Home - Contents - Catalogs - Falconers sectionThis piece is reproduced from European Kiteflier, spring 1978, pp 30-31. I haven't found the other three original photographs from the article yet. However, I still have two of the kites, and though they aren't as new as they once were I may try to reproduce the originals.
On the 31st January 1978 I visited the home of Alick Pearson with Dan Leigh. Together we spent nearly three hours listening to his stories of fifty years of kite flying at the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, London. Below is a brief narrative of his story, presented with photographs of the kite designs that he has promoted and developed since 1925. Alick Pearson will be 84 years old on 27th April and still builds an average of six kites a week. His latest design, the hexagonal winged box, came about as a result of his experimenting with the recent 'Professor Waldorf' kite and is just one of the many 'perfect flyers' he has constructed. I haven't flown it more than 2,500 feet out, for fear of losing the only kite of its kind in existence.
"I don't know much about kites, but it was in 1925 that I flew my first kite, a hexagon that I made up at Wormwood Scrubs. From there I came down and flew it at Kensington Gardens and began to experiment with it. I moved on from there by trial and error experimenting with different designs. Since then I've made the malay, the bird, the phoenix, the hexagonal winged box, the square winged box, the Baden-Powell (Levitor), the pilot, the hawk, the double diamond, the quadroplane roller, the Professor Waldorf, the parafoil, the fish-tailed malay, the Marconi rig and the Maltese cross.
Most of the kites that have been made and flown at the Round Pond were originated by John Shaw. He was a wonderful man and was flying up there before me in 1925. He made the first diamond roller but I built many variations into his design. His main innovation was the golden eagle bird, as he called it, which was entirely different to my bird kites. Again, his was the first bird kite to be seen at the pond. It looked very much like a modern fish-tailed malay. If you draw a wide malay, and then draw a small triangle with the uppermost point finishing a third of the way up the centre stick you have a bird shape. He made the "Eagle," as he called it, out of silk and sold it for ten pounds! Shaw also made the roller, the split malay, and the box roller which was a standard roller with two triangular boxes coming off it - the same as you have on a pilot. And of course all Shaw's kites were completely done by hand - every stitch! He was made a present of a sewing machine and he wouldn't have it; he threw it to one side because he wanted to do everything by hand.
I was the first one to introduce nylon flying line to the park. We used to use Barbours No.3 linen twine. And I was the first to use ripstop spinnaker nylon for making kites and now I won't use anything else. The others wouldn't go near it at all because it wouldn't let any wind through. But some kites will fly much better in a strong wind provoded that the kite itself is porous, because it allows the wind to pass through. Take the slot you have near the bottom of the roller: it was originally invented as a valve for spilling the extra wind. Because if you make a Baden-Powell - which is virtually a roller without the slot - it will give you a hell of a lot of pull; although it will fly well it will pull the arms out of you!
The best size for either a roller or a diamond roller is 48". If you go beyond that you're not going to get the same service out of it, or if you go below it. Even 52" is too big because the 5/16" dowel can't hold it. The Kite Workshop rollers are basically my design made in two or three pieces but in order to minimise fabric wastage it had to come out to 46" so it comes out slightly heavier because they use the same size dowel. When I started making rollers I used to have tensioning strings across the top, but these were all teething problems - trial and error. But I did away with tensioning from the top point down to the top outside corners and concentrated on the two side strings joining the two planes together. That's the only adjustment you have on the roller now except for the tow point. And the same on the diamond roller.
The idea of the floating bridle was really a theory that didn't work out in practice. In theory it was supposed to be self-adjusting so that when the wind increased or decreased in strength the roller maintained its correct angle of flight. Then I also used to put a small fin on the top of the bridle of the roller but I did away with that too. Now I only use the fin at the bottom and my point of attachment is 1/6th the overall length of the kite. In fact this applies to any kite. Even on my 8' by 4' bird kite the top of the bridle is attached 1/6th of the way down the kite.
There used to be a man called Eddy from Dulwich who flew at the pond. It was amazing - he used to fly rollers, but any rollers he made were never hemmed round the sides with tape or anything else; he simply folded his piece of material over, burned it down, cut it out to the shape of a roller, opened it up and the bloody thing flew absolutely perfectly. That was a good few years ago...
When I first arrived at the park Gabriel used to make all the kite reels. He was there before me. His reels were similar but not nearly as good as the ones he's making now. And about fifteen years ago I started making reels but I stopped making them because I couldn't get the bicycle hubs, and as I was deteriorating with age I found there was too much work in them, because I used to make them all by hand as Gabriel still does. But Gabriel has never constructed a reel like mine. He only uses four bolts and I used to use six. And it's only lately that Gabriel uses plastic tubing at the centre. That's another one of my ideas. Even the wooden balls for reel handles are my idea - because he used to use drill handles: Stanley handles from Shepherds Bush for 2/6d. a pair. They're a pound now! But I think that Gabriel is currently producing the the best available reel in Britain because he's improved on it. He's using the plastic centre.
And I was the very first to invent the monopod reel: that's the one in the Pelham book of kites. It was used for yachting. Some people liked to fly their kites from their boats so I made a reel where I could fix the monopod into the rowlocks on the side of the boat. The monopod was detachable so that the reel could be taken off and used by hand. I sold two of them to David Pelham - beautifully made reels really properly turned out.
I was the first to bring duralumin tubing to the park a good twenty years ago. They were all experimenting with different tubing for making dihedrals and pockets. I went down to Smiths in St. John Square and I had a chat with them. I asked if they had any duralumin tubing that was ultra-light in weight and in such sizes that it could be telescopic. That's how I got to know about the 22 gauge. You must emphasize 22 gauge. If they can't give you 22 gauge don't have it at all. All their tubing is sold by outside diameter, so if you want 5/16" outside the inside is 1/4", 3/8" outside is 5/16" inside. The Kite Store recently got some 20 gauge from Fred Collins around the corner but it's the wrong gauge. But they sometimes have 22 gauge as well.
Gabriel has made several kites out of flour bags - bird kites, that is. He made one very pretty one I remember that was swallow shaped with a curved cross stick. But I have an understanding with Gabriel and I've never broken that understanding yet. Never would I make a hexagon. If anyone wanted a hexagon I sent them to Gabriel and he said that if anyone wanted a bird or anything else he'd send them to me. I've been asked several times to make a hexagon but I've always refused.
Mr. Petty started flying with my kites about twelve years ago. John Petty and I were the first to fly at ten thousand feet. We flew completely out of sight. We'd fly rollers completely through the clouds so you couldn't see them and when they came down they were so wet you'd think they'd been in the bloody pond after going through all the mist! Now he certainly makes a perfect bird kite but you see he puts the time in; sometimes thirty hours or more on one kite. He's made some of the best bird kites ever. He uses porous industrial nylon. He made a brown swallow shaped bird like mine but with narrowed wings that would fly in a cyclone.
John Robeson was the first to put a body on to his bird kites. All his bird kites were originally his own design and I give him credit ther. Possibly his are the most unusual bird kites at the pond...
To me the bird kite is the ultimate light wind kite bar the roller and my own personal favourite of the kites that I've built. But bird kites only came in around the last ten to fifteen years. The original phoenix I made was almost square and it was copied from the Guinness' in Dublin. They used to make beer in Dublin that they don't make here. They brought a new brew called "The Phoenix" brew, and they used to have a phoenix design on the bottle. I was over in Ireland and so I just blew the design up into a bird kite. That's where the phoenix came from - a Guinness bottle!
Peter started flying with one of my kites a good twelve or fifteen years ago now. I believe his first kite was an albatross. He'd spend three months on research before he ever started making a kite at all. He'd research the bird's habits, where it laid its eggs, what every feather was for... everything. And then he'd make a complete replica of it, hand painting every feather - and the right amount of feathers - on to plastic. He made a greater and a lesser spotted Russian eagle, the albatross, the flamingo, a griffin and even the man of war - a frigate bird. That kite was very narrow and about fourteen feet long. Peter was the first one to think up the idea of bird's feet on a kite by painting the feet on to a transparent tail fin.
And then Bill started by flying my kites about ten years ago. He developed his 'Old Faithful' bird design by experimenting with my bird kites and that's been an absolute classic. He's made his bird kites very narrow so they'll fly in a stronger wind and of course he uses porous material. But I still keep to 8' by 4' for my bird kites - I keep to my original dimensions. Most of the Round Pond kite flyers started with my design and then varied them or made certain improvements on them. You see, I've perfected three particular kites and as I've said before I can guarantee them to fly straight away without going out to test them, and those are the plain roller, the diamond roller, and the bird kite. I can guarantee them to fly at any time. I can drop a bird kite onto the floor and tell whether it will fly from the way it flutters down - seeing whether the tail or the nose drops first. I don't think Bill has taken the bird kite design as far as it can go because there's no limit to anything but but he may have taken it as far as it can go to date, as I believe I have."
I've put this small article together with two aims. One is an attempt to establish 'THE ROUND POND, KENSINGTON GARDENS, LONDON' as a place of historical and current interest to all 'European Kitefliers' - and some of us, mentioned or unmentioned, are there every Sunday afternoon come rain or shine - and the other, more important, is to give credit to an old and half-forgotten Irishman who I believe has probably contributed more continuous effort into kite design and kite flying than anyone else alive today, with results that will one day be looked upon as legendary. Alick Pearson's kites are currently available at 'The Kite Store' in Neal Street, and I hope that many more kite enthusiasts, now that they know about him, will want not only to fly them but to treasure them as the collectors' items they will one day become.
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