The Cumberbatch Trophy
of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN)
Alice Beatrice Martha Cumberbatch was born on the
15th April 1888. She was the
daughter of artist Walter Cumberbatch, who later took the
name Charles Walter Cumberbatch when he married
Pamela Pillinger at St. Paul's Church, Portland Square,
Bristol, England in January of 1877.
Charles Walter and Alice are
descendants of John Edward Cumberbatch the son of a
mulatto-slave, Elizabeth, once the property of
Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch; and of Julia nee
Belgrave. Charles Walter's father, and
Alice's grandfather, was
John Belgrave Cumberbatch. Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch
was a joint owner of St. Nicholas Abbey in St. Peter,
Barbados until his death in December 1833.
See Alice's ancestors here
Cumberbatch died 31st October 1920 at his home 79 Madeley
Road, Ealing, Middlesex.
Alice lived there with her parents. This address is fairly close
to the Hanworth Aerodrome, home of the National Flying Service, and she
may have socialised at its 'Club House' boasting "Country Club"
facilities for non-flying members. She would have been typical of its
never been really popular with flying people in general, in spite of the
fact that it has a large membership, since this membership has been
drawn from a particular class of Londoner who has only just come into
aviation...(Coming Into Land by Tim Sherwood quoting Flight 1932)
not found any family aviation connection, nor any reason for her to
commission the trophy for commemorative reasons. Certainly, women and
aviation were extremely popular at this time. During the 1930s many women took to
flying, made remarkable achievements and became famous. Perhaps
Alice was inspired by the thrill of competitive flying or by one
of the famous female flyers such as Amelia Earhart
- who landed at Hanworth in 1932, Amy Johnson, Mrs.
Victor Bruce - columnist in Popular Flying 1932, The 1930 Kings
Cup Air Race winner was won by a lady, The Duchess
of Bedford; the "Flying Dutchess", who officially
opened Hanworth 31st August 1929.
racing monoplanes depicted on the trophy may
have been Desoutter's, commonly flown at Hanworth. These examples, from
the Shuttleworth Collection, are in the NFS' Air Taxi and the Company's
colours as operated fro Hanworth:- orange and black. The
Desoutter I monoplane was built by Desoutter Aircraft at Croydon. It was
based on the Dutch designed Koolhoven FK41. Forty-one British built
Desoutters were produced between 1929 and 1931. They were used mainly as
air taxis or ambulances. Nineteen were acquired by National Flying
Services at Hanworth for use on instructional, taxi and
pleasure flying work. Imperial Airways operated one Desoutter for
charter work. The Desoutter was improved with the Desoutter Mk II, which
had a different engine, brakes, modified tailplane and other detail
1931 Desoutter I at the
GAPAN Guild News July 1997
On the Trail of Miss
Alice Cumberbatch by Alison Hodgkinson
Trophy is historically, probably one of the Guild's
most precious possessions. Described by Richard Skinner of
Bond Street's Skinner & Co as "quite unique", the balloon-shaped
trophy depicting small planes in a turbulent sky with a triumphant lion
crowning it, was designed by silversmith, Omar Ramsden in
My interest in this trophy developed during the last AGM when
Janet Perry, the outgoing Master's wife, had invited Mr
Skinner, who recently conserved several Guild trophies, to speak
to the non-aviators. His late father, Squadron Leader Lional
Skinner (of World War I Royal Flying Corps, then RAF) had
designed and made the Master's Badge which has since 1936, the same year
that the Cumberatch Trophy was first awarded by the Guild.
I began wondering about "Miss Alice Cumberbatch": why had
she commissioned such a beautiful trophy especially for the Guild? Was
her father or her brother a pilot, I mused. Little did I realise that my
search would tread between the Guild office, the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths, the Guildhall Library and further afield...having finally
discovered that this magnificent piece of silverwork had been "adopted"
by the Guild from another source.
I made an appointment with the librarian of the Goldsmiths to enquire
about the exotic sounding silversmith, Omar Ramsden. No,
he was not Arab-English as somebody had suggested. He was actually born
in Sheffield in 1873 and his birth certificate gave his name as "Omar"
(a suggested derivation of Homer). Apart from severaly childhood years
in the States Ramsden was apprenticed to a firm of Silversmiths in
Sheffield by 1887 and his creativity as a designer probably began with
night-classes at the Sheffield School of Art.
The Cumberbatch Trophy was executed in London when "Ramsden
may have had up to twenty assistants working for him...and never
worked on a single pience himself"...(despite 'OMAR RAMSDEN ME FECIT'
proudly engraved into his commissions). An article in Art & Antiques
quotes, "Not often does a working gold-smith or silversmith attain such
a classic reputation and experience as to give his work the standing of
an antique in the worker's lifetime... but Carl Faberge,
the Russian, and Omar Ramsden, the Englishman managed to
do just that in addition to founding a "school" of workers to cope with
the masses of commissions they received."
Viscount Rothermere's gift of a gold multi-coloured collar
and jewels to the Worshipful Company of Master Mariners was described as
being "certainly the most magnificent of secular pieces" and the article
continues that only "four other City Livery Companies took care to
possess Ramsden's solver in his lifetime: the Goldsmiths... the
Skinners, Ironmongers and Carpenters." And what about the Guild of Air
Pilots and Air Navigators, I thought: GAPAN first presented this trophy
in 1936, yet Ramsden died in 1939?
Two art hisorians, cataloguing the works of Omar Ramsden,
appeared by the desk where I was carefully leafing through Ramsden's
precious torn and worn original workbooks. Could they see a photo of the
Guild Trophy please? The only evidence they had unearthed was a letter
from Miss Cumberbatch dated December 11, 1936, giving the
names of the first Guild recipients of the prize along with a pencil
drawing or (sic) [of] the scrolled engraving. On this small piece of
blue writing paper, I discovered that Miss Alice Cumberbatch
had lived at 79 Madeley Road, West Ealing. She had a Perivale
phone number and Ramsden's Order No. for her commission
was 6860 (sadly missing from its workbook).
At the Guildhall Library, WHO WAS WHO in 1931 listed two
CUMBERBATCH entries: diplomat Henry Alfred Cumberbatch
who was decorated "for services rendered in Asia Minor" ...and
eminent St. Barts physician, Elkin Percy Cumberbatch, and
authority on "Electrotherapeutics". Neither
immediately stepped off the page as aviators but the latter did have an
Ealing phone number as well as a Harley St address. When I traced his
Funeral notice, his daughter was 'Eileen'... No
On October 13, 1936 The Times ran leader articles and columns devoted to
the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of The British Empire. "The
Duke of Kent accepted yesterday the permanent Grand Mastership of the
Guild of Air Pilots... The Guild deserves the Royal recognition...
because it helps to fulfill what must be the first requirement of
successful aviation - namely safety." At the Mansion House
reception, the Duke of Kent has presented "its new
Reliability Trophy, recently presented by Miss A.B.M.
Cumberbatch." From the claims of 50 pilots, including test
pilots and instructors, "it was decided to award it to Squadron
Leader Brackley, Air Superintendent of Imperial Airways" and
also on behalf of eight other senior captains who had served since the
company's inception in 1924.
That year, Jean Batten had been awarded the Johnston
Memorial Trophy " for the best feat of
navigation in any one year for her flight from Lympne to Port
Natal - including the South Atlantic Crossing - on Nov 10 - 13
1935." At the time of the ceremony, she was completing her solo flight
to New Zealand.
I thought my search for Miss Cumberbatch might end quickly
when the clerk invited me to scour the early
Minute Books in the Guild Office. There was no
mention of Cumberbatch until a Court Meeting of 24 March
1936 where Warden N.W.G Blackburn "had agreed to interview
the present holders of the trophy with a view to their relinquishing it
unconditionally..>" A May 1936 meeting noted, "Letters from the London
Air Syndicate Ltd. and Miss Cumberbatch had been received
notifying us that both parties were willing to relinquish
all legal claims to the Trophy." Thus, who originally owned the trophy?
The June 1936 GAPAN Journal solved that mystery. Beneath a photo of
headline, GUILD TROPHY FOR RELIABILITY PRESENTED By MISS
CUMBERBATCH, "Many people will remember that some years ago
Miss Alice Cumberbatch presented to the Hanworth Club
a trophy for presentation in competition. It was not, however, found
possible to make any award..." I returned to the 'Report of Master of
the Guild 1934 - 35' in Minute Book One... Captain Guest
had written, "Members of staff have visited the following aerodromes for
the purpose of discussing members problems: Heston, Hanworth, Hamble,
Brooklands, Croydon Renfrew." When senior pilots from the Guild had
visited Hanworth, perhaps they had discovered this magnificent
trophy awaiting a recipient? The Guild deliberated, and created an award
"amongst 'B' licence pilots in respect of any act tending to increase
reliability of our air routes."
The week I discovered the Hanworth connection, the historians at
the Goldsmiths also made a discovery. They found the original order with
cost as finished on December 8th, 1931. Silversmiths write their orders
in code and Omar Ramsden had used Arabic which needed
transcribing. Order No. 4077 was for "The
Cumberbatch Hanworth Cup". It showed a preliminary drawing, named
the various silversmiths, measurements, materials... with a probable
asking price of £250.00, a considerable sum in 1931.
The former Hanworth Air Park is about to become a multiplex
leisure center. The name, Cumberbatch,
does not yet ring a bell with the Hanworth History Society, soon
to publish their story of Hanworth Aerodrome, a home for The
National Flying Service during the early Thirties.
Although the Hanworth Club no longer exists, the Guild of Air
Pilots and Air Navigators continues to thrive and I am sure that
Miss Alice Cumberbatch would have been thrilled to know that her
gift is still highly prestigious within the aviation profession. Every
year it is much admired at the Trophies and Awards Banquet in the
City of London and of course cherished and honoured by its
'Omar Ramsden - Silversmith & Salesman Extraordinary',
C.G.L. Du Cann Art and Antiques, July 19, 1975
'Omar Ramsden - Centenary Exhibition', Birmingham City
Museum & Art gallery 1973 Introduction by Dr Peter Cannon-Brookes
GAPAN Journal, June 1936
GAPAN Minutes, Book One
The Times, 13 October, 1936; 30 March 1939
Source: The Guild News, Journal of The
Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. Issue No 103, July 1997,
reproduced with the kind permission of Alison Hodgkinson and GAPAN.
Extract from 1993 Sotheby's valuation: A massive beaten aviation cup and
cover, Omar Ramsden, London 1931, of hexagonal galleried
foot and six lobed button feet, relieved with six panels of racing
monoplanes with spirally engraved trails of flight at the waist beneath
a repousse frieze of stylised clouds and lightning; the dome tapering to
an upraised knop of clouds surmountde by a winged lion and set in enamel
roundels with the conjoined initials A.P. and A.N.,
on a stepped oak base with winners plates, 24 1/2ins. exclusing base,
(cover screwed down), the base with an inscription, the underside also
inscribed "Omar Ramsden me fecit".
The rectangular sloping beaten desk note pad container, Omar
Ramsden, London 1936, with shaped edges and pen shelf, the
hinged cover with an inscription "From Alice B.M. Cumberbatch
to H.G. BRACKLEY, O.P. Jones, L.A. Walters, W. Rogers, A.S.
Wilcockson, F. Dismore, F.J. Bailey, H.S. Horsey, A.B.H. Youell
Air Superintendent & Captains of Imperial Airways to whom was awarded
the Cumberbatch Trophy for Reliability in 1936" in a
scroll tablet reserve, 8 1/2ins. (later pen by another maker), inscribed
"Omar Ramsden me fecit".
1936 Oct-Dec The Times
Index: Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire -
Grand Master, permanent, Oct 13, 18b:- Leading article, Oct 13, 17c:
-Reception, Oct 13, 18b, 19b: -Trophies and awards, Oct. 3, 14e; [Oct]
13, 18b; (photo), [Oct] 13, 20
The Times 13th October 1936 pp. 18-19 - Air Pilots - Progress of the
Guild - The Duke of Kent as Grand Master...
Veteran Pilots - The Guild also awarded its new Reliability Trophy,
recently presented by Miss A.B.M. Cumberbatch. The Court
of the Guild devoted much time to deciding on the first recipient of
this trophy, and the claims of over 50 pilots, including test pilots and
instructors, were examined. It was decided to award it to Squadron
Leader Brackley, Air Superintendent of Imperial Airways since
the company's inception in 1924, who himself holds a current "B" licence
and continually acts as pilot. Squadron Leader Brackley
will hold the trophy for the year on behalf of himself and also of eight
of the most senior captains of Imperial Airways' service, whose names
are:- O.P. Jones, L.A. Walters, W. Rogers, A.S. Wilcockson, F.
Dismore, F.J. Bailey, H.S. Horsley, and A.B.H. Youell.
The Times 13th October 1936 p. 20 - Photo [right]:- "The Duke of Kent presenting
the reliability trophy of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators to
Squadron Leader H.G. Brackley at the Mansion House
Alice's cousin Hugh Charles Cumberbatch bequeathed
£300,000 to Trinity College, Oxford in 1956. This money was used to
build the Cumberbatch Buildings.
The pictures of Alice Beatrice
Martha Cumberbatch remain the copyright of
Helen Ashton and are gratefully reproduced here with her