EARLY AVIATORS AROUND THE WIRRAL – 1910 TO 1914
Considering that the Wright brothers first flew at the end of 1903 and there was quite a lot of aeronautical
activity around Europe and in the south of England, the North West did not really wake up to the marvel of
the aeroplane until quite late. The Birkenhead News in September 1909 reported that a Mr Edward Mines of
“Brightholme” Hydro Avenue West Kirby had been building his own aircraft in the Marine Pagoda enclosure
adjacent to the promenade. The machine was based on the Wright Brothers machine with his own
refinements to reduce weight to 400lbs., a necessary requirement as he was only using an 8hp JAP engine.
The newspaper also reported that another unnamed gentleman of West Kirby was working on the design of
an aircraft. Nothing further was heard about these gentleman efforts.
Flight magazine for the 25th September 1909 had commented, “It is reported from Liverpool that three
practicable monoplanes have been constructed in the neighbourhood, and that on one of them, a flight of about 35
miles has been made. It is said that the trials of these machines have been carried out in secret on a lonely part of
the Lancashire coast, north of Liverpool, and along the Deeside in the neighbourhood of West Kirby”. Again no
further information is known about this.
There had also been reports that T. Elder Hearn a Music hall performer and Freddie A. Fyfe had been using a
grassy recreation ground at Eastham Ferry to fly from. Hearn had bought a Bleriot aircraft in France, and after
a basic flying course managed to get the plane to Liverpool without serious mishap. In 1914, Hearn is known
to have flown over New Brighton Tower, and from Liverpool Polo Clubs ground. Freddie Fyfe was a local
photographer who later became a photographer in the RFC and re-enlisted during the Second Would War,
ending up as a Squadron Leader.
The Wirral would eventually witness quite a lot of aerial activity from 1910 till 1914 when the start of World
War I put an end to civil flying till after the war.
1st August 1910 – Robert Loraine flies over New Brighton
On Bank Holiday Monday 1st August, a French built Farman biplane, flown by 34-year-old Robert Loraine,
electrified the holiday crowds, when it suddenly appeared at about 4.15pm, flying towards New Brighton
Tower. Loraine, who had been born in Wallasey on 14th January 1876, was a famous actor manager of the
time. He had obtained his French flying certificate (No 126), at the Henry Farman flying school at Pau, France.
He returned to England, bring with him his £7,000 Farman aircraft and the schools chief mechanic, Jules
Vedrines. Loraine saw himself as a pioneer of aviation, but in order not to appear to be using his flying
exploits, to further his theatrical career, used the name of Robert Jones whilst flying. He was taking part in
the Blackpool Aviation Carnival, having previously amazed the crowds at the July Bournemouth International
Flying Week, by flying across to the Isle of Wight in a storm.
|Robert Loraine seen here sitting in Farman Bi Plane, saw himself as a pioneer of aviation, but in order not to appear not to
be using his flying exploits , to further his theatrical career, used his real name of Robert Jones whilst flying.
At the Blackpool carnival, Loraine was competing for the £100 prize, for the aviator that remained in the air for
the longest time. The aircraft he was flying, was designed and built by Henry (Henri) Farman, an Englishman
living in France. It was a biplane, with the pilot seated out in the open, in the middle of the lower wing. The
engine, a 50hp Gnome, and propeller were mounted in pusher configuration, behind the pilot. The fuselage
was an open framework with only the wings and flying surfaces covered in fabric.
Loraine had taken off from Blackpool an hour earlier. As he approached New Brighton Tower, it looked as
though he was going to circle it, but before he reached it, he turned and headed across the river to fly around
the Pier Head. The first that Blackpool knew of his whereabouts was when a “wag” from the New Brighton
Tower rang Blackpool and said, “There’s an aeroplane hanging about over the river here. Do you happen to
have lost one from Blackpool” As Loraine crossed the River Mersey; the air was filled with a cacophony of
sirens and hooters from vessels on the river. He then flew back across the River Mersey to Birkenhead and
then up to New Brighton where as a schoolboy he had dreamed of flying.
The details of his progress were being broadcast to the crowds at Blackpool, by megaphone. “Jones has flown
over the Mersey and is now over Egremont”. “Jones is rounding the tower at New Brighton”. “Jones is returning to
Blackpool”. Having flown over New Brighton, he turned towards Blackpool.
The flight back was not without incident. Loraine began to lose height and looking around discovered a large
black balloon on the tail plane. This was causing the aircraft to loose lift. Loraine, landed at five past five on a
sand bank at Fairhaven in the Ribble estuary, opposite the King Edward School. It was not long before a large
crowd gathered and dragged the aircraft to the beach, safe from the incoming tide. Loraine was able to call
his team from Blackpool to affect repairs. His French mechanic, Jules Vedrines declared that the bubble was
caused by oil from the engine being blown on to the tail plane and saturating the fabric that covered it.
Following a quick repair Loraine took off for Blackpool at 6.45pm, only to be greeted by the news on landing,
that as he had left the confines of the aerodrome, he did not qualify for first prize, even though he had been
in the air for two hours. First prize had been awarded to a French aviator who had flown for one and a half
hours, but within the confines of the aerodrome. The judges said that Loraine would be awarded the second
prize of £50, if he flew for another 42 minutes. The petrol tank was duly filled up, and he flew for another 42
Second visit by Robert Loraine
On Wednesday the 10th August at 7am, Robert Loraine was observed by early risers on The Wirral, flying
along the north coast of the peninsular, from New Brighton towards Hilbre Island, at a height of about 250
feet and a speed 40mph. He was following the coastline from Blackpool to Holyhead, and as he crossed the
River Dee into Wales, became the first man to fly in North Wales. He did not reach Holyhead that day,
shortage of fuel caused him to land on the golf course at Rhos-on-Sea in time for breakfast. When he did
eventually reach Holyhead, he was to attempt to be the first man to fly across the Irish Sea. On Sunday 11th
September, Loraine set out for Ireland but unfortunately ditched in Dublin Bay, just 200 yards short of
success. Many consider that this was the first crossing of the Irish Sea, but it would not be until April 1912
when Vivian Hewitt took off from the same field as Loraine, that the Irish Sea was conquered. Loraine went
on to fly in the forces during the First World War. He was decorated with the Military Cross (MC) and
Distinguished Service Order (DSO), mentioned in dispatches six times, and seriously wounded twice.
|On the 10th of August Robert Loraine followed the coastline from Blackpool over the Wirral heading for Holyhead. As he
crossed oevr the river Dee, he became the first man to fly in North Wales. The aircraft is seen here at Rhos in Wales.