Meet the man who strapped on wings and tried to fly over the Wensum
- Credit: Archant Library
He was one of the greatest characters to have sailed, swam, “flown,” pedalled and even crawled across our city and county to help others.
Memories of people who go the extra mile – literally in this case – fade as time moves on but it is important that we remember them.
One of the giants half a century or so ago was the one and only “Bathtub Admiral” and “Birdman” Patrick Hornby.
His crazy antics delighted the people of Norwich and Norfolk… and raised money to help many charities and good causes.
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Back in 1971 he was the “Birdman” when hundreds turned up to watch as he attempted to fly across the River Wensum from outside Boulton & Paul’s main gateway.
One flap of his mighty wings and… he plunged into the river.
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Our reporter on the frontline wrote: “Even with his special streamlined haircut, which he said he had to reduce wind resistance, failed to assist him in his attempted flight.”
Patrick, aged 43 in April of 1971, said he did not get the chance to flap his wings wide enough because of the crowd lining his run-up stretch across the road from B&P.
He was airborne for a few moments and then… SPLASH.
The water, he said, was “ruddy cold.”
Before his attempt to fly he made a collection for the blind and thanked the Zoology Arts Review for his wings made from Iberian swan feathers.
At the time Patrick, who lived on Prince of Wales Road, was working as a waiter in a milk bar and at the Bedford Arms public house.
So what next?
Well how about this… he attempted to crawl from Norwich to Great Yarmouth later in the same month.
After about six miles he was in agony. His knees and hands were about to give in so he did… on doctor’s orders.
Was it worth all the pain and misery we asked him?
“Certainly,” he said. “After all there can’t be many people who have crawled this distance.”
And then, a few months later, Patrick was back on the water – doing what he loved best – transforming himself into the Bathtub Admiral on H.M.S. Unsinkable.
In August he embarked on a solo voyage from Norwich to Yarmouth in his tin-bath and as the large crowds gathered to send him on his way, escorted by river police and inspectors he shouted: “Tatty-bye Norwich.”
The bathtub voyage, not without its problems, ended at Oulton Broad Yacht Station where more crowds were waiting for him.
Then towards the end of 1971, he set off from Norwich to King’s Lynn in a hand-winched tricycle. “It’s got three speeds and I have not had to get out and push it up the hills,” he said.
A couple of years on he was in charge of H.M.S. Incredible when he took to the waters at Yarmouth – and sank.
Money Patrick raised over the years went to help Marie Curie Cancer Care, the Jenny Lind, Hospital, Kelling Hospital, and many other organisations and homes.
A member of the popular Ghostriders Western Club, he was 64 when suddenly died in 1992.
Now he was a character.