Aeronautical discovery in Brompton

The Cayley workshop at Brompton Hall School.
The Cayley workshop at Brompton Hall School.

by Maureen Robinson

Let flights of fancy take you to Brompton. There you’ll discover the workshop of Sir George Cayley, ‘The Father of Aeronautics’. It was opened to the public on September 17, 2010.

The village of Brompton is a hidden gem, nestled between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. It has been associated with the Cayley family for over 500 years.

Before exploring this charming village, which lies mostly to the south of the busy A170, I suggest you park in a side road and walk briefly uphill to Brompton Hall School. Enquire there whether you may borrow the key to enter Cayley’s workshop.

Entering the main gates to Brompton Hall School, turn left to find the octagonal stone workshop in the hall’s grounds. Here, Sir George Cayley designed flying machines between 1799 and 1855, that define the essence of the modern aeroplane. Read about lift and drag; the importance of stream-lining; flight control through horizontal and vertical tail-planes, and propulsion devices etc. Admire models and displays regarding his work.

Cayley was born on December 27, 1773, and was a man of inventive genius. From 1810 to 1843 he was preoccupied in designing a caterpillar tractor, the tension wheel in modern bicycle form, artificial limbs and many other inventions. In 1853 his coachman was test pilot of his full-size glider. The machine flew several hundred yards over Brompton Dale before the coachman emerged – and announced his resignation!

Please return the keys to Brompton Hall School before continuing. It’s interesting to note that this impressive building was Sir George Cayley’s home until his death on December 15, 1857. It’s now a residential school. Across the road was the entrance to the private grounds of Brompton Dale where the glider flew in 1853.

The Cayley Arms provides a meeting place for locals and visitors. Turn off the A170 at this point to explore picturesque scenes to the south. Passing the old village school built in 1878, you reach the village hall. Facing the hall, take the path to your left leading to the mill pond. It’s fed by spring water emerging from layers of underground limestone.

It once supplied the village’s requirements for centuries. Now return to the village hall. From here, walk westwards along Church Lane to find All Saints’ Church. Take the cobbled path to the oak door. In 1802 the poet William Wordsworth married a local girl, Mary Hutchinson of Gallows Hill Farm, on October 4, 1802.

Within the church, on the west wall, is a beautiful memorial window of coloured glass, ‘All the Fowls of the Air’. It’s dedicated to Sir Kenelm Cayley and given by his widow Lady Cayley. How many birds can you identify?

Leaving the beautiful church, just opposite is a metal gate giving access to a popular lakeside walk to the Butts. Seek swans and ducks and maybe a heron or kingfisher. Alternatively, turn right from the church, and follow Church Lane to the far corner. Then bear left down the narrow country lane with ivy-clad walls to approach a road junction. The grounds of Brompton Low Hall are to your right. Its extensive lawn is well worth viewing between February and March. Carpets of golden aconites and sheets of snowdrops transform the scene to one of dazzling beauty. The stone-built dovecote you may notice is listed as being of special architectural interest locally.

By turning left you reach the green, known as the Butts. It’s said to be the area where, during medieval times, men practised archery. Crystal-clear waters crossed by bridges made this a popular place for sharing picnics with the ducks!

The magnificent horse-chestnut trees were planted in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Autumn brings fiery hues to their leaves and bumper crops of gleaming chestnuts for youngsters to seek for the game of conkers. Then in May, they’re adorned with ‘candles’ of creamy-white blossom once more, as nature’s calendar welcomes springtime.

Refreshment: The Cayley Arms and Brompton Forge Tea Rooms.

Map Reference: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL27, North York Moors Eastern Area. Scale 2½ to 1 mile.