An exhibition of pioneer aviation photographs organised by the the Bothenhampton Flying Club has thrown up the intriguing possibility that Amée Johnson Thrupiece - a great great uncle of Professor Brian Thrupiece - could have been amongst those involved in the "concept engineering" of the "Spirit of Sydling St Nicholas" the early flying machine built for pioneer Dorset aviators Wilbur and Orville Keith-Harris.
Pictured below with protege Tom Freshphayce, Amée Johnson Thrupiece has remained, hitherto, a shadowy figure. Known to have been an enthusiastic amateur engineer as well as a skilled professional pork butcher, he was described by his contemporary Louis Bleary-Hault as "a demon with an adjustable spanner, a 12" cleaver and a bit of piano wire". "Flying" as it were, under the radar, he generally avoided the limelight and preferred to let others take the credit; so that when the Keith-Harris brothers completed their historic flight from Hinton Martell to Hinton Parva [a distance of 600 yards] in 1910, Amée Johnson Thrupiece was nowhere to be seen. [A fact which surprised his long-suffering wife quite as much as his co-conspirators]. She later reported he had "nipped out for quick one with a lady of his acquaintance" but had failed to return long after closing time.
Exhibition curator Sopwith Kamal says that the photograph [which was discovered in a Hamlet cigarillo box alongside several snaps of the 1913 Bothenhampton Whit Sunday decorated muff parade] opens up "a whole new window" on Amée Johnson Thrupiece's life as well as his on-off relationship with the notoriously febrile Keith-Harris brothers. Perhaps the unsung but presiding genius of the daring flight, it is believed that Thrupiece was the brains behind the dual "bicycle wheel" steering device which, in addition to offering a modicum of control, provided both pilots with something to hang on to as they careered down the runway. Ever the astute observer and never the guinea pig, Thrupiece declined to pilot any of the early test flights, preferring instead to cede the so-called "suicide seats" to the intellectually-challenged Keith-Harris brothers.
A 1/24th scale replica of the "Spirit of Sydling St Nicholas" constructed entirely from Kirby grips and especially commissioned from modeller Bobby Pin will stand alongside the photograph in the Bothenhampton exhibition. Once the viewing is over, the model will be auctioned in support of several local charities, amongst them Threadwings - the Threadbone Corporation-wide charity which aims to encourage air-travel amongst Society's least fortunate and especially those unable to fly first class.
Early Dorset Flight, curated by Sopwith Kamal previews tonight at the Bothenhampton Flying Club's Bothenhampton HQ, and closes tomorrow ahead of the region-wide lockdown.