Village to honour its famous son

IT has taken almost 50 years, but a village is to officially recognise the achievement of its most famous resident, hovercraft inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell.

IT has taken almost 50 years, but a village is to officially recognise the achievement of its most famous resident, hovercraft inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell.

Sir Christopher lived in Somerleyton while he was working on the invention that would put his name in the history books and revolutionise travel – and now the villagers want to celebrate his success.

Retired marine engineer Dr John French, who lives at Camps Heath, four miles from where Sir Christopher worked, is honorary secretary of the committee launching the appeal to install a monument to his work.

"Sir Christopher and his wife bought a boatyard at Oulton Broad and moved into the village in 1951. Like all inventors, you would always find him in his shed at the end of Wherry Dyke working on his ideas," said Dr French, 67.


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It was a tricky time for Sir Christopher. He needed to copyright his hovercraft design with a patent that meant keeping it out of the public eye, but he still needed to hold some trial runs in a large open space.

"The war was still in living memory and his work had to be kept extremely secret, so the then Lord Somerleyton came to his rescue and allowed the prototype to be tested on the estate lawns," said Dr French.

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"It is a job to define when exactly the eureka moment happened, but the result was finally patented in 1955."

For the past 20 years Dr French has been compiling a comprehensive collection of archive material, including some previously unseen photographs showing Sir Christopher with his early designs, as well as writing a book about the inventor.

"I have been fascinated with this subject for years. To get a monument here would be wonderful and we are all keen to mark the event at the village where it began," he said.

The Hovercraft Celebratory Column at Somerleyton Appeal, of which Lord and Lady Somerleyton are patrons, along with Sir Christopher's daughter Frances Airy, was launched last year.

The present Lord Somerleyton has donated the site for the column, opposite the village green, a design has been completed by Frances's husband, architect James Airy, and even the type of stone has been chosen.

Now all they have to do is raise £70,000 to get the job done. "We are approaching various bodies like the lottery fund and the East of England Development Agency for help and hope to have the monument up by the 50th anniversary in 2005," said Dr French.

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