Somerleyton column remembers genius

Reaching into the sky above the village of Somerleyton, a column has been unveiled to mark the birthplace of a marvel of British engineering.A column in the village was officially dedicated on Friday on the 100th anniversary of the birth of hovercraft inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell.

Reaching into the sky above the village of Somerleyton, a column has been unveiled to mark the birthplace of a marvel of British engineering.

A column in the village was officially dedicated on Friday on the 100th anniversary of the birth of hovercraft inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell.

The 20ft-high limestone monument commemorates the invention of the hovercraft, designed and built by Sir Christopher when he was living at Somerleyton in the 1950s.

The ceremony, attended by about 100 people, opened with a flypast by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - a salute to Sir Christopher's work with the RAF in the second world war developing radio navigation systems.

The column has been designed by architect James Airy, husband of Sir Christopher's daughter Frances. She unveiled the memorial, and said: “What was remarkable about my father's invention is there was nothing in nature to give him his inspiration. He was a logical, imagin-ative and hard-working engineer.

“This magnificent stone column, crowned at the top with a bronze replica of my father's original hovercraft model, is a superb commemoration of his invention.”

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She also read a letter from the Duke of Edinburgh that she had received during the week and in which he recounted his own early demon-stration trip in a prototype hover-craft with Sir Christopher, a former pupil of Gresham's School at Holt.

John French, secretary of the hovercraft column project, said: “Following Sir Christopher's death in 1999, there was a general feeling among those who knew him that it would be fitting to celebrate the invention of the hovercraft at Somerleyton. Almost 50 years had passed since the completion of the model hovercraft in 1956, and there was nothing in the village to make either a resident or traveller aware that a page of our maritime transport history had been written here.”

A group of villagers worked with the Somerelyton Estate, and the idea of a stone column was eventually chosen. “Smaller projects were considered, but we felt that, if we were going to celebrate something, the design itself should have greatness,” explained Dr French.

The column, beside the B1074 St Olaves to Lowestoft road opposite the village green, has taken two years to build and is on land given by Lord Somerleyton.