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Bid to honour flying daughter of Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 15:00 20 December 2008 | UPDATED: 12:47 09 March 2010

Edith Cook

Edith Cook

AVIATION enthusiasts today called on the people of Ipswich to honour one of the town's most famous daughters.

AVIATION enthusiasts today called on the people of Ipswich to honour one of the town's most famous daughters.

Edith Cook challenged stereotypes and overcame prejudice to become the first female pilot in the country around a century ago.

She was also known as a fearless parachutist before her untimely death in 1910 at the tender age of 30.

Her remarkable achievement has only recently come to light - and now campaigners are demanding Ipswich never forgets Miss Cook by unveiling a statue in tribute to her.

There is already a blue plaque in the town dedicated to her, but the Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group is hoping to raise the thousands of pounds required for a bronze statue.

Hilda Hewlett was the first lady to obtain a pilot's licence and so it was naturally assumed she was the first female pilot.

However, it was Miss Cook who first took to the skies.

Had she not had such a tragic end to her life, it is believed she would have gone on to get the first licence.

Throughout her life she performed around 300 descents in events all over Britain and across Europe through her career in the entertainment industry as a lady parachutist.

Andy Taylor, project co-ordinator and one of the founder members of the Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group, said little is known about Miss Cook among the people of Ipswich.

He is determined to educate the public on the forgotten hero of Ipswich.

Mr Taylor said: “Once we found out that she was actually the first female pilot, we realised how significant it was.

“There is so much aviation history in Suffolk that has not been told but when we found out that Edith was the first female pilot, we felt we had to run with it.

“We want to raise the level of awareness about her. We think she should have a statue.

“She broke two barriers in her time. Firstly, the class barrier because her father was a baker and came from a humble background. When she was an international parachutist, she was mixing with millionaires.

“She also broke the prejudice against women, too. Most men were deadly opposed to women flying.

“There are no other statues in Ipswich of anyone from the town so we would love to see Edith honoured in this way.”

The group, which has been running since 2002 and is based at the heritage centre in Foxhall Road, hopes to raise enough money for the statue so that it can be built to coincide with the 100th anniversary of her death in 2010.

Colin Durrant, chairman of the group, said: “She was very famous in France for flying and famous in England for parachuting. She was a simple town girl who got to travel all over the world.

“She never forgot her ties with Ipswich - she was Ipswich through and through.”

Do you know anything about Edith Cook? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

ALTHOUGH it is not known what sparked Miss Cook's interest in the new adventure sport of aeronautics, it is likely she saw a balloon ascent in Ipswich in 1888 when she was just ten.

In around 1900 she wrote to famous balloonists the Spencer Brothers asking if she could be a lady parachutist. This was a very dangerous occupation within the entertainment industry which involved holding on to a trapeze suspended under a free parachute which was attached to a smoke or gas balloon.

It was lifted to a height of about 4,000ft and then released and descended back to earth.

She was accepted by the Spencer Brothers and over the course of ten years, performed hundreds of flights throughout the world.

She met her untimely death in 1910 a few days after suffering serious injuries in a balloon accident in Coventry. It is there she is buried in an unmarked spot.

The inquest into her death heard that she told her surgeon how much she enjoyed her work. She added that she did not know what nerves were and was described as fearless.

Her father, James Cook, a baker and confectioner, was said to have disapproved of her occupation.

She was known under several different names through her occupation, including Viola Spencer, which is why the history has been slightly confused up until now.

The Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group is particularly interested in getting local businesses to help with the fundraising for the statue.

The bronze statue would cost in the region of £60,000.

The group is also hoping to fund a proper headstone to mark the site of her burial in Coventry.

If you own a business and want to help honour this local hero with a statue, or if you are a member of public that can help in anyway, call Mr Taylor on 01206 844041 or e-mail andrew@taylor8392.freeserve.co.uk

Miss Cook still has some surviving family in this area.

Her great-great-nephew Christopher Brown discovered he had a famous aunt after his cousin John Argent and niece Louise Argent delved into the family history and confirmed the fact that she was the first female pilot.

Mr Brown got in touch with the Ipswich Society, who agreed to erect a blue plaque in Fore Street in 2007, marking her place of birth.

Mr Brown, 73, from Kesgrave, said: “She should be remembered in the town because of her bravery. It would be wonderful to have a statue of her.

“It is great they found her burial place.

“She was forgotten because she changed her name. She was a brave girl and we are pleased she is being honoured.”

Edith Cook was born on September 1, 1878, at 90 Fore Street, Ipswich.

She became a balloonist and parachutist and made around 300 balloon flights during a ten-year period.

She was also known as Viola Spencer and Spencer Kavanagh

She learned to fly a Bleriot monoplane in early 1910 at the Claude Grahame-White School in France and later made several flights

On July 11, 1910, she parachuted onto a factory roof in Coventry before falling to the road below. She died on July 14 from her injuries.


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