We recognise Yorkshire’s famous men and women, but what about those unsung folk we should know, but don’t? Yvette Huddlestone reports.
FOR every well known Yorkshire name in the fields of sport, politics, science and technology, literature or art there is at least one that has either been forgotten in the mists of time, or has never received the recognition they deserved. We are all familiar with names such as Brian Clough, Joseph Priestley, Alan Bennett and David Hockney but there are a number of Yorkshire folk who have excelled in some way but, for various reasons, have been overlooked. Here are nine Yorkshire men and women who have been somewhat overlooked – until now.
Jonathon Fletcher – the forgotten father of the search engine
As Google celebrates its fifteenth anniversary, the web giant’s name is synonymous with the internet the world over but most of us probably won’t have heard of one person who played a crucial role in the development of the worldwide web. Twenty years ago in a computer lab at Stirling University, Scarborough-born Jonathon Fletcher invented the world’s first web-crawling search engine – the same technology that powers Google, Yahoo and all the major search engines on the web today. He called his invention JumpStation and it was well known by web developers at the time. Now living in Hong Kong, Fletcher has received some recognition recently when he was invited to speak at a conference earlier this year alongside representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo and Google.
George Cayley – inventor and aviator, dubbed by many “the father of aerodynamics”
Born in Scarborough in 1773 to an aristocratic family, George Cayley bucked the trend of his class at the time by not going into the army, the church or politics. Instead he focused on science and inventions, working on a huge range of projects including electricity, ballistics, optics, railway signals and lifeboats. However, it is for aviation that he should be remembered. He worked out the key forces that would govern flight and how they all related to each other. The Wright brothers studied his work carefully before they made their maiden flight. In 1853 came his first manned flight in a full-scale glider – with the family coachman as pilot – across Brompton Vale.
Frank Wild – Explorer and Shackleton’s Right Hand Man
Born in the village of Skelton near Whitby, Frank Wild was a distinguished explorer and second in command to Ernest Shackleton on the doomed Endurance expedition to the South Pole. Wild was also a contemporary of Captain Robert Scott and Douglas Mawson, but while the others are household names, Wild’s achievements appear to have been largely forgotten. Thanks to his efforts, 28 men were still alive after being marooned on an island when their ship became stuck in the ice – they survived on a diet of raw penguin, seals and seaweed. After his death in 1939, plans were put in place to bury his ashes next to Shackleton in South Georgia but with the outbreak of war, these were shelved. Wild’s ashes went missing for many years and were finally buried next to Shackleton in 2011.
Jessica Blackburn – aviation pioneer
Everyone has heard of Yorkshire aviator Amy Johnson, but Jessica Blackburn’s name rarely appears in a list of significant flight pioneers despite her achievements in the field. Born Jessy Thompson in Worcestershire in 1894. She married young Yorkshire engineer Robert Blackburn in 1914 and a year later he founded Blackburn Aircraft, one of the most important aviation companies in Britain until the 1950s. Jessica made her first flight in Roundhay Park in Leeds and in 1915 was co-pilot with celebrated test pilot of the day Roland Ding. She flew Blackburn aircraft competing in the 1922 and 1928 King’s Cup Air Races, two-day events which involved around 40 flying machines racing long distances across Britain. Jessica lived to the grand old age of 101.
Almroth Wright – bacteriologist, immunologist and medical pioneer
Born in 1861 in Middleton Tyas near Richmond, North Yorkshire, Almroth Wright was responsible for saving the lives of many thousands of soldiers during the First World War, by persuading Lord Kitchener to have them immunized against typhoid. After studying medicine at Dublin University, Wright developed his immunization while teaching at the Army Medical School and went on to create vaccines for enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia. He also foresaw the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which has become such a problem today. He started a research department at St Mary’s Hospital in London where among those who followed in his footsteps were Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin. Wright was a good friend of the playwright George Bernard Shaw and is said to be the inspiration for the protagonist in Shaw’s play The Doctor’s Dilemma.
Joseph Aloysius Hansom - architect and inventor
The impressively named Joseph Aloysius Hansom was born in York in 1803. He showed early skill as a draughtsman and was taken on as an apprenticeship by a local architect. He moved to Halifax where he met Edward Welch, with whom he set up his first architectural partnership in 1828. Together they designed several churches in Yorkshire and right across the country. Hansom helped design Plymouth Roman Catholic Cathedral and St Walburge’s in Preston, known for having the tallest spire of any parish church in England. In 1843 he founded a new architectural journal, The Builder. But for all his skills as an architect he’s perhaps best known for the Hansom cab, the London taxi of its day, which he patented in 1834.
Edith Key – Suffragette
Born Edith Proctor in Eccleshill in Bradford in 1873, Edith moved to Huddersfield as a child and by the age of ten was working in a mill. After her marriage to blind musician Frederick Key in 1891, she became involved in radical politics in particular the women’s suffrage movement. She was the secretary-organiser of the Huddersfield branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She took part in many of the suffrage demonstrations in London and as a result spent some time in Holloway Jail. Key helped a number of other suffragettes who were fleeing the authorities, by offering them accommodation in her home including Adela Pankhurst. She was a pacifist – opposing both the Boer War and First World War – and was involved in the Adult School Movement.
Rod Temperton – songwriter, record producer and musician
Born in Cleethorpes (not quite in Yorkshire, but close enough) in 1947, Rod Temperton wrote a number of songs performed by Michael Jackson, including Rock With You and Thriller, the title track of one of the biggest-selling solo albums of all time. Other artists he has written for include Donna Summer, Mica Paris, George Benson and Aretha Franklin. However, Temperton’s name is probably not a familiar one to most of the British public. A self-taught musician, after leaving school Temperton went to work at Ross Foods in Grimsby and played with a band in South Yorkshire. Later he was recruited as member of the pop group Heatwave in the 1970s, for whom he wrote the era-defining Boogie Nights. Record producer Quincy Jones was impressed by what he heard and the two began a successful collaboration. Today Temperton lives in LA.
Owen “Owney” Madden – gangster and founder of New York’s famous nightspot The Cotton Club
Although he probably deserves the qualifier “infamous” rather than famous, Madden did at least show some entrepreneurial spirit. Born in Leeds in 1891, at the age of 11 he went to live with an aunt in New York where he soon got involved with the one of the most notorious Irish gangs operating in Hell’s Kitchen at the time. After a stint in prison, Madden bought Harlem’s Club de Luxe from boxing champion Jack Johnson and reopened it as The Cotton Club. He found top class African-American entertainers, jazz musicians and dancers and it quickly became one of the most popular nightclubs in the city, despite the dubious connections of its owner. In 1927 Madden hired Duke Ellington as band leader and propelled him to international stardom. Madden remained attached to Yorkshire throughout his life – keeping his accent and British passport and even saving cuttings from the Yorkshire Post.