Historic memorabilia from the home of a pioneer aviator has been donated to the island of Anglesey where he took off from on his most famous flight and where he lived for over 30 years.
And detective work by the Isle of Anglesey Council’s Archives Department has revealed that while some of the material belonged to Captain Vivian Hewitt, the first man to fly across the Irish Sea in 1912, much of it had been owned by another local flying hero.
Captain Hewitt, who died in 1965, was dubbed the Welsh Bleriot after his epic flight in 1912 and 18 years later he returned to Anglesey to buy Bryn Aber, near Cemlyn Bay, where he lived a reclusive life until his death in 1965 and which was recently sold for just over £300,000.
Now leading North Wales law firm Swayne Johnson have handed over what was believed to be Captain Hewitt’s leather flying helmet, cartridge cases, service-issue water bottle and cooking pan as well as a portrait of him, to the Isle of Anglesey archives and the museum at Oriel Mon.
But research by the archives team has discovered that the painting is of Pilot Officer Vivian Parry, the son of Captain Hewitt’s housekeeper, Nellie, who was killed in World War Two and the flying helmet is also likely to be his.
Vivian Parry was with 150 Squadron, which flew Wellington bombers on night raids into Europe from RAF Snaith in Yorkshire and he lost his life on September 4, 1942, just months after being presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
Vivian Parry, who is buried at Cemlyn Bay, had joined the RAF on the outbreak of the war and was a rear gunner – one of the most dangerous wartime roles with a life expectancy of just five missions, less than a fortnight.
Other items including diaries, some of the many photographs and the plans of Bryn Aber, belonged to Captain Hewitt.
Shaun Hughes, the Swayne Johnson solicitor who dealt with the administration of the Bryn Aber estate, said: “We were pleased to hand over these historic items to the island of Anglesey and would like to pay tribute to the detective work of the Council’s archives department for finding that the memorabilia belonged to not one but two of the island’s air aces.
“We were involved with Bryn Aber where Captain Hewitt spent so many happy years and he was clearly a remarkable man.
“He was one of the early pioneers of manned flight and his journey across the Irish Sea was longer than any previous flight over water, three times further than Louis Bleriot’s flight across the Channel three years earlier.
“He appears to have been very happy here on Anglesey where he lived with his housekeeper and perhaps his influence inspired Vivian Parry to join the RAF.
“He was clearly fond of the family as he left his home at Bryn Aber and a property in the Bahamas to Nellie’s two surviving sons, Jack and Ken.”
Ian Jones, Oriel Mon Collections Manager, said: “We’re delighted to receive this important material as we act as the collective memory of the island of Anglesey.
“Captain Hewitt actually set off from Kinmel Bay but landed at Llanerchymedd before setting off again for Ireland but he wasn’t the first to attempt the crossing here.
“Robert Loraine, a well-known actor of the time, actually flew here from Blackpool in stages and took off again but was headed for the Isle of Man before he turned back and crash-landed in Llanfair-yng-Nghornwy.
“He spent several months rebuilding his plane before he tried again and he actually got within 100 yards of the Irish coast before coming down in the sea and having to swim ashore.
“The helmet and artefacts are all Vivian Parry’s and date to the Second World War. Some have Air Ministry markings and serial numbers.”
Hayden Burns, Isle of Anglesey Council Senior Archivist, said that the Bryn Aber collection which also includes diaries, hundreds of photographs and documents, would be catalogued and would be made available for researchers as well as for display.
He added: “We’re ecstatic to receive this donation which will enhance our collection and encourage more people to visit us and our website which as well as giving details of the historic items we hold dating back to 1530 also give an overview of what we do.
“It was very interesting to discover that so much of the collection belonged to Vivian Parry who has his own place in Anglesey’s flying history.”
Captain Hewitt was the son of a wealthy Grimsby brewing family who sold his share in the business to fund his interest in flying and later when he moved to Anglesey in 1930 from Bodfari, near Denbigh, in cars and ornithology.
Shaun Hughes said: “Captain Hewitt left his property to the sons of his housekeeper as he had no heirs. One son, Ken, received a home in the Bahamas and the other Jack Parry, received Bryn Aber and his widow, Sarah Olwen Parry, lived here until 2009.
“Vivian Hewitt certainly seems to have enjoyed his life here and he built a lagoon for seabirds and much of the original land was sold to the National Trust and is now managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve.”
Hewitt’s successful attempt came after that of Loraine and also of Damer Leslie Allen, an Irishman who disappeared just days before Hewitt took off on April 26, 1912, from Kinmel Bay, near Rhyl, in a Bleriot plane made of wood, wire and canvas.
He stopped off at Llanerchymedd before resuming his flight and after navigating ‘blind’ through a thick bank of fog, landed to a hero’s welcome in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
His time in the spotlight was short-lived though as his achievement was overshadowed by the tragedy of the Titanic sinking a fortnight earlier although he received another huge reception on his return to Rhyl from Ireland.
At Bryn Aber he became an avid collector of birds’ eggs, butterflies and stuffed birds which were kept in display cases but which were stored in poor conditions and haven’t survived the passage of time.
Shaun Hughes added: “Captain Hewitt did seem to become increasingly eccentric over the years and even at one time had a pet parrot which travelled with him and when travelling by train the parrot was even given its own first class seat.
“He was a remarkable man who played a huge part in the development of flight and we think it is entirely appropriate that the memorabilia from Bryn Aber has found a home on the island he loved and where he was very happy.”
A book, Modest Millionaire: The Biography of Captain Vivian Hewitt was written by William Hywel and published by then Denbigh-based printers Gwasg Gee in 1973 and although out of print it is available in local libraries.
For more information on Swayne Johnson go to http://www.swaynejohnson.com/ and for more on the Isle of Anglesey archives go to http://www.anglesey.gov.uk/leisure/records-and-archives/