Sir Hiram MAXIM


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Below - plaque at Maypole School

The plaque on display at Maypole Primary School in Dartford.
When Charles MINET died in 1874 Baldwyns Manor House and Estate had to be sold. The Manor eventually came into the hands of the London County Council. Between the years 1876 and 1898 it was leased to various tenants. One of these tenants was Sir Hiram MAXIM. He rented the Manor from about 1889 until probably c.1896. ( It is not clear as to the exact dates because the waters are muddied by the discovery that John GOTCH HEPBURN was shown in residence in the Census of 1881 and a local newspaper cutting shows liquidation of his firm and auction of his contents in the Manor in 1893 ) With regards HEPBURN a centenary document for Madam OSTERBERGS College shows him as purchasing a house called 'Oakfield' in Oakfield Lane in 1895. It may well be that he sub let Baldwyns to MAXIM ? It was at Baldwyns manor that MAXIM continued his experiments with flying machines. It was in 1891 that he began his work, in earnest, on the first flying machine. He built a large hangar near the manor house ( South west by several yards ) where the flying machine was developed and stored. The Planning Application to the London County Council of 1894 shows the site of the hangar and the path of the rail tracks that it was to run on. They ran from just south of the house, out of the hangar, South Eastwards, towards the direction of Birchwood Road just north of its' junction with Tile Kiln Lane. The rails measured 1800 feet in length and were eventually widened to an amazing 35 feet. When MAXIM wheeled the centre section out of the hangar, he attached the wings. He called these wings 'Aeroplanes'. The total wingspan of the craft was 104 feet. The Wellington Bomber used in the second World War had a wingspan of only 86 feet 2 inches.

The first propelled flight of man in a machine heavier than
air was witnessed at Baldwyns in 1894 - but it was not 'free

Sir Hiram MAXIM - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath

Maxim's Flying Machine c1894

The machine was so unwieldy that it had to be tethered to rails. Height of take off, therefore, was restricted. The Aeronautical Society witnessed and acknowledged this achievement but as it was not 'free flight' it made few headlines. On the night of the Census of 1891 records show that there were two other engineers staying at the Manor House at the same time as Hiram. They were father and son Henry HOUSE (Senior and junior) Father was aged 50yrs and the son was aged 27yrs. Both had their wives with them. Mary was aged 49yrs - the mother of Henry Junior. Vera was aged 21yrs and married to Henry Junior. The family came from Connecticut, America. Hiram, was also American by birth and spent his early years in Massachusetts - the State bordering Connecticut. It is more than likely, not just coincidence, that these visitors were engineers - and thus they may have been able to assist him in the project of flight that was so important to him.

Baldwyns Manor c1894

The rails outside Baldwyns Manor on which the Aeroplane ran

Regarding MAXIM, the following was found in the Bexley Records Office written by Susan ILLOT:

" He was born in the USA in 1840 to a French Huguenot family. As a result of growing up in a frontier settlement he developed into a very different character to the typical nineteenth century philanthropic engineer. He was a non drinking, non smoking agnostic with a tremendous capacity for hard work. He despised slackness and insobriety; but who was also a picaresque individual, an accomplished card player with a fondness for boxing and wrestling.

Sir Hiram MAXIM - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath

The aeroplane approaching the hangar just outside Baldwyns Manor - which lies to the right hand side, out of view.

Below Sir Hiram Maximn (with beard) and crew 1894 at Baldwyns. Taken from the Baldwyns Manor side towards Tile Kiln Lane direction
note the left hand open door of the hangar in the background.

Sir Hiram MAXIM - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath
He came to Europe for the Paris Exhibition in 1881 to represent the United States' first electric lighting company who were exhibiting his electric regulator. He then came on to Britain to investigate our electrical industry and it was while staying in London that he made drawings for an automatic machine gun. The innovation of Maxims' gun was that it was the recoil of the weapon which supplied the energy to insert a fresh cartridge in the barrel and to detonate this cartridge in turn. The first Maxim gun fired 666 times a minute and this model was later followed by a larger gun firing 400 times a minute, nicknamed the pom pom by African Natives.

Sir Hiram MAXIM - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath
Hiram Maxim with his machine gun

Maxim approached VICKERS, a steel company to manufacture his gun and so in 1884 The Maxim Gun Co. Ltd was formed with Albert VICKERS as chairman and production was started in their works in Crayford. Maxim then came to live in Stoneyhurst, Crayford and he gave lectures in the neighbourhood, substituting corks for bullets in his demonstrations.

These talks must have provided a lively alternative to the more usual lantern slide evenings or smoking concerts.

Sir Hiram was also well known for his aeronautical experiments for although he designed a helicopter as early as 1872 he did not construct his first aeroplane until 1892 when trials were held in Baldwyns Park.

This aircraft was105 feet wide with 17 foot long propellers, fitted with 2 X 362 hp. steam engines and weighed about 2 tons. The machine ran along railway tracks and Maxim proved that it could lift a weight of 2.5 lbs per square foot when moving through the air at 40 m.p.h. It crashed safely to the ground, eagerly watched by hundreds of spectators. Sir Hiram never developed the idea any further having proved his point he continued devising all manner of ingenious items which included an explosive similar to gelignite, various gas machines, engine governors and even a medical inhaler to relieve the chest condition from which he suffered in old age." Hiram MAXIM was knighted in 1901. He was also interested in and did work on aerial navigation. He died at Sydenham in 1916. He was, in every sense, an 'Avid Inventor'.

Sir Hiram MAXIM - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath
Picture of unknown origin and may be subject to copyright

Sir Hiram Maxim's flying machine on display 1894
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