The slate reads: "The first aeroplane to land on a mountain in Great Britain did so on this spot. On December 22nd 1926 John Leeming and Bert Hinkler in an AVRO 585 Gosport landed here and after a short stay flew back to Woodford". Woodford is south of Manchester, only 90 miles away.
As with most daring exploits the idea started with a casual remark in a gentleman's club. This time given by Sir Sefton Brancker who confirmed it with a suggestion of Snowdon, in Wales, as the landing place.
Leeming approached A V Roe to use their new airframe with a powerful new radial 100 hp engine. Their chairman turned down the request saying Snowdon was an unsuitable landing place. Leeming reapplied this time believing Helvellyn was suitable. With the chairman away the board of directors placed the new Gosport air plane at Leeming's use, probably as the result of pressure from Sir Sefton Brancker.
Once the aircraft was sorted Leeming asked the land owner for help at landing site. Leeming, with a friend, made his first visit to Helvellyn summit with Mr. Sandham, the manager of Thirlmere reservoir. The path was icy and they fell many times. Leeming describes it as an afternoon's agony in his book "Airdays". Only Sandham appeared not to be suffering from exposure on the return as Leeming and Hey were showing all the signs of exposure; with exhaustion, delirium and dehydration. It was Sandham who got them off. This was winter approaching, thin snow was on the ground.
After this recce Leeming realised the summit was out but an area half mile south looked possible. Leeming wanted the strip clear of large rocks and smoke pots and white tapes showing the edges. Sandham agreed to return with his two sons to do this for several days prior to intended flight. These three were going to be the witnesses.
Meanwhile the plane had no airworthiness certificate. A temporary special permit was issued on December 8 with help from Sir Sefton Brancker.
Leeming first set off on December 15 with Hinckler in another plane carrying the Manchester Guardian's photographer, E T Scott. After a delay of 2 hours due to the Gosport's engine's reluctance to start, the two aircraft got away. After refuelling at Lancaster they had severe turbulence over the Lake District. Nearly colliding with one peak they returned to Woodford. Sandham after waiting at the prepared landing site went down with his sons.
For the next few days the weather was bad. On December 21 a break, but the camera aircraft's engine would not develop full power. Time was pressing. Leeming insisted Hinckler go with him and leave the photographer behind.
After refuelling at Lancaster again, they met gale force winds and clouds obscured the summit. They turned back to Lancaster. The summit crew heard the engine above the clouds. Trying to take off from Lancaster on the way back to Woodford, the engine stalled and Hinkler miraculously turned and landed down wind with only 20 feet of height.
Whilst overnighting at Lancaster, Hinkler cleaned the spark plugs. Leeming decided to set out for one final attempt next day. But the summit crew were not informed and did not return. A misfire over Windermere forced a landing at Calgarth Park, which was a children's hospital then. The kids thought Father Christmas had arrived early. The air filter was unclogged and flight resumed.
After an eventful bumpy flight over the Lake District they spiralled down to the summit. No doubt looking for the cleared strip. Leeming also noticed someone sheltering at the summit cairn. A witness. The landing was easy as strong headwind and steep slope stopped them at once.
Once down Hinckler had to use full throttle on the slope, whilst Leeming found rocks to chock the wheels to stop them rolling backwards. Luckily the witness helped who was Professor of Greek E R Dodds of Birminqham had gone up half expecting the aviators to try again. Dodds was son-in-law of pioneer aviator Canon Powell of Watermillock, visiting for Christmas.
Not one of them had brought a pencil and paper to record the event. After much searching a scrap of paper and pencil stub was found in a jacket pocket. Dodds signed resting on the wing. Photographs taken. A letter in a tin box was left for Sandham which still exists today in a relative's house in Penrith. (Early geocache?)
All this time the engine was running.
Now for the difficult uphill take off. Leeming chose not to roll the air plane back for a longer runway. Reasoning that the slope and wind would negate any advantage gained. Without enough airspeed they dived off the shear edged summit narrowly missing Striding Edge before heading south.
Hinkler went on to make the first solo flight from Britain to Australia in 1928. He died on 7 January 1933 when he flew into a mountainside in Arezzo, Italy whilst trying to better his record.
Leeming went on to write novels and books on flying. He flew for the RAF in WW2 and was shot down over Sicily in 1940. Repatriated by feigning madness, John Fishwick Leeming died on July 3, 1965, aged 69.
The slate memorial you see today is a modern copy attached to the original. The original's lead lettering has long gone.
BEST BOOK An Aeronautical History of the Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway Region. Part 2 1915 to 1930 by Peter Connon. 1984
Streetmap (visit link
Woodford aerodrome and Leeming (visit link
Leeming's wartime book reviewed (visit link
Wikipedia of Leeming (visit link
Lancashire Aero Club (visit link
Leeming's first glider as a model (visit link