Captain Edward Wakefield entered into an Agreement with Avro for an aeroplane

Wakefield placed advertisements in Flight magazine of 24 September 1910 for an aero engine and a ‘flight machine’. Amongst the many replies, one came on 26 September from Humphrey Verdon Roe of A. V. Roe & Company (‘Avro’), Manchester. Avro had been formed on 1 January that year, the world’s first company to be registered as an aeroplane manufacturer.

Wakefield met with Humphrey at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester (they had the common background of having served in the Boer War) and, following a letter from Humphrey to Wakefield on 6 October 1910, terms were reached for a Bleriot-type monoplane at £100 without engine, propeller and wheels.

Wakefield had seen the Roe 1 Triplane, which he referred to as the ‘Bull’s Eye‘, flown by Alliott Verdon Roe at the Blackpool Aviation Meeting on 19 October 1909. Alliott’s younger brother Humphrey financed Avro. Humphrey owned H.W. Everard & Company which produced Bull’s-Eye men’s trouser braces in a factory at Brownsfield Mills, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester. Hence the aeroplane carried advertising on its side of not only ‘Bull’s-Eye’ but also ‘Avroplane’ which was the trading name.

Following the flight of the world’s first practical hydro-aeroplane on 26 January 1911 by Glenn Curtiss at San Diego Bay, California, Wakefield ended his negotiations with Avro for a Bleriot-type.

Wakefield acted quickly, writing to Humphrey on 2 February, meeting on 5 February at Brooklands, Weybridge, and meeting Alliott at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester on 26 February. Arrangements were then entered into for an Avro Curtiss-type biplane at £250 and a Gnome Omega 50 hp ‘pusher’ [the propeller was behind the wings] engine for £375. It is believed that there are only 2 such engines which have survived. Avro was an airframe designer and builder, but not an engine constructor.

Initial flights of Avro aeroplanes were by:-

1908 Roe I Biplane

1909 Roe I Triplane

1910 Roe II Triplane

1910 Roe III Triplane

1910 Roe IV Triplane

1911 Avro Type D biplane (converted to a hydro-aeroplane)

1911 Avro Curtiss-type biplane (converted to a hydro-aeroplane)

‘Alliott Verdon Roe’s early interest in hydro-aeroplanes was sparked by Wakefield’s order.’ – Eric Verdon-Roe, grandson.

Build of the aeroplane

Build took place at a basement workshop in Brownsfield Mills. The plan, dated 9 March 1911 and signed by the works manager Reginald Parrott, is the oldest surviving Avro aeroplane plan. The rudder is the earliest surviving part bearing the legend ‘A.V. Roe & Co’. Photos of the surviving parts are here.

Transfer took place to Brooklands on 25 May for test flying, where Wakefield met Humphrey on 29 June. Louis Noel, Ronald Kemp, Frederick Raynham and Francis Conway Jenkins flew the aeroplane. Various changes were made, including replacing the car-type steering control wheel with a steering column –  ‘stick’ – which Alliott had invented and obtained Patent No. 26,099 on 14 November 1907. Howard Pixton, Chief Instructor of the Avro School, watched the first flight. He wrote in a booklet The Brooklands Story 1910/1911, that 1911 was an eventful year for Avro, including the aeroplane for Wakefield who took one of the best Avro pupils, Herbert Stanley Adams, as pilot.

On 1 July, Wakefield wrote ‘At about 8 p.m. under young Mr. Raynham’s skilful piloting a splendid flight took Brooklands by storm. Rising slowly and turning at first in wide sweeps she soon gathered speed and height and sailed for some miles (4 at least) over houses and trees, and then landed in front of her hangar as gently as a thistledown. Thus she passed her contract test with flying colours’.

Waterbird at Windermere

Following delivery on 7 July to Windermere, conversion to a hydro-aeroplane was accomplished. On 25 November, flown by Adams, ‘Waterbird‘ made the first successful take-off and alighting on water outside the USA and France where the very first hydro-aeroplane flight had taken place on 28 March 1910. It was the first successful flight in the world to use a stepped float, which Wakefield patented. 8 flights were carried out that day at distances of between four and five miles, and two days later exhibtion flights were made.

Avro D at Barrow-in-Furness

Meanwhile, the first Avro D aeroplane had been flown by Pixton at Brooklands on 1 April, where he gave a demonstration flight to Commander (later Air Vice-Marshal Sir) Oliver Schwann who bought it for £700 and taught himself basic pilot skills. In the second week of June, it was despatched to Barrow-in-Furness where floats were attached. On 18 November at Cavendish Dock, Barrow, piloted by Schwann, the Avro D left the water for 50-60 yards but crashed upon it falling back into the water. On 2 April 1912, flying the Avro D at Barrow, Sydney Sippe made the first successful flight from seawater in Britain.

Oscar Gnosspelius at Windermere

Earlier on 25 November, Oscar Gnosspelius had flown from Windermere, but he also crashed on alighting. In February, he had made straight and level flights at Brooklands, having been taught by Pixton. Gnosspelius No. 2 flew succcessfully on 14 February 1912, when Gnosspelius was the pilot. In April 1912, Gnosspelius invited Kemp, whom he had met at Brooklands, to Windermere in order to more fully explore the flight envelope of his hydro-aeroplane. Kemp made a series of flights between the 12th and 17th, including one of twenty minutes.

Gertude Bacon on Avro and Windermere

In July 1912, Gertrude Bacon flew as a passenger at Windermere in Waterhen and the Deperdussin. In her book Memories of Land and Sky she wrote: ‘I visited the aerodromes and aeroplane works that by then were springing up in all directions. One of the earliest of the latter I found in a mill outside Manchester, where half the building was devoted to the manufacture of men’s braces, and the other to ‘Avroplanes’. Of the former the most romantic example was undoubtedly Windermere.’

Seabird/ the Avro at Windermere

Avro built an aeroplane for John Duigan, similar to the Avro D, which Adams bought from him for £180. Following transportation from Brooklands to Windermere, new wings, designed by Gnosspelius, were made and the ex-Waterbird engine installed. It was first flown at Windermere on 28 August 1912 and became known as ‘Seabird’ and later as the ‘Avro’.

Avro 501

In December 1912, Adams test flew the Avro 501 at Eastchurch on behalf of Avro, the float having been designed by Gnosspelius, built to the orders of the Admiralty. It was adapted for alighting on, and rising from, either water or land.

Avro 503

The Avro 503, a slightly larger version of the Avro 501, made its first take off from the River Adur at Brighton on 28 May 1913, flown by Raynham. It was the first aeroplane to have floats designed by Avro. On the following day, he carried as a passenger John Alcock who was working at Brooklands as a mechanic and made the first Atlantic crossing in 1919, which brought an award of £10,000 from the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail, founded by Lord Northcliffe in 1896, stimulated aviation by awarding prizes between 1907 and 1925. In 1907, Alliott won £75 in a model competition, which helped fund the full-size aeroplane.  In August 1909, Lord Northcliffe wrote to Blackpool Town Hall suggesting that an air display be put on.  Wakefield derived his inspiration to fly off water from the Blackpool Aviation Meeting in October 1909. On 14 February 1914, Raynham flew an Avro 504 to 15,000 feet. Bought by the Daily Mail, it carried out displays at towns around the British coast.

Between 1909 and August 1914, Lord Northcliffe gave what was then the enormous sum of £24,050 in prizes, and offered £5,000 for the first round Britain flight by a seaplane, but World War 1 ended all competition flying. The prototype Avro 510 seaplane was built for the cancelled 1914 Circuit of Britain race. On behalf of the Navy, Captain (later Air Chief Marshal Sir) Arthur Longmore handed the cheque for it to Alliott on 20 January 1912. Longmore had test-flown Waterbird for the Navy, his first take-off from water.

Howard Pixton

On 20 April 1914, flying a Sopwith seaplane at Monaco, Pixton became the first Briton to win the Schneider Trophy.

From 21 July until October 1919, Pixton operated two Avro 504 seaplanes (still displaying their military serial numbers) at Cockshott Point, Windermere for the Avro Transport Company, having taken a lease of the hangar from Wakefield. He carried out joyriding flights, instruction and delivery of newspapers to the Isle of Man.

Sydney Sippe

Sippe flew an Avro 504 on 21 November 1914 during a Royal Naval Air Service raid on the Zeppelin factory at Friedsrichshafen, part of the first strategic bombing campaign, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Legion d’honneur.

Crossley Motors Limited

In 1920, Crossley Motors Ltd acquired 68.5% of the shares in A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd. Crossley took over Avro’s car manufacturing business, but Avro independently continued aeroplane manufacturing operations and retained its name.

Saunders-Roe Limited

In 1928, Alliott sold his shares in A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd. Seeking a company to pursue his seaplane ideas, he bought a controlling interest in S. E. Saunders Ltd, so leading to Saunders-Roe Ltd and flying boat production.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Click to enlarge image.

World War One


On 25 November 1911, from Windermere, Waterbird achieved the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float. Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type hydro-aeroplane. The pilot was Herbert Stanley Adams (later Lieutenant Colonel).

Waterbird was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Company. Wakefield patented the stepped float and means of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 14 March 1912 with the Admiralty, and also to convert a Deperdussin naval serial M.1 to a hydro-aeroplane.

'We believe that with the exception of the hydro-aeroplanes of the Unites States Navy no other machine of like nature has been so successful.' - Kendal Mercury & Times, 22 December 1911.

Deperdussin at Windermere

The dismantled Deperdussin arrived by rail at Windermere on 13 June 1912, and, having been successfully converted from a landplane, was flown during July by Adams, Lieutenant Reginald Gregory and Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Charles Samson. On 10 January 1912 off Sheerness, Samson had achieved the first aeroplane launch from a British warship - HMS Africa, and on 2 May 1912 off Weymouth, the first take-off from a moving ship - HMS Hibernia.


In a letter to the Times, on 11 January 1912, Wakefield wrote 'I yield to no one in love for the scenery, and loyalty to the interests of my country. But many, who along with me learnt during the war in South Africa, the value of scouting, believe that scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island. England is far too behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both Army and Navy.'

'Edward Wakefield was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the fleet and relaying back information – extending the Naval battle space over the horizon. He knew that Naval aircraft could be the eyes and ears of the fleet.' – Commander Sue Eagles, Fly Navy Heritage Trust, in the Fleet Air Arm diary 2012.

'Not only did Edward Wakefield correctly predict the need for floatplanes in the Great War but also the role for the Sunderland flying boats that were to be built on the lake 30 years later.' – Wings on Windermere by Allan King.

The Importance of Private Enterprise

On 28 February 1912, the Report of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was approved, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and that it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Standing Sub-Committee, when asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, referred to the experiments at Windermere and that 'the results so far attained have been promising'.

On 16 April 1912, Churchill confirmed in the Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.

The term 'seaplane' was coined by Churchill when he answered a question in the Commons on 17 July 1913.

Seaplanes in War

Churchill wrote in a Minute of 10 February 1914 that 'The objectives of land aeroplanes can never be so definite or important as the objectives of seaplanes, which, when they carry torpedoes, may prove capable of playing a decisive part in operations against capital ships. The facilities of reconnaissance at sea, where hostile vessels can be sighted at enormous distances while the seaplane remains out of possible range, offer a far wider prospect even in the domain of information to seaplanes than to land aeroplanes',

Whilst Wakefield advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War, Churchill, however, came to the view that attack was the prime tactic for defence: 'The great defence against aerial menace is to attack the enemy's aircraft as near as possible to their point of departure'. Three years and one month after Waterbird's first flight, carrier-borne seaplanes were launched against Germany. 'The Cuxhaven raid marks the first employment of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service in an attack on the enemy's harbours from the sea, and, apart from the results achieved, is an occasion of historical moment. Not only so, but for the first time in history a naval attack has been delivered simultaneously above, on, and from below the surface of the water.' – Flight magazine, 1 January 1915.

Training for Naval Marine Aeroplanes at Windermere

A private Seaplane School was formed at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere. For an example of the fate of Windermere students, click here.

Following the outbreak of war, Adams joined the RNAS becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the DSC and MBE, and Wakefield joined the Cheshire Regiment becoming commander of a Labour Battalion on the Western Front. On 11 November 1914, the Cockshott Point hangar lease, together with Waterhen, Seabird and Lakes Monoplane were sold by the Lakes Flying Company to the Northern Aircraft Company Ltd.

'Large numbers of probationary Sub-Lieutenants R.N. were sent to Windermere for basic instruction, in addition to those who had already qualified on land machines.' - Britain's Seaplane Pioneers by M H Goodall, Air Pictorial January 1988.

The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and in May 1916 training operations at Cockshott Point and Hill of Oaks became RNAS Unit Hill of Oaks. In June 1916, the headquarters of the RNAS at Windermere moved from Cockshott Point to Hill of Oaks, and, with the departure of civilian instructors, the name was changed to RNAS Windermere.

A Royal Naval Air Station was established at Hill of Oaks 1916-1917. At various times, the fleet included 4 Nieuport VI seaplanes, 9 F.B.A. flying boats, and 3 Short 827 seaplanes.

The first pupil to obtain a Hydro-aeroplane Certificate at RNAS Hill of Oaks was Paul Gadbois, on 14 June 1916. He departed Windermere on 26 June 1916, but two weeks later was seriously injured in a seaplane accident. The last pupil to obtain a Certificate at Windermere was Edward Haller, on 16 August 1916. He joined the RFC, but was killed on 3 June 1917, when shot down flying a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

RNAS personnel involved themselves in the local community, even putting on a concert. However, parents of daughters complained that the prefix to RNAS Hill of Oaks stood for Rather Naughty After Sunset!

A Tribute to Windermere

'Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Hill of Oaks, Windermere is that but for its existence, just a few years later Britain could quite easily have starved to death as a result of the U-boat blockade. Thankfully the deterrent aspect of seaplanes and other aerial craft forced enemy submarines to stay under the surface and therefore make them less effective.' – The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a U-boat whilst flying a Curtiss H-12 flying boat.  Both of them were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 3 June 1918, ex-Windermere pupil Captain Harold Gonyon was amongst the first recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross

Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, who constructed the floats and aeroplanes of Oscar Gnosspelius (later Major), Waterbird's floats, floats for the RNAS and pinnaces for the Admiralty, were sub-contracted in 1918 to manufacture Felixstowe flying boat hulls.

On 10 May 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere was first pilot of an S.E. Saunders Ltd-built Felixstowe flying boat which shot down a Zeppelin at Heligoland Bight, for which he was among the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 16 May 1918, whilst carrying out an anti-submarine patrol, he achieved the record for the longest duration flight during World War 1 at that time of 9 hours 45 minutes. It is claimed that Pattinson invented the spotlight altimeter in 1918, wrongly attributed to Guy Gibson in 1943 in the Dam Busters film.

Wavell Wakefield

On 1 November 1918, Flight Lieutenant Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the after deck of HMS Vindictive at Scapa Flow.

Arthur Wakefield

Doctor Arthur Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's brother) unveiled a memorial on 8 June 1924 at the summit of Great Gable to the twenty members of The Fell & Rock Climbing Club who fell in World War One.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Admiralty Deperdussin

Cuxhaven Raid