GQ Parachute Company Limited, Woking

In 1932, Raymond Quilter formed a partnership with James Gregory to construct parachutes to their own design. Arthur Dickinson joined them to manage the commercial and financial side of their venture. Initially the business operated from a rented floor of the RFD Company’s factory in Stoke Road, Guildford.

In 1934, the firm was incorporated as GQ Parachute Company Ltd. As orders began to come in from the Air Ministry, the firm needed larger premises and moved to Portugal Road, Woking. By 1938, the company had built a two-storey factory on the same road.

During World War II, the GQ Parachute Co Ltd designed, developed and manufactured parachute systems and associated equipment for aircrew, paratroops, ordnance and supply dropping for allied forces.

In 1953, the GQ Parachute Co became one of two UK organizations to receive ‘Ministry approval’ for the design of parachutes and associated equipment. In the late 1940s to the early 1960s the company was involved in the design, development and manufacture of the first generation of brake and anti-spin parachutes for aircraft. They were the principal agency for the design and manufacture of supply dropping parachutes for the Ministry of Defence, and developed the largest cargo parachute ever used by UK forces. They also developed and manufactured an advance ejection seat parachute system for Folland Gnat; Ministry of Defence parachutes for sonobuoys and torpedoes, and automatic opening devices for parachute systems.

In 1963 the GQ Parachute Company was acquired by the RFD Group, marine and aviation safety equipment designers and manufacturers. Following the RFD Group takeover of Mills Equipment, a new company was formed in 1970, RFD-GQ Ltd.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, GQ continued to develop parachutes. Their Aeroconical parachute was selected for the Martin-Baker Mk 10 ejection seat in 1973, and between 1974 and 1978 a parachute system for the Stringray torpedo was developed. Part of the RFD-GQ operation moved to Blackmill, South Wales in 1978.

The 1980s saw the development of a new generation of high-glide parachutes. In 1987 the RFD Group was taken over by Wardle Storeys plc. The following year all manufacturing facilities were relocated to the South Wales factory and the Woking factories were closed.

See a brief history of the GQ Parachute Company and Records of the Woking business, including publicity material and photographs, held at Surrey History Centre.

For photographs of employees 1942-3 and details of oral history recordings of two employees, Eileen Higgins and Eileen Bunyon, see Surrey History Centre archive catalogue ref Z/432.

The success of the company has continued. The GQ Aeroconical Type 5000 parachute system was selected in 1990 for the next generation of fighter aircraft by the US Navy, the Euro fighter consortium, and Aerospatiale.

52 thoughts on “GQ Parachute Company Limited, Woking”

  1. Pat Johnston says:

    I was interested to read your article. Just to let you know, I am the grand daughter of James Gregory. His daughter Elizabeth is still alive and living in Edmonton, Alberta Canada

  2. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

    My father was A. W. (Bill) Fairlie who parachuted with Raymond Quilter and tested GQ\’s parachutes. I am not sure what his official job title was with GQ\’s but I believe he was with them from when they started to around 1946 when the demand for parachutes was virtually nil and the sewing machines were used to make skirts for Peter French Ltd. I remember the factory well as I visited it a number of times on Saturday mornings with my father. I also spent time on their stand at the Farnborough Airshows sitting in the ejector seat (a Martin Baker make?)when my father was on duty there. G Q\’s used to have ashtrays with a parachutist printed on them and this was my father.
    I am quiet happy for anyone to contact me regarding the foregoing. I was given a parachute jump as a (40th?) birthday present and by a strange coincidence the parachute used was a G Q one and it was in their 50th (?) celebration year!!

  3. John Orledge says:

    To Pat Jonson.
    I worked at G Q for 40 yrs and will you please contact me.
    Thanks in anticipation, John.

    1. sue casoria says:

      Hello John, my mum Gwen Fagence worked with for many years. years

      1. Stephen Smith says:

        Was she married to Bill and lived in Herbert Crescent?

  4. nina says:

    Hi, I have an air ventilation suit dated 1959 that was made by G.Q, can anyone tell me more about it? was it meant for space travel? Or army use?

    1. ChrisB says:

      Hi. Often nicknamed the ‘Fairy’ suit, the air-ventilated suit was produced to give relief from discomfort of high cockpit temperatures by moving cool air to the wearer’s skin via some 144 PVC tubes, with one larger ‘inlet’ tube.
      I am always on the lookout for original examples of these suits, and am happy to pay decent money.

    2. Hi Nina. I realise its now 2016, but if you still have the ventilation suit stored away, I’d be interested in purchasing. Best Wishes. Chris

  5. Clive Mitchell says:

    My father, John Rothwell Mitchell, worked for the company for , I think, 27 years and was Chief Designer for 17 years until around 1977. He invented the aeroconical parachute and gained personal satisfaction every time he heard that another life had been saved by one.

  6. Clive Mitchell says:

    Hi nina,

    The air ventilated suits were worn inside pressure suits used by air crew flying at high altitude, to keep them cool.

  7. Graham Dickinson says:

    I worked at GQ i started 1964, Many of my family members worked there as well. My Grandad started working there around 1938, ….

    1. Christine Hallam says:

      Graham, are you my cousin? My Auntie Joan worked at GQ, as did my Mum Edie Dorey, my Grandad etc, quite a family firm. I remember the Christmas parties in the 50’s and visiting the factory with my Mum. My grandparents lived opposite in Azalea, now the site of Emmanuel Chapel.
      Christine Hallam

      1. Marilyn Taylor says:

        Hi,I’ve just read your comment and I recognized your Mams name.I’m from Newcastle and worked at GQ when they opened a factory here.I went down to Surrey and met your Mam,then she came up here to stay at my flat with your father Bill in about 1974,I think.From then on I always sent Christmas cards and I think of them often.They were lovely,lovely people.What a coincidence.How lovely.

        1. christine hallam says:

          Just read your post Marilyn, but only have vague memories of my Mum mentioning you (in the 70’s I was busy with babies). Both Mum and Dad are both dead now of course, Dad first and and then about 8 years later Mum. She died about 10 yrs ago. She LOVED her job at GQ in the experimental dept. and was at GQ most of her adult life. I have only recently realized how clever she was and how important her work there. Really proud of her. Nice to hear from you. Our daughter lives just outside Newcastle at Seghill. Best wishes Christine

          1. Marilyn Taylor says:

            How lovely that your daughter lives in Seghill,that is only ten minutes from my home!If you are ever up here for a visit it would be lovely to meet up.I loved your Mam and Dad dearly and I know how highly she was thought of by the company.If I recall correctly,one of the bosses was called Robin and it was through him that I met her.I was on a course but came home early as I was homesick(I was only 21)and that is why your Mam came up here,to teach me the job!I loved it too but the business didn’t stay long,I don’t know why.So so nice to be reminded of Edie,I do think of her now and again.Xxx

  8. Alan H McAfee says:

    Sirs, In the 1970’s, when I first started flying gliders, I would often see the ‘GQ’ insignia on some of the parachutes I strapped on before a flight. Years later I bought a house in Woking and, just by chance, I discovered that ‘G.Q.’ had a longstanding connection with the town. I first became aware of this when my eldest boy attended Judo classes in a community centre a couple times a week just off the town centre, and whilst waiting to pick him up afterwards, I would park in Portugal Road, and one evening I noticed this derelict old building with a big sign on the a revelation..! Subsequently, I discovered that ‘GQ’ had closed, and the site was due for redevelopment. In conclusion, I still have a ‘GQ’ lapel badge, given to me by a great guy called Ken White, who was an older, very experienced glider pilot at Booker Airfield in the 1970’s. I’ve often wondered how many people have had to “hit the silk”, and owe their lives to ‘GQ’ and their excellent products. Alan H McAfee

  9. Joke water says:

    In a house clearance I have found trousers and a jacket made out of very thick woollen blanket material. Tha label reads: GQ industrial equipment, manufactured by GQ parachute co ltd, Woking, Surrey, England. It is very heavy. What was it used for, when was it made, and does it have any value? Thank you.

  10. Barbara Langford says:

    My mother, 2 uncles and an aunt worked here,olive, Walter Alan and Joan marflee!t does anybody remember them ??

    1. Richard Neville says:

      Yes I remember them all very well and they were great people.

  11. Tony Llewellyn says:

    I graduated from the #1 Parachute Training School at Abingdon in 1960, on completion of our course we were presented along with our wings, lapel badges from GQ and the Irvin parachute companies, sadly they were lost when we moved to Canada, I would like to purchase one if they are still available, to pass on to my grandson along with all my parachute related paraphernalia

    1. Debra Jones says:

      Hi Tony,

      I am also looking for a replacement lapel badges from GQ and the Irvan Parachute companies. Did you have any luck?

      1. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

        I had one of those badges from my father when he worked at GQ’s. However, i gave it to the Brooklands Museum with his other GQ records.

  12. J Shaw says:

    Where to find historical records ww2 for gq gold wings awarded

  13. Billie ann WIngate says:

    My mum Ann Charlwood worked for GQ parachute in Woking for 37years she worked in the experimental room with Mr Ferrie Where safety suit for Donald Cambell and many racing driver to include Stirling Moss ,Mike Hawthorn she also worked ,on the Aeroconical parachute which was selected for the Martin Baker MK 10 ejection seat . And worked on the ventilated suit . I worked at GQ on the auxiliary shoot which released the large parachute . For dropping supplies with Mrs Dorey . And later I worked on the ventilated suit . With my Mum , all very happy times .especially Christmas and all the decorations we all made .

    1. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

      Could your Mum’s “Mr. Ferrie” have been my dad “Bill Fairlie” by any chance? He was at GQ’s from when it started (or thereabouts) uintil around 1949.

  14. Alison says:

    I have a suit air ventilated MK2A,made by g.q. parachute ltd. working. england. no 22c/1859 Can you give me any information re. when manufactured, and what was this garment supplied for. Its a very odd looking suit with lots of tubes.
    thanks. alison

  15. Juliet Jarvis says:

    Hello does anyone remember or have relatives that worked at GQ during WW2 who knew Barbara Andrews (now Jarvis) Irene Hamm and Irene Bunyan (now Figg)?
    I am Barbara’s daughter in law. They are 91 94 and 93 and still going strong.
    If anyone knows anyone from their time at GQ, let them know… they also stayed on after the War.

    1. Juliet Jarvis says:

      I would love to hear from anyone. Someone said there was something in a Woking newspaper asking about GQ Parachute company. We have photos and a recording, and Barbara can still recall and talk about her days there. No one has replied to this in a year almost.
      To have ladies that can remember the 1930s at GQ… any historians out there? [email protected]

  16. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

    I wrote some comments 4 years ago (see above) regarding my Father “Bill” Fairlie who worked at GQ’s from foundation days until the company stopped making parachutes for a while in the late 1940’s. i have recently come across a photo of him at his desk in Portugal Road and can send you, or anyone interested, if you so wish. I do not mind my details being given out.
    I can also give my memories of GQ’s as a small boy, born just before WW11 started. Just let me know. Alan Fairlie.

  17. Keith Fuller says:

    In the late 1950s I bought my GQ Trainer Main through John Orledge; had it altered/modified/tested/repaired over the next few years through his kind auspices – and had to have an interview with Mr Gregory before I took delivery as I wanted a ‘non-standard’ harness mod.(3Clips instead of a Quick Release Box) and the blank gore set to the rear rather than on the right hand side! All went well and I took delivery in 1959 – and still have it!
    I was one of ‘Dumbo’ Willans’ first group of 5 or 6 at Fairoaks jumping on the 6th.May 1956 and gaining my general permit and instructor’s rating that year.
    Saw quite a lot of GQ. at that time and spent time with Dumbo and his firearms at Henley, as well as getting to know Jim Basnett, Claude Chappell and George Bottomer and getting packing certification for one or two types of parachute from R.Thompson (Chief Packer) and J.Gregory(Director).
    I later reappeared occasionally with a small party of soldiers from my platoon (16Para.Bde.) for an ‘educational’ tour round the factory – also arranged through John Orledge if I remember rightly!. The Boys, mostly National Service at that time, were more interested in the girls making the equipment than in the high standards of manufacture that were ‘saving their necks’ occasionaly!
    I assume that these visits took place all the time within the factory, but I did spend a fair bit of ‘social’ time there, living as I did at Normandy, Nr Bisley. My future wife was a firm link with Dumbo for some years , having many close, mutual friends.
    I woul really love to hear from someone like John Orledge – at the centre of things- how and where some of the people I’ve mentioned have fared; I’m 80 now and most of those mentioned were certainly more mature than me if not in years- in outlook!
    I have a number of photos. from the period – and all my equipment and paperwork – and just about all of my memories (I think!).
    With thanks for allowing the outburst!
    Keith Fuller.

    1. Kevin orledge says:

      Hello. My dad john is still going strong at 87. I will let him know of this post. I was only talking to him the other night of his GQ days and he has very fond memories.

  18. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

    Further to my comments of last June, two articles have appeared in the Woking News & Mail local paper dated 10.12.2015 and 28.1.2016 including some photos. The articles were by David Rose a well known local historian. If anyone out there would like copies, please contact me at [email protected].

  19. Francis Tyrrell says:

    I worked in the office at GQ Woking around 1979 for a couple of years doing mainly wages,and I can still remember a lot of the names. I remember being “volunteered” for a charity parachute jump at the time and dutifully went to Thruxton to train and do a static line jump from 2500 feet.When my chute opened I shouted something unrepeatable with relief. On landing a reporter from the News and Mail asked what I had said coming out of the plane,So it must have been loud.The jump was reported in the Woking News and Mail that week and I think there was a photo of Maryam Noorwalla who also jumped,and myself on the front page.We got enamelled GQ wings badges for our trouble. Happy Days!

    1. John Welch says:

      I worked in the accounts office in the late 1970’s. A few names on here I remember. I wrote up the sales ledger day book and looked after much of the financial admin for MOD contracts. Many of the contract numbers I still remember now! As part of the office duties we all had to do a few hours a month on the telex machine which was located in a little cupboard behind reception. I hated that, but great memories of GQ.

  20. Lesley Wilkinson says:

    Hi, my mother Pamela Dobson, nee Pearce work at GQ Parachutes from late 40’s to 1955 when I was born, we immigrated to Australia in 1959, mum is now in her 80’s and I would love to hear from anyone who remembers her.

  21. Trevor Hudson says:

    During the mid to late 60’s I was a truck driver for RFD at Godalming. I used to do a weekly run to Lancashire collecting rubber coated fabrics for making life rafts and silk fabrics for GQ from a mill in Padiham near Burnley, maybe somebody can remember the name of the mill !

  22. Wendy Cooke says:

    My dad Edward Davies was the production manager of GQ Parachute co. I have many happy memories of going with Dad to the factory in Portugal road on a Saturday morning. I remember Tiny who was working in reception. The lady who ran the canteen and loads of other people. My father died in 2008 just short of his 98th birthday.

    1. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

      I remember the “Foulkes” family that ran the canteen when my father was at [email protected] from the early days until around 1949 (see various commnents posted previously). They used to live in a property around the corner from where i now live at Woodham in Surrey and only a couple of miles or so from Woking.

  23. John Lowe says:

    For several years ending in early 1965 I was the Secretary to The British Parachute Club operating out of Fairoaks Airport not far from Working. There is no doubt that GQ helped a lot in the development of sport parachuting. GQ supplied the main and reserve parachutes that members used for ripcord jumps. No static line in the early days !! I credit Mr Dickinsen, the Chief of Finance at GQ, for his constant support of the Club even when we brought back chutes in need of repair!! I wrote a similar summary and statement of thanks in another site covering the history of GQ but I could not find it. Yes, I have QG lapel pin for my first jump. It means a lot to me. Tank you GQ for helping start a very vibrant sport that flourishes today

    1. Mike cashmore says:

      Hi John , just read your post , often think of days gone by people we knew and things we did , hope things are well with you and yours , regards Mike Cashmore

  24. Tony Austin says:

    I became a member of the British Parachute Club in 1964 with John Lowe (among others) as one of my instructors and did many of my early jumps using GQ Parachutes. On one occasion, due to a human error (my own) and not I hasten to add, the equipment, it was necessary for me to throw my reserve parachute. I subsequently became member 736 of the GQ Club, receiving a pair of gold wings and appropriate certificate in recognition of having had my life saved by a parachute of their manufacture. Thanks again GQ!

    1. John Lowe says:

      Hi Tony, remembering Sandown !! Good to know that you are doing fine and proud GQ
      member 736, John

    2. Mike cashmore says:

      Hi Tony , I also remember the problem you had , I do remember we were all envious of the golden wings as we only qualified for the enamel one’s ! I am surprised that John could remember it was at Sandown , he must of been sober at the time ! , talking of Sandown Mary (Wilkins Ellis ) passed away last June or July she was 100 yrs young , I sent her a birthday card for her 100th which was in the February , it depicted four guy’s linked in line flying a banner over their head’s which read ” happy birthday ” , I signed it from all at the BPC thanking her for all the good time’s we had together , I was due to visit her later that year but she passed before I had the chance ,hope this finds you well , regards Mike Cashmore
      PS by now she is probably flying her Spitfire somewhere in the big blue yonder , what could be better !

  25. Sandy morning says:

    I am wondering if anyone can tell me if there is a registered of the named recipient of the GQ 15 year long service badge ? I have just purchased one with a hallmark for 1971 and am wondering who owned it as I believe it to be a scarce badge with thanks sandy

  26. Michael Buckeridge says:

    Worked there as a Work Study Engineer. First job after leaving college. 1975 to 1978 and then on a short 6 month contract at Mayday Equipment Ltd in Bridgend. Worked for Bill Froud. Sat opposite John Egleton initially. Later opposite Wally (surname forgotten) who was a wise man with extensive knowledge. Young Richard Neville I recall, also Pat Gibbs, David Nuuar, Robin Clout, Messrs Mitchell, Harrington and Frankie Gibson. Alan and Joan Marfleet in the cutting shop, Wally Marfleet one of the packers. Director Graham Davis and of course, Works Director John Orledge. Went to collect his Austin 1800 automatic from Wadham Stringer and drove off with the service managers car.. Also got stopped by the police on the forecourt at GQ having driven Graham Davis’Triumph 2500pi a little too quickly. Happy Days.

  27. Carole Millea says:

    My grandmother lived opposite the GQ Parachute Company Limited in Portugal Road and her house fronted on to Walton Road. She used to tell me that one of her sisters, either Alice or Alma Simmonds got her wedding dress silk from the parachute company and made into a dress. I do not have any idea if this would have been by legitimate means. One sister Alice,married a John Tardif and Alma lost her sweetheart Harry Vines in the 1st World War at Flanders in 1915. The dates would have been between 1914 and 1927.

  28. ALAN FAIRLIE says:

    Further to the various notes from myself and others regarding the GQ lapel badges, I have a badge still clipped to its original card evidencing that it was made by “J. R. Gaunt & Son Ltd., 1-8 Bateman Buildings, Soho Square. LONDONB W1”

  29. Jason Schwomeyer says:

    I have a GQ type 1000, mk 2, what would this have been used for, what kind of jet? I also have an ejection seat for a RAF F-4 and I was wondered if that would have been the proper parachute.

    Thank you,

  30. Christine Morris says:

    For my Family History Research I am interested to know if you have any information on the work of John Rothwell Mitchell (known as Jack). He was chief designer at GQ Parachutes, Woking during the 1960’s – 1980’s.

    He is my father, and although I’ve found information re some of his patented designs of parachutes, I’ve found little about his actual employment.

    JR Mitchell dob 9.8.1922 – death 3.12.2008

    I would be grateful if you have any information, can confirm his designs or have any photographs.

    With kind regards
    Christine Morris (ne Mitchell)

  31. James Jameson says:

    My names is James Gregory Jameson, my grandfather was James Gregory one of the original founders of GQ. He would be very proud and grateful for all the wonderful people that worked and supported each other at GQ. Thanks to everyone.

  32. Michael Loftus says:

    Hello I’ve just found a document sent to my father 29th April 1969 appointing him as a member of the GQ club No 804 for a parachute escape !! I’d love to have a copy of the gold wings he received

  33. Ben Franks says:

    My name is Ben Franks and I am a volunteer at Seaford Museum.
    Today we put one of our two WW2 parachutes on display.
    It is green, just over 4 mtrs radius and has the following label information:
    “G.Q.292569” and in a little box “G.Q. 47”
    plus “SR” in a circle “CB 1” “canopy type 1,28 MK.1”
    “DATE OF MANUFACTURE 1943” and “DRG No. CD. 30048 (issue).
    Can you tell us any more about this item which appears to have been used as it has been patched in very slightly darker green silk.
    Ben Franks
    Seaford Museum

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