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FROM MOTORCYCLES TO MONOPLANES

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    Posted: 14 Oct 2010 at 10:24

FROM MOTORCYCLES TO MONOPLANESFROM MOTORCYCLES TO MONOPLANES: The Story of George Barnes, an Edwardian Record Breaker, Sportsman and Entertainer.

David Snow

Diana Snow, 2 Park Lane, Lower Froyle, Alton GU34 4LU.

130pp, 210×297mm, softback.

ISBN 978-0-9529029-1-1, £12.00 inc p&p.

This is a substantial piece of family history research which restores the memory of an almost-forgotten pioneer of British aviation, and brings together the various and perhaps unexpected sides of his active and enterprising, but sadly short life. CCI members will probably have seen photographs of Barnes with his Humber Bleriot at the Bournemouth meeting of 1910, and readers of Ian Burns’ Ben-my-Chree will know that in 1911 he was asked to take part, with Grahame-White, in a round-the-Isle of Man race against the speedy packet steamer.

The race never happened, and Barnes’ machine came to a sad end: but even less well-known is the fact that, following his successful career in cycle and motorcyle racing, both in the UK, the USA and in France, Barnes had already suffered the even greater disappointment of failing, by a mere quarter of a mile, to win the £1,000 Daily Mail prize for the first British pilot to fly a controlled circuit in an aeroplane of British (his own) design and manufacture. This happened on 11 October 1909 at Abbey Wood near Lewisham, and was even reported in France, where Barnes was famous as a racer, as well as in Flight and The Aero.

This thoroughly researched and comprehensively illustrated work is inspirational in showing how much can be achieved by family historians pursuing clues and fragments of handed-down memories to reclaim the life of a remarkable person from museums, newspaper cuttingss and private archives around the country.

The son of a Shoreditch publican running a Wall of Death show in a Madrid theatre and attracting the King of Spain to three performances,  as well as setting cycle and motorcycle speed records, and building his own aircraft? Yes, the story is all here.

He suffered, however, various accidents, some serious, both on the track and in the air, which is probably why he did not serve in any military capacity in WWI. In the end he fell victim to the flu pandemic, and died on 1 January 1919 at the age of 35. His occupation by then was ‘author and review writer’, which suggests that his years of very active life had taken their toll.

All aspects of the production of this limited edition, except the actual printing and binding, were undertaken ‘in the family’. David Snow and all concerned are to be congratulated.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             BH

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