A series of campaigns that will tell the stories of North Yorkshire’s people and places.

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Edition 1 - Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters

Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters is the first edition of Made in North Yorkshire. It will bring to life the resources held at the County Record Office, to capture the lives of important, but widely unknown people from across our county.

February 2020 - Sir George Cayley

Our second Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter, is Sir George Cayley, known as the ‘Father of Flight’. George Cayley was born in 1773 in the Paradise area of Scarborough (probably at Paradise House, where there is now a blue plaque commemorating his birth). He died in Brompton-by-Sawdon in 1857, aged 83 years old.

His childhood was spent in the village of Brompton-by-Sawdon, where his family had held the baronetcy title since 1661. He was educated by tutors, and his mother, Isabella, ensured his education focused on mathematics and physics. Surrounded by North Yorkshire’s nature and wildlife, George Cayley was an inquisitive child, who took inspiration for his inventions from the rural landscape and birds surrounding him.

A curious summer

Dr Mary Jones, resident of Brompton-by-Sawdon began to imagine some of the stories and scenarios George may have found himself in as a child in the village. She has recently published these ideas in a fictional book suitable for both children and adults, entitled ‘George Cayley’s Curious Summer’. Here is Dr Mary Jones explaining more about her book and George Cayley’s early life:

Discovery and innovation

By the time George was 19 (1793) both his father and grandfather had died, at which point George became the 6th Baronet, and moved into the main property of the estate at Brompton Hall (now a school for boys with special educational needs). Not long after George moved into Brompton Hall, he constructed a workshop within the grounds where he could experiment and create many of his inventions. The workshop still exists today, and George’s initials and notes can be seen carved into the doorframe dated from 1820.

Throughout his life, Sir George Cayley created many inventions which over time have been developed to become things which we now use and take for granted in our day to day lives. Vivian Bairstow is a life member of Brompton Local History Society, and is married to the 4 times great granddaughter of Sir George Cayley. He spoke to us tell to us more about Sir George, his life in Brompton, and his many, many, inventions:

Sir George Cayley's Inventions

"timeline of George Cayley's inventions"

Father of Flight

Out of all of his creations, Sir George Cayley is perhaps best known for his revolutionary theories surrounding aviation. In 1853 he made history when he flew the world’s first human carrying glider across Brompton dale. At almost 80 years old, Sir George Cayley considered himself too old to fly the glider himself. Instead he ordered his coachman to fly the glider, who upon a bumpy landing said: “Please, Sir George, I wish to give notice, I was hired to drive and not to fly!”.

Nonetheless, Sir George Cayley had achieved something world-changing. Only fifty years after his breakthrough, in 1903, the Wright brothers flew the first powered flight in America. The Wright brothers credited Cayley’s discovery, as Cayley himself was already aware of the need for an engine to sustain flight (as shown in the image of his experimental air engine below). 

In his first triple paper on Aerial Navigation of 1809/ 1810, Sir George Cayley wrote:

“I feel perfectly confident that this noble art will be brought to man’s general convenience and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and families, with goods and chattels, more securely by air than by land or water, with a velocity of from 20 – 100 miles per hour.”

The 150th anniversary of Sir George Cayley’s first flight was celebrated in 2003, when Sir Richard Branson visited Brompton-by-Sawdon, and flew a replica of Sir George Cayley’s 1853 glider. This glider, alongside a dedicated ‘Pioneers of Aviation’ exhibition, which includes reference to Sir George Cayley, is now held and available to view at the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Philanthropist and political thinker

Sir George Cayley’s inventions were often inspired by his tendency to look out for those less privileged than himself, which is a key attribute that makes him a Great North Yorkshire Son. Ian Richardson, Head of Memorial and Heritage at the Yorkshire Air Museum stated: ‘He was continuously concerned with railway safety, inventing the first ‘seat belt’ for restraining rail passengers in the event of a collision. Cayley was appalled by the fact that second and third class passengers in their carriages were the ‘buffer’ for first class travellers’.

He was also one of the early founding members, and Vice President of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society was established in 1822 to promote the public understanding of the sciences. The society still exists today, and we spoke to Andy Marvin, council member of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and avid glider pilot to learn more about the society and Sir George’s influence upon aviation:


Other legacies

Cayley extended this care to the political sphere, when he was elected as the Whig MP for Scarborough between 1832 and 1834.

He has been described as a philanthropist, and someone who cared about those who had suffered. In 1837 he created the first ever artificial hand for the son of one of his tenants, George Douseland, who tragically lost his hand in an accident at Brompton mill. Ian Richardson continues: ‘The mechanical hand was an incredible deviation from his path, but so typical of Cayley to respond to someone in need’.  

In 1838 Sir George Cayley founded the Polytechnic Institution (now the University of Westminster) in Regent Street, London to encourage innovation and demonstrate new inventions to the public.

Thank you to the members of the public and related societies and institutions for sharing their knowledge and stories of Sir George Cayley with us.

If you are interested in finding out more about Sir George Cayley, the North Yorkshire County Record Office holds a ‘Cayley family of Brompton’ collection (Ref: ZCA), which includes personal papers as well as sketches and diagrams relating to his inventions. View the whole collection by searching our online catalogue

Vivian Bairstow has published three books on the local history of Brompton-by-Sawdon, which include reference to Sir George Cayley. They are entitled:

  • ‘All Saints’ Church Brompton-by-Sawdon A History and Guide’
  • ‘Brompton Village Hall, A Century of Service 1912-2012’
  • ‘Brompton Village Trail: with Notes on Sir George Cayley, Aviation Pioneer’

All three books are available to purchase through Dr Mary Jones on 01723 859437 or via email: drmaryjones@hotmail.com

Dr Mary Jones’ book, ‘George Cayley’s Curious Summer’ is for both children and adults, and can be purchased on the YPD Books website

Many of Sir George Cayley’s original notebooks have now been digitised on the Royal Aeronautical Society website

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society website also has a ‘Yorkshire Scientists and Innovators’ article on Sir George Cayley, which further discusses the importance of his glider. 

More information about Sir George Cayley’s replica glider held at the Yorkshire Air Museum, and their ‘Pioneers of Aviation.

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Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters is the first edition of Made in North Yorkshire, and will be launching at the end of this month. It will bring to life the resources held at the County Record Office, to capture the lives of important, but widely unknown people from across our county.

It will focus on ten people from our history who have shown the resilience, strength, honesty, innovation and creativity that made North Yorkshire the special place it is today.

Each month will feature one great North Yorkshire son or daughter, who were either born in the county or who moved here during their lifetime and made a positive change.

The records held at the County Record Office date back to the 12th century, and include a variety of photographs, maps, documents and letters which will be used to unlock the hidden narratives of our Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters.


A Great North Yorkshire Daughter 

Our first Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter is VAD nurse Ursula Lascelles, who travelled from the rural North Yorkshire village of Slingsby, to the battlefields of France to support the war effort during World War One. Ursula Lascelles was born in Sheriff Hutton in July 1890, and died in 1992, aged 102.

She was the daughter of the local vicar of Sheriff Hutton, and was educated at the girls’ grammar school in York. At the outbreak of World War One, Ursula (aged 24 years old), and her mother, Elizabeth Lascelles, began volunteering as VAD nurses.



Supporting the war effort

The VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, was a role created by the Red Cross during the first World War, due to a shortage of professionally trained nurses. VAD nurses were voluntary nurses who helped care for injured soldiers in military hospitals across the UK and Europe. Their duties included dressing patients wounds, (which could be more than twice a day), giving patients medicine and bed baths, as well as lesser medical tasks including making beds and tidying the wards. Ursula began volunteering at the British Red Cross Hospital in Swinton Grange, near Malton.

Whilst volunteering in North Yorkshire, Ursula put herself forward to nurse on the frontline in France. Ursula spent months pleading with the head of the Joint Women’s VAD department, (Dame Katharine Furse) to be relocated to France, where she felt she could make a real difference. In 1917 Ursula was accepted to work at the No.6 General Hospital in Rouen, France, where she worked as a VAD nurse until 1919.

After the First World War, and throughout her life, Ursula continued to fundraise for the British Red Cross.



Why Ursula was a Great North Yorkshire Daughter

The influence Ursula Lascelles had upon the patients she treated is evident in the records held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. The Lascelles family collection (Ref: ZGC) includes hundreds of letters from soldiers she had looked after thanking Ursula for her care. Ursula kept in contact with many soldiers for several decades after the First World War, showing how thankful the soldiers were to have had Ursula by their side in their time of need.

The County Record Office also holds Ursula’s nursing autograph books, which includes messages of thanks from the patients she had looked after whilst they were at the hospital, some extracts from these can be seen above. The records show the social change Ursula brought to the county, and to soldiers from across the world. She cared for them in not just a nursing capacity; but she extended this care by remaining in contact with patients for many years after the First World War. Through nursing in France, and by writing to soldiers overseas, Ursula exported the values and culture of North Yorkshire through her strength and resilience.

Volunteering pioneer

Although Ursula came from a privileged background, she dedicated her life to supporting those in need and less fortunate than herself through supporting and volunteering for the Red Cross. North Yorkshire is still dependent on volunteers to bridge the gap between demand and the money we have to spend as a council.

The county’s ability to support each other, and come together when needed is part of what makes North Yorkshire a great place to live. The work Ursula carried out shows that she was a pioneer for early voluntary work within the county, something which we still rely upon on and cherish today.