Back in 1951, we were only a few years clear of the Second World War and still in the grip of rationing, and the government decided that the country needed a boost, and its talents needed promoting to the rest of the world.
The result was the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition held throughout the UK that summer. Although most people will associate the Festival with the flagship exhibition held on the South Bank in London, there were smaller events held nationwide – including, in Scarborough, an exhibition called The Adventure of Flight – the Story of the Conquest of the Air, which ran from June 30 to September 22.
The Chair of the Scarborough Festival of Britain Committee, Alderman GKG Pindar, explained: “The purpose of the Festival of Britain is to show the achievement of this country of ours in the fields of science and the arts. In considering the question of an appropriate theme for Scarborough’s participation in the 1951 Festival it was felt that the occasion provided an unique opportunity to honour one of its own sons – Sir George Cayley, Bart., “Father of Aeronautics”, born in Scarborough in 1773, and one of the greatest of the early pioneers of aviation.”
The exhibition was housed in ‘two blister hangars of the standard type used on RAF and other airfields’, temporarily erected on a car park on Northway.
The first hangar looked at man’s early attempts to fly – from the work of Leonardo da Vinci through to that of Cayley, including a life-sized statue of Cayley which, sadly, didn’t last for very long afterwards as it was made from papier-mâché.
The second hangar was entitled The Aeroplane Grows Up, and looked at flight in the 20th century, concluding with ‘a quick look into the future – rockets, space-ships and inter-planetary travel’.
Our object today was, probably, in the first hangar. It’s a scale model, beautifully turned in different woods with metal propellers, of a gyro designed by Cayley. Resident at Brompton Hall and pioneer of aeronautical engineering, Cayley designed the first glider to successfully carry a human being: reputedly an employee of his, a coachman called John Appleby, who had the great misfortune to break his leg on landing, and promptly resigned on the grounds that ‘I was hired to drive coaches, not flying machines’.
Cayley also discovered and identified the four aerodynamic forces of flight on which modern aeroplane design is based: weight, lift, drag, and thrust.
You can find out more about Cayley at the Rotunda Museum, where other exhibits include a scale model of his balloon airship. Please call 01723 353665.