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Captain Vivian Hewitt - the aviation pioneer

This glider was built by Hewitt and flown from his home in Bodfari, near Denbigh
This glider was built by Hewitt and flown from his home in Bodfari, near Denbigh

By Alys Lewis
Looking back on the life of an unsung hero, Captain Vivian Hewitt, the first person to fly across the Irish Sea

While Louis Bleriot is feted as the first man to fly across the Channel, the name of Captain Vivian Hewitt is less well known but equally important.

Captain Vivian Hewitt: The 'Modest Millionaire'
Captain Hewitt: The 'Modest Millionaire'

In 1912, three years after Bleriot crossed the channel, Hewitt from Bodfari, Denbighshire, achieved the feat of flying from Rhyl across the Irish Sea and landing in Ireland, the first man ever to do so.

And, at 75 miles, his journey was considerably longer than Bleriot's 23 miles.

Born in 1888 to a wealthy brewing family in Grimsby, Hewitt moved to his mother's family home in Bodfari, near Denbigh, after his father died.

It was here where he developed his passion, building his own glider.

By 1910, he began to learn how to fly because, despite being a millionaire, his father had insisted he work. And so, by 1912, he was ready to attempt the flight across the Irish Sea.

Two attempts at the crossing had already been made by other aviators, one of whom had to be rescued after ditching into the sea while the other had sadly disappeared without trace.

On 26 April 1912, in a plane constructed of wood, wire and canvas, Hewitt took off from a field near Rhyl. His journey took just over an hour before he landed safely in Dublin.

His achievement was celebrated both in Ireland and in Rhyl, but Hewitt's flight was overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic which had happened less than two weeks previously.

Due to the timing of the tragedy his success probably did not receive the recognition it might have done.

A hero's welcome  home for Captain Vivian Hewitt
Captain Vivian Hewitt received a hero's welcome in Rhyl on his return

After World War I, Hewitt gave up flying and eventually moved to Cemlyn on Anglesey where he established a bird sanctuary which, today, is managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

Hewitt died in 1965 aged 77 having spent the last years of his life surrounded by creatures for whom flight came easily.

In fact, at one time he had a pet parrot which travelled with him. And it is said that when travelling by train the parrot was even given its own first class seat.

A book, Modest Millionaire: The Biography of Captain Vivian Hewitt was written by William Hywel and published by Gwasg Gee in 1973. It is out of print but available in libraries.

With thanks to Rhyl historian Colin Jones who blogs on local history: Rhyl Blog

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