Born in Esher in 1895, Flight Lieutenant Cyril Ridley's time at Arundel House school (Surbiton Boys Prep), sparked an interest in aviation which lead to an outstanding career in the Royal Air Force. Ridley was an enthusiastic member of the school's Aero Club, founded in 1908, where at the age of fifteen he built a man-carrying biplane glider with a wingspan of eighteen feet. During his time at the school, he also competitively built model aircraft, often being challenged by fellow pupil Reginald Mann. Between 1910 and 1912 Ridley took part in at least nine model aircraft competitions, of which he came first in six.
After leaving school, he was employed as as an aeronautical engineer for the Sopwith aviation company. Whilst working there he also learnt to fly and received his Royal Aero Club Aviator certificate. In 1916 he joined the Royal Navy, gaining the first of his eleven victories in 1917. He was promoted the flight lieutenant in October that year. In 1918 Ridley was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, with the citation reading that he had "at all times lead his flight with great skill and courage
." This courage and dedication served him well when in July 1918 his plane suffered an engine failure which forced him to land over enemy lines. He was held as a prisoner of war until the armistice in November that year, and resumed flying with the RAF. However, tragically he died in 1920 after a mid-air collision with another flying officer from his squadron, John Dartnell de Pencier over Cologne.
Reginald Mann, Ridley's classmate and competitor, also discovered a passion for aviation which which was fostered by the Arundel House Aero Club. In June 1910, Mann took part in the Kite and Model Aeroplane Association's Youths' Longest Flight and Stability Competition, held on Wimbledon Common. He won, with his challenger Cyril Ridley placing third. Mann later went on to win the prize for the longest duration flight for the South Eastern branch of the Aero models association in 1911.
In 1913, he set up the Surbiton-based company ' Mann and Grimmer ' with his former teacher Robert Grimmer, with the aim of building model aircraft on a commercial scale. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led Mann, at the time only seventeen, to design and build a two-seat machine gun armed aircraft to be used during the war. His aircraft made its maiden flight in February 1915, but issues with the complicated chain drive led to it flying at only seventy miles per hour. Mann worked on the aircraft until it could reach a speed of eighty-five miles per hour, but the prototype was destroyed in an accident, and a lack of funds prevented the project from being pursued.
Both men's passion for flight and willingness to persist undoubtedly solidified a strong link between aircraft and the local area, and helped shape the future of aviation.