Tales from the archives – Norfolk Inventors

(the famous and not so famous)

This is the time of year when we suffer from the post-Christmas blues. So for this month I thought I’d write about something that might make you feel proud to be from Norfolk. Those of us in the know, know this is a wonderful place, whilst those who don’t laugh at “normal for Norfolk” and take the mick out of the accent. Well, we’re fine just the way we are. And actually we’re not thick. Here are some clever people who have made our lives easier; and they come from Norfolk.

Not many people can say their ideas have saved lives, but George William Manby can. Born in 1765, he invented the first fire extinguisher, a copper cylinder containing three gallons of water. Manby’s extinguisher used compressed air to shoot water through a narrow tube and towards a fire. Manby’s invention was originally called the Extincteur. Manby spent most of his life in Great Yarmouth, where he also invented the Manby Morter, a device which propelled a rope from shore to ship and enabled people in life-buoys to pull themselves back to the shore.

Peter Chown isn’t a household name, but you probably have one of his inventions somewhere in your home. The King’s Lynn resident is the brains behind sponge-backed scouring pads, cycle carriers, odour-free Ezee-feet trainers and many more.

If you don’t know who James Dyson is, you must have been living in a cave for the past 30 years. In 1993, Cromer-born Dyson wowed the world with the bagless vacuum cleaner. He now has more than 560 patents. His first original invention was the Ballbarrow, which was a modified version of a wheelbarrow using a ball instead of a wheel. Dyson said, “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experi-ences lots of failures is probably more creative.” His company is now the UK’s biggest investor in robotics and artificial intelligence research, employ-ing over 3,500 engineers and scientists.

If you are into cycling then you may have heard of Norwich-born Mike Burrows, who is responsible for the track carbon-fibre Lotus 108 time-trial bicycle, which was ridden to victory by British cyclist Chris Boardman in the 1992 Olympic 4000m pursuit. Burrows also developed the world’s first compact road frame, the Giant TCR, in the 1990s. He started designing bikes in 1976, when he built his first traditional steel frame bicycle. Burrows then 19 started building bikes for local Norwich riders. The 73-year-old continues to build bikes today, including the 8 Freight – his new load-carrying bike.

Christopher Cockerell has a string of inventions to his credit, his most famous being the hovercraft. Dubbed a “man-made flying saucer”, the hovercraft combines aspects of an aircraft, a boat and a land vehicle. Cockerell lived in Lowestoft and developed his idea in a Norfolk boatyard. The prototype was tested at Somerleyton. He was knighted in 1969 and received 38 honours and 98 patents during his life.

So kids, don’t be afraid of failure and learn perse-verance. Grown-ups, next time you put on your trainers, do the washing up or vacuum the carpets remember these men who made your life that little bit easier.

Until next time
Rebecca Domek, Three Score

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