Thomas Taylor, was a man greatly in advance of his times. The Blantyre man was an inventor of one of the earliest reaping machines and Blantyre readers will be proud to know that he (attempted) to make one of the First Flying Machines, a full 43 years before the successful flight of the Wright Brothers in 1903!
Thomas also had another claim. He was the last tenant of Bardykes Mill which once stood hard against the Priory Bridge. However, even by 1880, the abandoned Mill was in ruins.
It is alleged in 1860, Thomas unveiled his great plans for a flying machine, which at the height of the industrial revolution, was to be powered by steam. Now Thomas (or Tam as he was known) had a great acquaintance in Mr Templeton, the blacksmith at Barnhill. The relationship was likely first a business one where Thomas commissioned parts for his inventions and Mr Templeton would make and supply them. So it was no surprise that the flying machine endeavour, involved them both working together. Mr Templeton did indeed make the machine parts and assisted Tam in constructing their flying machine which was built in the barn at the old Barnhill smiddy (pictured here by myself in 2009 after it was sold following the death of Bill Morrison in 2007)
When completed, the flying contraption was taken out into the adjacent Larkfield field (now where the Primary School is) and the engine was stoked, ready for an attempted flight. The local inhabitants of Larkfield and Barnhill although few at the time predating coal mines, would have been naturally curious upon the sight. It is not recorded who piloted the flight, but it was likely Tam, given his investment and inventive nature.
I’ve read incorrectly elsewhere that the Blantyre flight was successful as Tam waved to residents below. Fanciful and untrue I have to say. The proof came about from an account written by Mr Templeton’s son, almost 80 years later, which says word for word,
“The Smith’s father made some of the parts of this machine over 80 years ago. The power unit was a steam engine. Tam and the Smith tried out the machine but just as it began to rise, the supply of steam gave out. The elements of success were there but the engine was not suitable. “I didna manage it”, he said to the Smith, “but it will come yet whaever leeves tae see the day”. A true prophet!” Pictured in 1891 is another inventor, an American named Langley who mastered a better steam engine and managed a short flight.
The principles of flight were known even in 1860, but the problem lay in steam engines not generating enough speed and therefore the lift needed for takeoff. It would take the petrol engine to be invented and used in a flying machine 43 years later for successful flight to be established. People will remember Tam Taylor, the Blantyre born inventor.
Important! I put it to you……Before I leave this story, I will point out a little bit of a mystery. Tam Taylor was born in Blantyre in 1846. If the Smiths recollection is correct, Tam would only have been 14, and of course that doesn’t seem likely. According to my research, in 1871, Tam was noted in the census as being in Bridgeton, which is entirely possible given the Bardykes Mill had closed by then. Importantly, he’s noted then, aged 24 as being a “Maker of Steam Boilers”. It also suggests Tam was a young man when he made this trial flight. If so, and my findings are found to be correct, it would mean this whole story most probably took place in the 1870s , rather than 1860s. i.e the recollection of the smith is wrong by 10 years. This is quite probable considering it was Mr Templeton’s son telling the story, and I think he got the tale wrong by around 10 years. By 1881, Thomas was married to Ellen Taylor and they were living at Govan with a growing, large family. There are no other Thomas Taylors in any census for Blantyre between 1841 and 1881, so I think this was the man! I would love for this to be proven, perhaps by a Taylor family member, if only to stop an incorrect date from perpetuating further.
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