The Air Show in Rhyl this year was once again a great success. It is sometimes hard to believe, especially when we set off for summer holidays by plane, that this is a comparatively new mode of transport. It is only 100 years since Vivian Hewitt’s historic flight across the Irish Sea. This article, and images, have been contributed by club secretary Maggi Blythin.
Louis Bleriot is recognised as the first man to fly across the Channel, but Captain Vivian Hewitt, although less well known, is equally important.
In 1912, three years after Bleriot crossed the Channel, Hewitt flew from Rhyl across the Irish Sea and landed in Ireland. At 75 miles the journey far exceeded that of Bleriot.
Hewitt was born in 1888 in Grimsby. His parents Titus and Julia had married in Altringham in 1886. His father’s family were founders of the wealthy Hewitt brewing empire. After Vivian’s birth they moved to Llandrillo yn Rhos and then to Rhyl where William, Vivian’s younger brother, was born in 1898. By 1901 the family had moved to The Warren in Bodfari . Whilst there he built an unpowered glider and flew it around the village. The family moved to Hampstead in London where Titus died in 1910. Vivian, his mother and brother were still living there in 1911.
Vivian then returned to Wales and on April 26th 1912, in a plane built of wood, wire and canvas, he took off from a field near Rhyl. He landed safely in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The journey took just over an hour.
Unfortunately for Hewitt his flight took place shortly after the sinking of the Titanic and this overshadowed his achievement although in media and publicity terms he still became something of a legend.
After WW1 he created an airfield near the Foryd harbour and gave flying exhibitions for a while. Following this he gave up flying and eventually moved to Anglesey where he established a bird sanctuary. He died in 1965.
Rhyl Journal 30th March 1912
Rhyl’s First Aviator
Complimentary Banquet and Presentation.
Mr Vivian Hewitt, Rhyl’s first and, so far, only aviator was, on Monday, the guest and hero of the evening at a banquet arranged by the Rhyl Ratepayers’ Association, in recognition of the magnificent flying feats to which he has on several occasions during the last six months treated the inhabitants of Rhyl and district, to their unbounded delight and the envy of other towns on the coast.
The function took place at the Queen’s Hotel and was a brilliant affair being admirably managed throughout. The company, which included ladies as well as gentlemen, numbered about 80, and was presided over by Councillor John Williams, Chairman of the Ratepayers’ Association.
Under the direction and supervision of Miss Runham, the manageress, the hotel staff carried out the catering in first class style leaving nothing to be desired.
After the customary toast of the King and other members of the Royal Family submitted from the chair Mr P J Ashfield proposed The Navy, Army and Auxilary Forces and referred to the attention lately paid by the Government to the science of aviation which he said had great possibilities especially in warfare.
Captain J H Gibbin responded and spoke of the changes which had taken place in regard to warfare since he took part in the Crimean campaign. The flying machine was undoubtedly going to play an important part in future warfare.
Sergt F J Bell also responded and pleaded for young men to join the local Auxiliary Forces, and also for more to come forward and identify themselves with the National Reserve which, he said, already had 60 members in Rhyl.
The Chairman in proposing the toast of the guest of the evening, Mr Hewitt, said they were proud to have in their midst one of the foremost aviators of the day (applause). Mr Hewitt’s successful flights over Rhyl had gained for him a name and had given delight to all who had seen him fly (applause). The history od aviation read almost like a fairy tale. It was but a short time since they read of the imaginary flights of Juules Verne’s characters. Yet today they were able to witness in Rhyl the successful flying of a real machine. It was but six years since the ‘Daily Mail’ offered a prize of £10,000 for a flight from London to Manchester. It was thought at the time that it was absurd to make such an offer and the Germans said that the money was perfectly safe as it would be many years before it was claimed. It was won by Paulhan, a Frenchman. Today France had 314 flying machines. One was astonished when they heard of the speed at which it was possible to travel, and he marvelled to hear Mr Hewitt remark that he had travelled at the rate of 125 miles per hour in a motor car, an industry kindred to that of aviation.
Mr Hewitt accepted a gift of a framed photograph of himself in flying attire and responded to the toast. the company sang again and again “For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and wound up with hurrahs for himself and his mother.
During the evening a delightful musical programme was carried out under the direction of Mr H K Osborne who had got together a splendid array of talent.