Home   Kent   News   Article

Pioneers of history from Kent

By Chris Britcher

Kent has been home to a number of genuine pioneers who broke the mould and, for better or for worse, wrote themselves into the history books.

For them, fame was hard earned and as a result of years of toil.

We take a look at just a handful of those who will forever be remembered.

William Penney was based for many years at the MoD's research lab, Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks. Picture: Defence Science and Technology
William Penney was based for many years at the MoD's research lab, Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks. Picture: Defence Science and Technology

William Penney

Mathematicians are not the first people you associate with clandestine operations which have, ever since, left the world a safer/more terrifying place.

William Penney was born in Gibraltar, but raised in Sheerness - discovering a fascination for science at Sheerness Technical School in the 1920s.

Eventually becoming professor of mathematical physics at Imperial College London, he would head the British delegation working on the Manhatten Project - a US-led secret programme started in 1942 to design the atomic bomb.

His work would help produce the first British atomic device in 1952.

Mushroom cloud following detonation of the Nagasaki atomic bomb - a site selected by William Penney, who grew up in Sheerness
Mushroom cloud following detonation of the Nagasaki atomic bomb - a site selected by William Penney, who grew up in Sheerness

During the end of the Second World War, he was a key part in the US plans to drop atomic bombs on Japan.

It was he who suggested the targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - even flying in an observation plane to see the second bomb being dropped.

He lived until he was 81, dying in Oxfordshire.

Frank Smythe made three unsuccessful attempts to conquer Everest
Frank Smythe made three unsuccessful attempts to conquer Everest

Frank Smythe

If Frank Smythe had followed his parents' advice, he would have pursued a career as an electrical engineer. But it's fair to say he had rather loftier ambitions.

So lofty, in fact, it led him from his birthplace in Maidstone, in 1900, to standing higher than any other man ever had.

Absorbed by the majesty, and challenge, of mountains, he became a highly respected mountaineer.

In 1931 he conquered Kamet in northern India - the highest peak, at that point, ever to have been climbed.

It inevitably led him to attempt to reach the peak of Everest two years later. He reached 28,200ft - a pre-war altitude record - but could not complete the climb. He would make two further efforts - both unsuccessful.

He returned to the Himalayas in 1949, but after suffering bouts of malaria, died at the age of 48.

Today's modern lifeboat design originates from Lionel Lukin's patented original
Today's modern lifeboat design originates from Lionel Lukin's patented original

Lionel Lukin

We take for granted today that if anyone finds themselves in trouble at sea, a rescue team will be dispatched in a lifeboat in an effort to pull them to safety.

And while some experimentation may have taken a place a few years before, we have a man who died in Hythe in 1834 to thank.

Lionel Lukin built on a boat concept tested in France to create a boat which was incapable of sinking.

According to the RNLI, although a coachbuilder, Lukin was interested in improving the safety of boats.

In 1784 he began experimenting with a Norwegian yawl, a type of sailing boat, using the River Thames to test his ‘unimmergible’ design. Lukin incorporated pockets of air in watertight compartments, buoyant gunwhales (the top sides of the boat) and used cork and other lightweight materials in the structure. He also included a false iron keel for additional weight to help keep the boat upright.

He patented what he believed was the world's first unsinkable boat - capable of staying afloat if full of water and resisting capsizing - in November 1785.

Five years later he helped the creation of the first lifeboat.

He retired in 1824 and moved to Hythe where he died 10 years later at the age of 91. He is buried at the graveyard of the St Leonard's Church in the town.

Alex Jennings portrayed Sir Henry Tizard in the BBC drama Castles in the Sky - about the development of radar
Alex Jennings portrayed Sir Henry Tizard in the BBC drama Castles in the Sky - about the development of radar

Sir Henry Tizard

From playing a key role in ensuring Allied success during the Second World War, particularly in relation to the development of radar, to the setting up of an official unit investigating reports of UFOs, Henry Tizard could never be accused of living a dull life.

Born in Gillingham in 1885, he had ambition to join the Navy but poor eye-sight proved a hurdle and he focused, instead on science.

He eventually headed up the UK's Aeronautical Research Committee which would put forward an innovative new radar system which under went tests at Biggin Hill - a breakthrough which would lead to him being knighted.

Crucially, in 1940, Winston Churchill instructed him to lead a team to travel to the US - then neutral in the war - in the hope an exchange of British scientific breakthrough would see the US help put some of the key devices into production in order to help the war effort. The jaunt - now known as the Tizard Mission - proved a success.

After the war he returned to the Ministry of Defence as chief scientific adviser, during which time he set up what was officially known as the Flying Saucer Working Party - to apply scientific study to the growing number of UFO sightings.

He died, in Hampshire, in 1959 at the age of 74.

Amelia Scott (6911070)
Amelia Scott (6911070)

Amelia Scott

Last year saw the 100th anniversary of women securing the right to vote - and it was down to the likes of Amelia Scott that the breakthrough was achieved.

She was brought up in Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, and was a non-militant suffragette, actively campaigning in her home town and attending various protest marches.

As a social worker, her focus was on working women and single mothers. During the First World War she joined others in assisting soldiers billeted near the towns and fixing uniforms.

A year after women won the right to vote, she and Susan Power became the first female councillors in Tunbridge Wells - winning 40% of the votes in her ward.

After retirement she continued to assist at a women's refugee and assisted with refugees from Germany during the Second World War.

She died in 1952 at the age of 92.

William Harvey
William Harvey

William Harvey

Say the name William Harvey today, and Ashford's major hospital is the first thing to spring to mind. So much so that it is easy to forget about the man who lends his name to it - one of medical science's pioneers.

Born a short trip down the M20 in Folkestone in 1578, he attended King's College in Canterbury as a child. He then went to the University of Cambridge and obtained a doctorate from a university in Italy

He was there he met Hieronymus Fabricius, his tutor, a renowned scientist and surgeon who would have a huge influence on Harvey.

Returning to the UK, he became a doctor and would eventually end up as physician to King James I and subsequently Charles I.

Statue of William Harvey in his home town of Folkestone
Statue of William Harvey in his home town of Folkestone

By dissecting animals to study blood flow, he eventually revealed his findings on solving the issue of how the heart pumped blood around the body in 1628.

He is regarded today as the man who was the first to describe, in detail, the human circulatory system.

He died on June 3, 1657, in south west London. A statue in his memory was erected in Folkestone in the late 19th century.

William Caxton (6910466)
William Caxton (6910466)

William Caxton

Quite where the man who would revolutionise the keeping of records and telling of stories in this country was born, remains something of a mystery.

What is known, is that he took his first breaths in the Weald of Kent - with competing claims from both Hadlow, near Tonbridge (his family had a manor house there) - and Tenterden for the exact location.

A merchant in the mid 15th century, William Caxton would have his eureka moment while working as governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London - a guild of predominantly cloth traders.

While working in Germany, he witnessed the emerging printing industry in Cologne and was immediately struck by its potential.

Eventually returning to the UK, he went on to set up the first printing press in the country in Westminster and went about producing its debut book - Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Using his translation skills, he also produced the first English version of the Bible and the first English translation of Aesop's Fables.

He died around 1491.

Join the debate...
Comments |

Don't have an account? Please Register first!

The KM Group does not moderate comments. Please click here for our house rules.

People who post abusive comments about other users or those featured in articles will be banned.

Thank you. Your comment has been received and will appear on the site shortly.

 

Terms of Comments
We do not actively moderate, monitor or edit contributions to the reader comments but we may intervene and take such action as we think necessary, please click here for our house rules. If you have any concerns over the contents on our site, please either register those concerns using the report abuse button, contact us here, email multimediadesk@thekmgroup.co.uk or call 01634 227989.

Follow us

Like Us on Facebook

Most popular

Kent Travel News

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More