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Griffith Brewer

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1909. Griffith Brewer's 'Vivienne' balloon and Frank McClean's 'Corona' balloon.
1909. The Short Brothers, the Wright Brothers, Griffith Brewer and others at Shellbeach

Griffith Brewer (1867-1948) was a pioneer English balloonist and aviator, who made his first balloon flight in 1891. Brewer met Wilbur Wright in Pau, France, in 1908, and became a very close friend and supporter of the Wright Brothers. He made 30 trips to the United States to visit them, earning his pilot license in 1914.

1948 Obituary [1]

IT is with deep regret that we record the death of Mr. Griffith Brewer, which took place on Monday, March 1, 1948, following an illness, at his home, "Littie Burvale," Hersham, Walton-on-Thames, at the age of eighty. He was closely connected with the beginnings of aeronautical science in this country, and was a recognised authority on patent practice relating to aircraft.

He was born in Devereux Court, Essex Street, London, in 1867, and received his education at King's College, London, and abroad.

He was trained to enter his father's business of Brewer and Son, patent agents, of 33, Chancery Lane, which he did in 1885, staying in the London office for six years.

In 1891 he went to Leeds to take charge of the firm's Yorkshire office, a position he continued to hold until1899, when he returned to Chancery Lane and had charge of the London and Leeds offices.

From the very first he showed the keenest interest in aeronautics, and in 1891 he made his first balloon ascent in May, as a passenger at the Naval Exhibition, which was held at Chelsea that year.

The following year he continued ballooning as a pupil of Mr. Percival Spenser, and in 1891 he made nine ascents. From 1892 onwards he piloted balloons for the Spenser Brothers, and in 1906 was a pilot in the Gordon Bennett balloon race held in Paris. In that year he married Miss Beatrice Swanston, who holds the distinction of being the first woman to cross the Channel by air in a balloon. He was again a pilot in the later Gordon Bennett balloon races, which took place at St. Louis in 1907, in Berlin in 1908 and in Geneva in 1922. One of Brewer's first successes was the winning, with the late Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, of the first international balloon race from Hurlingham in 1908, when thirty-one balloons took part in the competition.

Up to 1908 he accepted the view then generally held that mechanical flight was impossible, and it was not surprising, therefore, that he went to France, a country he knew well, when, in May, 1908, Mr. Wilbur Wright was demonstrating flights with the famous "Kitty Hawk" biplane, at Le Mans. He was honoured by Mr. Wilbur Wright asking him to fly with him, and the flight made on October 8, 1908, gained Mr. Griffith Brewer the distinction of being the first Englishman to go up in an aeroplane. That happening was the beginning of a very close friendship between him and the Wright Brothers, whose home at Dayton, Ohio, he visited no less than thirty times, travelling by sea and by air, in the Zeppelin airship "Hindenburg," and the last time in 1941 returning in a "Liberator" bomber.

In 1909 he returned to France to see Mr. Wilbur Wright carry out further demonstrations at Pau, and, taking with him Mr. Eustace and Mr. Horace Short, he interested Short Brothers in the Wright machines, of which they built six, forming the beginning of the firm's aeronautical business.

In 1912 the death of Mr. Wilbur Wright took place, and shortly following that sad event Mr. Orville Wright entrusted Mr. Brewster with the formation of the British Wright Company, which took over the Wright patents in England.

In 1914, during his visits to Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Brewer took flying lessons from Mr. Reinhart in the open Wright machine on the Wright flying field, and gained his American aviation ticket on August 15, 1914. He returned to England after war had been declared, only waiting to complete his flying instruction at Dayton.

From 1915 to 1918 Griffith Brewer acted as Honorary Adviser to the Royal Naval Air Service, and for three years gave lectures twice daily to British and Allied kite balloon and airship officers at the Roehampton Kite Balloon Station.

In 1908 he carried out important experiments on the breaking away of kite balloons, which he described in a paper he read before the Royal Aeronautical Society on November 26, 1919.

He had already Joined the Society in 1903, and his first paper on "Captive Balloon Photography " had appeared in The Aeronautical Journal of January, 1905. He was a valued member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and served on the Council and was made an Honorary Fellow in 1933, and was President from 1940 to 1942. He will long be remembered as the founder of the Wilbur Wright Lecture, of which he gave the fourth in 1916, choosing as his subject "The Life and Work of Wilbur Wright." He was also a member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents, of which he became a Fellow in 1900 and was President in 1930 to 1931. He was a founder member of the Roval Aero Club.

For ten years after the first war M.r. Brewer returned to his business as a patent agent, and at Brewer and Son, 5 to 7, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, continued that work. In 1929 he took lessons in flying at Hanworth and in July, 1930, after eighty hours' dual instruction, he gained his British Aviators' Certificate. He then bought a "Gipsy Moth," which he continued to use until 1938.

In the year 1933 he had qualified as an autogiro pilot.

It was due to the instrumentality of Mr. Griffith Brewer and his long friendship with the Wright Brothers that the "Kitty Hawk" was secured for exhibition at the Science Museum, which will, in accordance with Mr. Orville Wright's wishes, be shortly returned to America. He made many friends in Great Britain, in America and on the Continent, and his death will be widely regretted.

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