to be mad keen on aeromodelling, and being especially pleased with their Gazelle control line kit – we must have driven the people of parts of Basildon mad with the noise of these being flown in combat. All a long time ago…

    By David Baugh (01/03/2022)
  • My dad, Arthur “Buck” Adams, was the printer at Keil Kraft. He appears in the movie mentioned above. He’s dressed in a brown ‘cow-gown’ and he’s seen taking to Eddie Keil. Later he’s happily showing a group of schoolkids how the printer works. He lived in one of the Russell Gardens bungalows owned by Keil Kraft.

    By Baz Adams (10/10/2021)
  • When my dad, Les Cook, who used to work at KeilKraft, died we found bags n’ bags of it in the garage. You would have thought there had been a shortage at some point.

    By Susan saxton (03/08/2020)
  • I have just got my balsa wood, battery powered, model ‘Otter’ tug boat out of the loft to get working for a trip to the local boating pond with my baby grandson. The ‘Otter’ was a Christmas present given to me by my grandfather in the early 1960s. He constructed it and posted it to me in a home-made wooden box but had cut out the front of the original cardboard box and stuck it on the lid. I decided to google E. Kiel & Co. Ltd, Wickford, and found this site, and something of the history of this fondly kept toy from my boyhood.

    By Ian Jenkins (30/07/2020)
  • Hi

    I’m in New Zealand, I’m 72 and retired. Years ago, I purchased a number of plastic model kits for my retirement, including a 1/72 scale B36 Bomber, it’s huge and hangs in our lounge.
    I purchased 8 KeilKraft 1/72 scale plastic model kits of buses, steam trucks etc. Model No’s 303, 306, 307, 309, 312, 315, 323 & 325. I can’t remember whether I purchased these in NZ or when I visited Great Britain a couple of times.

    A couple of imperfections in the moulded parts, but I will get around them.

    Any idea when these models were manufactured?
    My favourites are the two Routemaster buses, 1 red & 1 green (Country bus).
    I hope your company prospers and doesn’t get taken over by an overseas company.

    John Lee (

    By John Lee (28/05/2020)
  • I worked on one of those presses as a summer holiday job. Brings back many memories.
    Brilliant film.

    By Dave Lobley (04/05/2020)
  • Big thank you for posting the link to this film as it shows my dad, Jim Bloomfield, working on a saw.
    Dad passed away this week and this is the only film I have of him. Good to know I can go on You Tube and see him any time I want.

    By steve bloomfield (25/03/2020)
  • Does anyone remember the shop in Hertford called WOODCRAFTS? As a youngster I gave a hand to Bill Freeman-Young who owned the same. Part of his shop was modelling. I went with him down to Eddie Keil’s factory to collect stock. I met Ed and remember the number of cigarettes he went through while we were talking with him. Also the chaos of balsa dust and bits of packaging and boxes on the factory floor. Also boxes upon boxes of made-up stock. Marvellous memories.

    By John Gray (04/11/2019)
  • 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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