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CAPTAIN EDWARD WILLIAM WAKEFIELD, MA, JP, DL, Cross of Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy

(1862 – 1941)

Edward Wakefield

Edward Wakefield went to the Blackpool Aviation Week in 1909, where he put forward the theory of flying from water but was ridiculed by the experts. He commissioned an aeroplane from A. V. Roe & Company, which was converted to a hydro-aeroplane at Windermere and known as Waterbird. On 25 November 1911, Waterbird made the first successful flight by a British hydro-aeroplane, piloted by Herbert Stanley Adams. It was also the first successful flight in the world to use a ‘stepped‘ float, which he patented in 1913.

‘Edward Wakefield’s ideas were scorned, but he never lost faith in the hydro-aeroplane, and Waterbird was a successful expression of that faith.’ – Historic Military Aircraft by J M Bruce.


‘Mr. Edward William Wakefield, a man of many and varied attainments and one of the best known public figures in Westmorland, died at Kendal on Sunday after 1 day’s illness. News of his death at the age of 78 years, came as a shock to the inhabitants of Kendal and also to his very wide circle of friends in all parts of the county for only a few hours before he first became ill on Friday evening he had attended the quarterly meeting of Westmorland County Council and taken part in discussions with the foresight and admirable sense of proportion which made him one of the most respected members of both Kendal Town Council and the county authority.

‘Few men have the ability to master so many fields of human attainment as had Captain Wakefield. In 1911, after exhaustive experiments on Lake Windermere, he produced the first aircraft to take off British waters, and thus may be said to have pioneered the huge flying boats which girdle the earth today. In addition to being an inventor, he travelled in many parts of the world, served in both the South African and Great Wars, was a fully-qualified barrister, and had considerable experience of the banking business. In local government he achieved all possible honours. In addition to being Mayor of Kendal on three occasions he was elected a Freeman of his native borough in 1937. A Justice of the Peace for 48 years, he was one of the county’s oldest magistrates in years of service, was vice-chairman of Westmorland Quarter Sessions from 1936 up to the time of his death, and Chairman of the Westmorland Standing Joint Committee since 1937. He was High Sheriff of Westmorland in 1900.’

– Obituary in the Westmorland Gazette, 9 August 1941.


By the end of World War 1, Edward Wakefield was Chief Church Army Commissioner for France and Belgium. On 30 September 1921, Wakefield was awarded the Cross of Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy, the second highest Order which could be conferred on any foreigner. This was in recognition of his services rendered to the Church Army in Italy and other theatres of War. He was granted permission to wear the award by way of a Royal Warrant.


‘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.’ – Letter from Wakefield to his wife Mary, 1 July 1911.

‘I come of many generations of Westmorland men, and I yield to no one in love for the scenery, and loyalty to the interests of my country. Scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island.’ – Letter by Wakefield, in response to a letter from Canon Rawnsley to The Times, together with Flight and Aero magazines, 11 January 1912. The letter gained editorial support from Flight on 20 January 1912, which included ‘Mr. Wakefield answers Canon Rawnsley’s points seriatim, and which we think makes out a good case for himself’.

‘Resting idly on the ripples is something the old hills have not seen before. … The loud even hum of the 7 cylinders commences, and we are off. At first quite slowly – then with rapidly increasing speed we skim the surface of the lake. The sweet air begins to sing in the wires. All at once we are rising. There is no jerk. One only knows that one is flying by the smoothness and ease of the motion. It seems very rapid. The shining blue and white ripples are being passed so fast – 35 to 40 miles an hour. Gradually we get higher. The ripples become smaller, indistinct and then fade from sight. The view opens out as it does when one ascends a steep hill, only so much more easily, so much more wonderfully. There is a perfect blaze of spring colouring underneath and around. As we rise higher and higher the fields look like bright and green squares of a chess board – but not so regular. The woods are a motley of every glorious shade of green one can imagine. The lake becomes a pool of liquid silver. The beasts grazing in the sunshine pause a moment to look round, then go on feeding. But the swans and other birds seem restless and a little puzzled. Beech Hill Hotel has disappeared, Storrs Hall looks tiny. The folk on a passing steamer wave greetings to us. The motion can only be compared to sailing over a gentle swell. It is exhilarating, glorious, a sport and a pastime for kings.

‘In an incredibly short time the Hill of Oaks sheds appear. We take a little circle – then turn and come down just as gently as we rose. I hear the sound of the water under the float, but am not conscious of any jerk or check to tell me we have left the soft arms of the kindly air and come to rest supported on the laughing waters.’

– Windermere From Above, article by Wakefield in Flight magazine, 11 May 1912 following the first passenger flight on 3 May.

‘Every boy worth his salt builds castles in the air. But sometimes his wings (opportunities) have not enough area to carry the load. And sometimes his engine (force of character) is a bit short of power. So grey hairs come, and the castles fade. The castle I built was to fly, and lo! it materialised after five-and-thirty years, in spite of the grey hairs.

‘It is, however, not yet four years since I decided to concentrate on waterplanes. At that date waterplanes were unheard of, and water flying was ridiculed, and judged impossible, just as a year or two before the idea of any machine really flying was laughed out of court.’

– Notes on Waterplanes, article by Wakefield in The Aeroplane magazine, 10 April 1913; for the handwritten draft, see top of this page.


‘Mr. Wakefield is a valued member of the committee which in the past few weeks has enrolled nearly 100 boys to form the Kendal Squadron of the Air Training Corps.’ – The Westmorland Gazette, 22 March 1941. In 1941, his nephew Wavell Wakefield became Director of the Air Training Corps.

Edward’s younger brothers Arthur and William were involved with the Great Tower Wood Scout’s camp, adjacent to Hill of Oaks. William donated 240 acres to form the first national camp of its kind. It was opened by the Chief Scout, Lord Baden-Powell, in August 1936.

Concerning flight from water, Wakefield described it as ‘Something that beckoned…’. – Aeromarine Origins by H F King. 



Birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes