The Wokingham Whale
DescriptionA gentleman called Mr. Farbrother was well known in Wokingham as an inventor who had a passion for flying machines. He persuaded a number of local people to invest considerable sums of money in a project to build an airship. His workshop was a shed adjacent to his house, which stood at the corner of Goodchild and Easthampstead Road.
In the early months of 1909 a strange vessel began to take shape and attracted a great deal of attention, with crowds gathering daily. The sausage shaped fuselage was named by sightseers the Wokingham Whale.
The Reading Observer reported the following statistics. A powerful petrol motor of 80 horsepower and weight of 3.5 hundredweight would be installed in the centre of the fuselage and connected to the propeller by a long shaft. The propeller would be a spiral retoscope making 1,200 revolutions per minute. The dimensions of the machine when closed would be 60ft long, a breadth of 14ft and a height of 16ft. When extended the machine would measure 140ft long, 20ft wide and 31ft in height.
There are two versions of what happened next. The first is that it was taken to Windsor where the engine was to be installed, leaving behind allegations of fraud and speculation about a war office cover up.
Another version is that, after having the engine fitted and returning to Wokingham for minor adjustments, a catastrophe struck. There was a small explosion in the shed leading to a fire which took the life of Farbrother and destroyed the Wokingham Whale.
SourceMiss Baker's School and other Wokingham Memories by Jim Bell
Photograph courtesy of Wokingham Times
“The Wokingham Whale,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed September 20, 2020, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0339.