Plaque unveiled in honour of Waterbird flight location

National Transport Trust installs Red Wheel at Hill of Oaks

The Windermere home of the early development of seaplanes has been commemorated with a prestigious plaque from a transport heritage charity.

The Red Wheel was installed by the National Transport Trust during a ceremony on Monday 12 June at Hill of Oaks on the eastern shore of England’s largest lake. The event was supported by the Lakes Flying Company, which is responsible for the Waterbird replica build, and Lake District Estates, which now owns the site and operates the Hill of Oaks holiday facility.

Hill of Oaks was owned by Capt Edward Wakefield, who patented the step float which enabled the original Waterbird to fly in November 1911. He cleared the site to construct a hangar for the aeroplane and the first flights were based there. Later, during the First World War, the Royal Navy set up a training station at Hill of Oaks for pilots. It is now the site of a holiday park belonging to Lake District Estates, whose chairman is Peter Henman, a descendant of Capt Wakefield’s younger brother.

Mr Hensman’s wife Claire, the Lord-Lieutenant of Cumbria, unveiled the plaque. She pointed out that with the flights on Windermere and the construction of airships at the Cavendish shipyards in Barrow, “Cumbria was the birthplace of British naval and marine aviation.”

Mr Hensman said, “We are thrilled that the National Transport Trust has decided to award a Red Wheel to Hill of Oaks. This records for posterity the important part Hill of Oaks played in early aviation and in particular the development of Waterbird in 1911. It also serves to remind us of the innovation of those early pioneers, such as Edward Wakefield whose concept it was and Herbert Stanley Adams who, as the pilot, took it first into the air.”

Lake District Estates chairman, Peter Hensman, His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria Claire Hensman, Lakes Flying Company chairman Ian Gee and Jerry Swift of the National Transport Trust unveil the Red Wheel.
Lake District Estates chairman, Peter Hensman, His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria Claire Hensman, Lakes Flying Company chairman Ian Gee and Jerry Swift of the National Transport Trust unveil the Red Wheel. VIA MIKE GLOVER

The Red Wheel Scheme was created by the National Transport Trust to recognise and commemorate the most significant sites of historical importance to transport heritage in the UK. The Transport Heritage programme commemorates Britain’s rich and globally important legacy in the development of transport and aims to present a comprehensive overview for each site, in a way that will attract a new and wider audience. It has 150 Red Wheel sites. Secretary Jerry Swift said: “This is a significant Red Wheel award, commemorating the first seaplanes to fly in this country and the Royal Navy flying school.”

The chairman of the Lakes Flying Company, Ian Gee, paid tribute to Richard Wakefield Raynsford, Mr Hensman’s cousin, who originally suggested building the Waterbird replica. “Unfortunately, he died last month after a long illness and never got to see the replica in flight”, he said.

The replica Waterbird flew from Windermere twice in 2022 and once in 2023. It is looking for a home near the lake so that it can give more regular demonstrations and be on display.

Detail of the Red Wheel plaque at Hill of Oaks.
Detail of the Red Wheel plaque at Hill of Oaks. VIA MIKE GLOVER