Curious case of missing propeller found in a Leeds pub

William Rowland Ding with autograph
William Rowland Ding with autograph
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Former Leeds pilot William Rowland Ding (1885-1917), was a famous aviation pioneer, who flew many aircraft from the Soldiers’ Field in Roundhay Park.

Ding was a test pilot for the Leeds-based Blackburn Aeroplane Company and despite only learning to fly in 1914, managed to log 35,000 miles before his untimely death. He was also renowned as having flown more aircraft than any other pilot at the time.

The anniversary of his death is just over a month away - on May 12, 1917.

The incident was witnessed by more than 1,000 people. He was piloting a Boulton & Paul FE2b biplane when it fell from the sky and exploded into a ball of flames, killing him instantly. Witnesses from the day reported seeing Ding complete two loop-the-loops - a manoeuvre he wasn’t supposed to have attempted - before one of the wings collapsed, sending it hurtling to the ground.

For years, a four-blade wooden propeller with brass tips and measuring about 2.6m across, stood at the crash site, in a private plantation between North Lane and Oakwood Lane. But it was repeatedly damaged by trophy hunters, who would chip pieces off it, and the owner of the land complained about damage to his fences. The story goes it had to be replaced at least once. However, the replacement was stolen at some point in the 1930s. It eventually turned up at the Nag’s Head pub, Vicar Lane, circa 1975, where it was mounted on the wall. It was restored and donated to Leeds Museums and currently resides at Leeds City Museum.

A plaque commemorating this life was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of his death by his grandson Julian Ding and great grandson Charlie Hayhurst-Ding.