Flying Machines Have Their Uses

Today we think of Sir George Cayley, 6th baronet, as a pioneer of flight. His family may well have regarded his construction of flying machines as an expensive eccentricity. After his death, the flying machine which flew a few hundred yards (with a startled coachman inside, who is said to have given his notice as soon as he landed) in 1853 was tucked away in a barn on the Brompton estate.

One of his granddaughters, Dora Cayley (a daughter of Sir Digby, the 7th baronet), told a cousin how, in her childhood, she used to sit in the glider when she wanted to hide from her governess. Unwanted flying machines have their uses!

[Source: “The Legards of Anlaby and Ganton”, Col. Sir James Digby Legard KCB, pub. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co, London 1926]


A typical private letter of the aeronautical baronet

J Hunter was a close friend, and regular correspondent, of Sir George Cayley, the aeronautical baronet, and they often accepted invitations to each others’ houses when they were both in London. This letter of, I think, 8 May 1848, though the year is not quite certain, gives a typical example of his epistolary style, with its slightly cumbersome humour, flirtatiousness towards females, and slightly careless attention to grammar and punctuation:

My dear Sir,

Permit me to make good a great deficiency I was guilty of, inadvertently at the time, by most ungallantly requesting your Daughters [sic] acceptance of two baubles without their being in a condition to be worn. I have written to a jeweller to call & take the measure of their fingers that these things may properly set [sic] for them: & write to apprise you of the circumstances fearing the young Ladies might be alarmed by some uncouth looking mortal coming to demand measure of their fingers – a formidable matter in some cases to the Ladies! As I am in my 75th year, I think the Ladies will excuse my taking these liberties & you must aid me if they chide.

I had an opportunity a few days ago to send the coin I named which is now at N[umber]12 North Audley St with your address on it.

I am, my dear Sir,

Yours sincerely

Geo Cayley

Source: British Library, ADD 24867 f.64



A Doctor’s Fee

This is an anecdote which has always appealed to me.

Sir George Cayley, the 6th (aeronautical) Cayley baronet, had a keen if sometimes ponderous sense of humour which is displayed in many of the letters held by the British Library and other institutions.

When he was in his eighties, he had a consultation with his doctor. This was of course well before the National Health Service, and doctors expected to be paid for each visit – though they might make exceptions for the very poor. Sir George had put the doctor’s fee of one guinea in his pocket, ready to give him, discreetly wrapped in paper. In the same pocket, also wrapped in paper, he had placed two peppermint lozenges.

That evening, when he went to bed, he found the guinea was still in his pocket, but the lozenges were missing. He realised that he had given them to the doctor instead of the money. The next morning Sir George sent a servant to check that this was so, and the doctor clearly sent a message to the effect that his fee had been sweet. Sir George duly sent the money with a note containing the lines, “The fee was sweet – I thank you for the hint,/ These are as sweet. They’ve both been through the Mint.”

Those of you who dislike puns will no doubt groan mightily.

[Source: The Legards of Anlaby and Ganton, Col. Sir James Digby Legard, 1926]