Bowcliffe Hall in Wetherby set to return to former glories
PUBLISHED: 20:44 12 September 2013 | UPDATED: 20:45 12 September 2013
Restoration project puts a Yorkshire aviation pioneer high on the agenda again, as Jo Haywood reports
Bowcliffe Hall was once a vibrant meeting place for aircraft pioneers, media proprietors, RAF officials and national politicians, its eclectic inner circle including Amy Johnson, Lord Northcliffe, Louise Bleriot, Sir Sefton Brancker and Winston Churchill.
The 50-acre West Yorkshire estate in Bramham, near Wetherby, was the home of aviation pioneer Robert Blackburn, who built his first monoplane in 1909, making him the first Yorkshireman to design and produce a powered flying craft.
He carried out much of his test flying over Filey, Roundhay Park and Brough, and made the world’s first scheduled flight between Leeds and Bradford in 1914, with the Mayor of Leeds amongst his first passengers.
When the centenary of that momentous flight occurs next year, Bowcliffe Hall will once again be restored to its former glory, with an additional section shaped like the wing of an aircraft in memory of its high-flying former owner.
Serial entrepreneur Jonathan Turner, chief executive of the Bayford Group, which has been headquartered at Bowcliffe since 1988, is spearheading the restoration of the 200-year-old hall with the support of Robert Blackburn’s grandson, also called Robert, and great-granddaughter, Amy.
‘Robert Blackburn and his wife Jessica – one of the first women to fly a British monoplane before the First World War – played a significant role in the UK’s early aviation history,’ said Jonathan. ‘His achievements include founding an aircraft manufacturing company in 1914, which, on his death, became part of Hawker Siddeley and, later, British Aerospace.’
Robert Blackburn, heavily influenced by the airborne antics of Orville and Wilbur Wright, completed his first flight in May 1910 in a monoplane that he designed, piloted and crash landed on a beach near Saltburn. Jessica was equally as smitten with the idea of powered flight, soaring over Roundhay Park in test flights of her husband’s new craft and becoming one of the most colourful and best-known personalities in early aviation.
Their company – Blackburn Aircraft – became one of the most important firms in British aviation, with a long line of successful aeroplanes including the Mercury monoplane, the Swift, the Dart, the Kangaroo, the Isis seaplane, the Beverley and the Buccaneer.
‘Robert and Jessica’s daughters, Sarah and Janie, have previously enjoyed a nostalgic visit to Bowcliffe Hall, viewing photographs and film footage of their childhood home from the 1930s through to 1955 when Robert died,’ said Jonathan. ‘I am honoured and delighted that Robert and Amy have agreed to help me launch the Blackburn Wing, which pays tribute to the family’s inspirational achievements.’
Robert is Professor of Law at King’s College London, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the author of many books on political and constitutional affairs. He is currently preparing an illustrated history of the life and times of his illustrious and exceptionally well-connected grandfather.
Amy chose to follow directly in her great-grandfather’s footsteps by studying engineering at Leeds University. She graduated with first class honours in civil engineering in 2012 and is now an analyst with the Institute for Infrastructure Studies in London.
Work on the Blackburn Wing – the 12-month second phase of this ambitious restoration programme – includes the creation of Bowcliffe Drivers’ Club, a dining room for hospitality guests and tenants, as well as new entrance gates and additional office space.
The third and final phase of the redevelopment will comprise the restoration and redesign of the 19th century landscaped gardens.
For more information about Bowcliffe Hall, go to bowcliffehall.co.uk.