John George Aulsebrook Kitchen (1869-1940)

John George Aulsebrook Kitchen

Written by Diana Matthews

Occupations: Engineer and Innovator

John George Aulsebrook Kitchen was born at Prescot, near St Helens, Lancashire on 4 November 1869 and was baptized on 9 January 1870 at the parish church of St Thomas.  He was usually known as Jack. His father, William Henry Aulsebrook Kitchen [1841-1896] was a house and estate agent and his mother was Ellen Teresa Francesco Joza [b.1844]. They had both previously lived in Nottinghamshire but were married at St Thomas’ church.  His paternal grandfather William Kitchen [1815-1875] was a collector of rates and his wife was Eliza Aulsebrook [b.1812]; his maternal grandfather Francis Joza was a mechanic in Warrington. In his childhood, the family lived on Croppers Hill, Prescot and his siblings were Walter [1872], Daisy [1877, Teresa [1877] and Charles [1881]. Extraordinarily, his mother Ellen died in France, at the village of Y [sic] in the Somme in April 1893, which may have been her own parents’ place of origin, although the family was Portuguese.

Initially he worked in Lancaster, but in January1897, in Kendal, he married Sarah Isabel Garnett [b.1876], the youngest daughter of John Garnett, a nurseryman, seedsman and florist of Queen’s Square, Bowness, and his wife Mary, a Kendalian.  John Garnett originated in Hawkshead.  It seems that Jack and Isabel continued to live in Lancaster for some years as in 1911 Jack is described as a visitor staying with Richard Robinson, a watchmaker, at Holly Cottage, Bowness.

Kitchen was one of many inventors who flourished in the dynamic atmosphere of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Victorian & Edwardian Britain bubbled with ideas: some brilliant, some ludicrous, some lucrative and some financially disastrous. The area around Windermere was no exception, with some inhabitants being involved in the first Seaplane School in England and others like Percy Crossley who invented a telephone in c.1875 which he sold to Alexander Graham Bell.

Kitchen’s exceptional craftsmanship and lively wit, sets him apart from his contemporaries. The endearing way he was supported by his financiers, such as Isaac Storey, friends, and the local community is an important part of his story. He was remembered as a slightly eccentric, loveable man, of immensely fertile mind; no mere dilettante but a designer capable of developing engineering principles to achieve new concepts with wide practical applications.    

When Kitchen turned 21 in 1890, bicycles, road vehicles, and flying machines were all the rage.  He exploited these new fields for the next 50 years, with no formal training in design or engineering. It is thought he took a short apprenticeship with an engineering firm in Manchester to learn some first principles, after which he was largely self-taught, sharing ideas with his friends and riding the wave of the zeitgeist.

It is quite remarkable that he lodged an awe-inspiring range of 175 provisional patent applications, at a rate of nearly 4 per annum, with 118 being granted a full patent, which in many cases were developed for commercial production. These included a field kitchen manufactured for WWI troops, who would cheer when it appeared knowing that the food would be ready, hot and intact without any of the contents having been spilt in the rutted mud. The Kitchen reversing rudder was invented at a time when gearing was in its infancy and was adopted by the Royal Navy in their motor torpedo boats, as it gave greater manoeuverability. His rudder design was also used widely in the USA, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, being popular as ‘wear and tear are reduced to a minimum’ (Grace’s Guide).  The Lune Valley boiler and burner gave greater efficiency to steam boats, dramatically cutting the amount of time needed to get up steam, from over an hour to sometimes just ten minutes. The successful trial of a radio controlled boat on Windermere was conducted successfully in 1904 by Kitchen and Storey from Queen Adelaide’s Hill, using radio equipment to steer the 27ft. steam launch Bat. The only crew member actually aboard was the stoker, Mr. C.E. Hall. Steam launch Bat was built in 1891 for boat designer, Alfred Sladen, and is in the collection of the Windermere Jetty Museum, part of Lakeland Arts Trust. Their success was recorded some fifteen years before Guglielmo Marconi’s development of a similar system.  

Some of Kitchen’s inventions did not appear to be all that practical, such as in 1898, a steam tricycle and bicycle, with a potentially dangerous boiler installed between the rider’s legs. Sadly there are no drawings or photographs, just descriptions and patent numbers for what sounds like a bizarre invention

Much of his early work related to the motor car, including pneumatic tyres, in 1896, for easy puncture mending; also horns, brakes and a remarkable system involving a row of lights on the top of the windscreen which could be angled to the front, sideways or to the back, for reversing down country lanes in the dark. Jack Kitchen also invented a form of elliptical wheel to be used on armoured cars, bicycles, invalid chairs and wheelbarrows, to enable these various forms of transport to move over rough ground or even up stairways. This idea was not a huge financial success, any more than his gas gramophone, which apparently produced an excellent sound.     

The annular wing aircraft experiments were in 1910 and the attempted flights were conducted at Middleton Sands, near the Lune Estuary, Lancashire. Early aircraft frequently crashed due to engine failure, so Kitchen came up with the notion of annular wings which are elliptical in plan and sound quite eccentric today. This new wing design was virtually stall proof and the aircraft was designed to float gently down to earth in the event of power failure. The later glider experiments flew successfully, proving that the design was aerodynamically sound, but the powered aircraft did not fly because the engine was not powerful enough to overcome the drag of such a large wing area, in addition to the added weight of the engine. Rapid advances in aircraft design during the World War I soon left Kitchen's concept behind.

Other patents which were granted included a fast winding mechanism for a fishing reel, a peristaltic pump and an early form of zip fastener. At the time of his death, he was working on an oil-less engine, in the workshop featured in the photograph.  By this date he was living with Isabel at Brookfield, Storrs Park, Bowness, with one housemaid called Emily McDonald. A year later he died at Lancaster Infirmary on 27 March 1940 and was cremated in Blackpool.  His will was proved at Carlisle on 25 May 1940 leaving a significant estate of £31,000, which is a positive reflection of his multiple achievements.


  • Mayne Family Pedigree
  • Register for Windermere, 1939
  • Probate records 
  • Patent Office records
  • Rayrigg Archives (including some papers of both Lord Wilson of High Wray and of Harold Illingworth; other Wilson papers are in Kendal CRO) 
  • Autocar, 23 October 1909
  • Morecambe Guardian, 6 April 1940
  • Grace’s Guide (life details and obituary)