The grandson and great granddaughter of aviation pioneer Robert Blackburn – who built his first monoplane in 1909 in Leeds – have launched building work at Bowcliffe Hall, their former ancestral home, which is being restored to its original glory.
Serial entrepreneur Jonathan Turner is spearheading the restoration at the 200 year old hall spanning 50 acres as a tribute to Robert Blackburn, the first Yorkshireman to have designed and built a powered aeroplane.
Robert went on to establish Blackburn Aircraft based in Leeds and Brough, which designed over 70 different aircraft designs including many famous planes such as the Skua, Kangaroo, Beverley and Buccaneer.
Much of the earliest test flying was done on the East Yorkshire coast at Filey and at Soldier’s Field in Roundhay Park, Leeds.
Bowcliffe Hall was a vibrant meeting place for aircraft pioneers, media proprietors, RAF officials and national politicians and influencers including Amy Johnson, Lord Northcliffe and Winston Churchill – all of whom were members of the Blackburns’ eclectic social circle.
Robert Blackburn’s grandson and great-granddaughter Robert and Amy, who live in Richmond, Surrey, have viewed at first hand the innovative restoration plans and dug the first sod of a dedicated Blackburn Wing, which will become an inspirational conference and corporate hospitality facility and be shaped like the wing of an aircraft.
Robert Blackburn, who is a professor at King’s College London, is preparing an illustrated history of early aviation and life and times of his grandfather.
“This is a wonderful project at Bowcliffe Hall, my family’s former home.
“It will bring alive memories of the rich Yorkshire heritage of the early flying days and aviation industry, which were so important to the area, and at the same time it will further develop the great facilities offered by the Bayford Group there today in a fascinating way.
“The timing is perfect too, with it being the centenary of several ‘firsts’ for Blackburn aircraft in the years following my grandfather’s first flight, such as the first aircraft delivery of the Yorkshire Evening Post from Leeds to York in 1913 and the UK’s first regular scheduled air service between Leeds and Bradford in 1914 with the Mayor of Leeds amongst its first passengers.
“I greatly look forward to seeing completion of the Blackburn Wing in 2014.”
Just like her great-grandfather before her, Amy studied engineering at Leeds University.
She graduated with First Class honours in Civil Engineering from the University of Leeds in 2012, and is now an analyst with the Institute for Infrastructure Studies based in London.
Jonathan Turner said:
“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.
“His achievements include founding an aircraft manufacturing company in 1914, which, on his death, became part of Hawker Siddeley and later, British Aerospace.
“I am honoured and delighted that Robert and Amy have launched the Blackburn Wing, which pays tribute to the family’s inspirational achievements.”
Work on the Blackburn Wing – the second phase of the restoration, which includes the dining room becoming The Bowcliffe Driver’s Club, for hospitality, guests and tenants to enjoy, as well as new entrance gates and additional office space – is expected to take 12 months to complete.
The final phase of the redevelopment will comprise the restoration and redesign of the 19th century landscaped gardens.