Friday, July 16, 2010

Edith Cook Remembered

From the BBC on July 15: Remembering Britain's first female pilot

A memorial and headstone dedication service for Britain's first female pilot takes place at the London Road ceremony in Coventry.

Edith Cook, who was originally from Ipswich, died following a parachuting accident in Coventry in July 1910. During a routine jump from a hot air balloon, a gust of wind took her off course and she hit a factory roof, dying a few days later.

On the 100th anniversary, members of her family and the Lord Mayor of Coventry joined others at the special service.

BBC Midlands Today's Joan Cummins speaks with her great, great, great niece, Louise Argent.

Biography from Wikipedia:
Edith Maud Cook (1 September 1878–14 July 1910), also known as Viola Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer, Viola Kavanagh, and perhaps as Viola Fleet and Elsa Spencer, was an early British parachutist, balloonist, and aviatrix.

Cook was born on 1 September 1878, in Ipswich, Suffolk, the daughter of James Wells Cook, a confectioner, and Mary Ann Baker.[1] Her birthplace is marked by a plaque erected by the Ipswich Society in 2007.

Cook was variously known as Miss Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer, and Viola Kavanagh. She is also reputed to have been known as Viola Fleet and Elsa Spencer, although another lady parachutist was using the latter name in 1919. It would seem that she used the names Viola Spencer and Viola Kavanagh when undertaking parachuting engagements, and the name Spencer-Kavanagh as an aviatrix. She worked for the Spencer Brothers and Auguste Eugene Gaudron.

In August 1908, she had a narrow escape when trying to make a parachute jump at Ilkeston, Derbyshire. On attaining the desired altitude she found that she could not detach the parachute from the balloon. Clinging on she continued to gain height and drifted during the night before she finally came down some twenty-five miles from her starting point. This event was widely reported in newspapers at the time.

She was reputed to have made over 300 parachute jumps in a career spanning over 10 years. She was reported in the newspapers to carry a small revolver with her as she could never be sure where she might land.

Edith was a pupil at the Blériot flying school and at Claude Graham-White's school at Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques in 1909 or early 1910, where she learnt to fly and according to journals of the day became the first British woman to pilot a plane.

She died from injuries sustained following a jump from a balloon at Coventry on 9 July 1910. Her parachute collapsed after a gust of wind blew her on to a factory roof. It was reported that another gust of wind caught the parachute and she fell from the factory roof sustaining serious injuries. She died on the 14th, and an inquest was held on the 16th; her death certificate states the cause of her death as "Internal injuries, broken pelvis and arm, caused by a fall from a parachute. Accidental." Apparently Dolly Shepherd had been due to make the jump at Coventry but Cook took her place.

In 2008 Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group launched a campaign to erect a statue to Edith Cook in her home town of Ipswich in Suffolk.


LArgent said...

Edith Maud COOK is my 3 x great aunt. I have been actively researching her achievements for over 8 years in the hope to gain the recognition she so deserves. Edith was a aviatress, parachutist and balloonist using the pseudonyms: "Miss Viola SPENCER", "Miss SPENCER-KAVANGH", "Viola KAVANGH" and possibly more. Research, with the genuine aim of bringing the level of recognition that Edith deserves, is continuing. Any information would be warmly welcomed and greatly received either by myself, Louise Argent, or The Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group in England.

David Dell said...

My name is David Dell and I writing the biography of Edith's fellow parachutist;Elsa Spencer (real name Gladys Robinson/ Gladys Gooding) Elsa was with "Viola" on August bank holiday in Leeds(Elsa's first descent) Do you have any pictures of Edith? Happy to share my research with you