I was contacted back in July by reader John Severs with the following:

“It was another good article you recently published on ploughing strips and the derivation of the furlong measurement, very informative. I've attached a photo of a milepost which I took a few years ago in Kirkby Stephen. In addition to the miles, it also indicates furlongs. I suppose that there are some more in the old North Riding area.”

I can’t say I’ve noticed any mileposts that still refer to furlongs, and so this must be a very old one indeed. As I mentioned in my column, a ‘furrow-long’ was considered the length a horse could plough in one day, or a pair of oxen could plough before they needed to rest and was the chosen method of measuring distance when the sport of horse-racing took off in the 1500s. A furlong is an eighth of a mile they are still marked alongside British racecourses today. The length of any race shorter than a mile, or that is not a round figure in distance, will be described using furlongs.

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The black and white signpost in John’s photo shows that it is 12 miles and two furlongs to Appleby from Kirkby Stephen, while Brough is four miles and three furlongs away. It is a very precise measurement, and it reminded me that you rarely see signs showing ‘half’ miles these days. Distances are rounded up or down to the nearest figure and I am guessing it is because it is not essential to know the exact distance when travelling by motorised transport. Perhaps in the days of yore, it was more important to know exactly how far you had left to walk or ride.

John Severs sent me this picture of a sign in Kirkby Stephen showing distances in miles and furlongs

John Severs sent me this picture of a sign in Kirkby Stephen showing distances in miles and furlongs

On the subject of signs, I was driving through Brompton By Sawdon when the village entry sign caused me to slam on my brakes, stop, and take a picture. Brompton lies about eight miles south-west of Scarborough and what caused me to pull up was the declaration that the village was ‘The Birthplace of Aviation’. What a bold claim, I thought, and immediately determined that I had to delve into it. In my own mind, I expected ‘The Birthplace of Aviation’ to be somewhere far more exotic, like America, where brothers Orville and and Wilbur Wright made their groundbreaking first flight.

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If you search online for ‘birthplace of aviation’, the Wrights are the first to come up, with Ohio claiming the honour thanks to the fact it was the brothers’ home town. However, I was delighted to see that second on the list is Brompton by Sawdon, and the reason is that it was the birthplace of a pioneering aeronautical engineer, Sir George Cayley (1773 – 1857). Cayley is responsible for many engineering innovations but is credited with being the first to truly understand the scientific principles of winged ‘heavier than air’ flight (as opposed to hot air in balloons, which until then was the only way to get airborne). In 1799 he came up with the idea of a fixed-wing flying machine with separate mechanisms for control, lift and momentum. He developed a model version, which did fly, but soon came to realise that unless someone could come up with an engine that was suitably light, and yet capable of delivering the necessary lift and thrust, then the machine would never be able to carry humans on a sustained flight.

Brompton by Sawdon near Scarborough claims to be the Birthplace of Aviation

Brompton by Sawdon near Scarborough claims to be the 'Birthplace of Aviation'

Sadly, he died before he could accomplish that feat, and would not witness how his research and innovation played a huge part in the Wright brothers’ success, which they acknowledged. He would also not have known that his discovery of the four forces that impact on flying aircraft – weight, lift, drag and thrust – would be still used in aviation today.

The first flight carrying a human happened on 17th December 1903 when Orville Wright piloted the ‘Wright Flyer’, the fixed wing, ‘heavier than air’ biplane that he and his brother had been developing for four years. He flew for 12 seconds across 120 feet at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

For many years, Kitty Hawk and Ohio disputed with each other as to which of them was the true ‘Birthplace of Aviation’ until, in 2003, Congress came down in favour of Ohio, thanks to the fact the brothers lived and developed their ideas there.

Which place do you think deserves the honour? And have you spotted any noteworthy signs on your travels?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug