Mr. Linfield - would be pioneer aviator of Margate

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In fond memory of the late Mick Twyman

A favourite and enduring comedy film is “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”, in which the audience is treated to the comedic story of early aviators involved in a race across the Channel. The film is prefaced by some side-splitting clips of some of the highly bizarre contraptions in which those early would-be bird men hoped to soar in the sky. Amusingly for us viewing at a safe distance of time and space, but doubtless heartbreaking for them, their efforts, almost invariably, ended in disaster, amid a welter of splintered timber and torn fabric, not to mention the human cost of bones and bodies. With today’s effortless travel by Jet Liner we perhaps tend to overlook those brave, and often foolhardy, souls whose determination that man would fly, often overcame their better judgement, but fly they did, eventually, and today’s aircraft are light years away from the wood and string of the pioneers.

Margate can, however, lay claim to one such pioneer fledgling birdman, and while he neither appears to have flown very far, or end up in a tangled heap of wreckage, his story is very interesting, and previously unknown. My interest was sparked in 1999 during my researches into the old Tudor House, in King Street, for the Margate Historical Society. During the course of several interviews which I had with, the then 99 years old, Harold Doughty, restorer of the old house in 1951, he not only gave me much important information regarding that restoration but also, very kindly, regaled me with some highly interesting tales of his childhood days in Edwardian Margate. One such story, heard at his fathers knee as a very small boy, and

obviously relating to events of the 19th century, concerned a gentleman who once carried out experiments with a flying machine on the slopes of the fields which now form part of Dane Park. Harold told me that the machine was looked after by a mechanic from Bangham’s Cycle Depot in Cecil Square. So, without a date to start from, research colleague Alf Beeching and myself, set out to see what we could find.

In the “Keble’s Gazette” for 3rd June 1882, was this little gem:-

“Mr Linfield, of Margate, has for some time past been engaged in constructing a machine of his own invention intended for aerial ascents, and yesterday afternoon an experiment of the working machine was made at the Gas Works, its results being so far satisfactory as to hold out a promise of an ultimate success. The machine a rather curios affair, being something like a bicycle on a large scale, with a construction to catch the wind, and thus produce an ascent, aided by the exertions of the rider. Before an ascent can be procured, the machine has to run rapidly down a slope in order to get the speed up”. In a later edition the paper told how this really was a bicycle on a huge scale, with a central column, on which was suspended a pair of folding wings. The runway for the experiments was the sharp slope which is now Addiscombe Road, down which the intrepid Mr. Linfield would pedal furiously, while the mechanic, from Bangham’s, would run equally furiously, alongside, making sure that all was well until the “Pilot” pulled a lever which released the wings into the open position. Unfortunately for posterity,

Mr. Linfield’s attempts were not crowned with the success of the hoped for sustained flight, but just short staggering leaps skyward. Sad really, as, who knows, Margate might just have earned a niche in world history!


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