Celebrating The ‘Father of Flight’

Sir George Cayley is in the spotlight as part of the campaign to showcase Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters.

Photo real sketched portrait of Sir George Cayley, as an older man, published in 1843

Sir George Cayley was Made in North Yorkshire and is the second historical figure to be put in the spotlight as part of the campaign to showcase Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters. The series of features draws on carefully preserved artefacts from the county council’s archives and is being run in partnership with local history groups.

Born in Scarborough in 1773, Sir George Cayley is one of the most innovative and influential characters from North Yorkshire. Often regarded as “The Father of Flight”, Cayley created the first glider to carry a human being, he also invented the first artificial hand.

Inspired watching the birds during his childhood in Brompton he used his observations on how they fly to make his own flying machines. By the time George was 19, both his father and grandfather had died and he inherited Brompton Hall, all other Cayley buildings and the baronetcy.

Soon after moving into the Hall he had his workshop built, which is still there today. This is where he came up with many of his inventions and when he didn’t have his notebook he wrote his ideas on the wall.

Dr Mary Jones, resident of Brompton-by-Sawdon and author of ‘George Cayley’s Curious Summer’, said: “I think he was very curious about the world around him and full of so many ideas. Sir George is a Great North Yorkshire Son because he showed all the qualities of a dogged determination not to give up when he knew his ideas were correct however long it took to prove them.

“I think you see this in many Yorkshire people and he did all his inventions here, in a Yorkshire village and it shows wherever you live you can become a great inventor.”

Sir George Cayley invented many things throughout his life, most of which are still used today. Not only did he invent the first glider to carry a human, but he also created the first ever artificial limb. It was made for the son of one of his tenants who tragically lost his hand in an accident at the mill.  This revolutionised the concept of prosthetics as it could move and manipulate objects.

Vivian Bairstow, life member of Brompton Local History Group, said: “Locally he was a philanthropist; he liked to look after his tenants. He did an awful lot of good, not just in the village but nationally.

He was just light-years ahead of other people’s thinking and I think he stands head and shoulders above so many others with his inventions, which were very often driven by accidents that had happened and his way of correcting them and helping people who may have suffered”.

In 1809 Cayley published a 3 part paper which shared the principles of aerodynamics, everyone around the world in aviation recognises this as the document on how to fly. The defining moment when something happened was in 1853, when the world’s first man carrying glider successfully flew across Brompton Dale. At the age of 79 Sir George Cayley had changed history.

Cayley has a lasting legacy across North Yorkshire with his glider considered to be the first real aeroplane in history and since the break-through further engineers and scientists have continued to develop his work. He is acknowledged by The Wright Brothers, who invented the first engine powered flight in 1903, as the man who had taken aviation forward better than anyone else.

Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Councillor Carl Les said: “People like Sir George Cayley have driven the county forward through innovations and creativity, his hard work and influence is clear around the world with many of his innovations still used today.

“We are still looking for nominations to fill the following months, we would love the public to continue getting involved with Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters. If you feel there is someone who made a difference to your community, then contact us”

Nominations can be sent across to our inbox MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk.

Read Sir George Cayley’s story on our Made In North Yorkshire webpage.

This story was published 28 February 2020