Today I’m paying tribute to Dolly Shepherd, the amazing Edwardian lady parachutist.  I came across this remarkable woman whilst doing some research about air-ships and early aviators for something I’m writing.

Following Felix Baumgartner’s skydive from a balloon from a height of 128,100ft (24 miles) yesterday it’s an appropriate moment to acknowledge the bravery and daring of an earlier generation of parachutists.  Molly Shepherd may only have jumped from heights of 2-5,000 feet but her feats are no less daring for that.  Remember that this intrepid lady had no technology and no sophisticated safety measures to protect her.  Every time she went up she was taking a huge risk with her life.  And all that to entertain the crowds who flocked to Edwardian Galas to watch balloon ascents and parachute descents, which were hugely popular at the time.

This is one amazing gutsy lady.  Elizabeth or Dolly Shepherd (1886-1983) was the country’s leading lady parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian period.  At the age of 16 Dolly was a waitress at the Alexandra Palace in London when she got introduced to balloonist Auguste Gaudron who was looking for a girl parachutist for his act.  Dolly was a popular act in an era when balloonists drew huge crowds.

In 1904 being a parachutist meant rising in a balloon basket to at least 2,000 feet then  going over the side and hanging from a trapeze bar until letting go when ready and descending in a parachute which would drop you slowly back down to the ground.  Imagine hanging from a trapeze from that kind of height – an incredibly courageous and dangerous thing to do.

On one occasion both the balloon and parachute malfunctioned and she found herself rising to 15,000 feet when cold and lack of oxygen threatened to make her lose her grip and fall to her death.  She was hanging there for three and a half half hours before luckily, the balloon returned to ground before it was too late.

She was not so lucky on a later occasion when she ascended with another girl. The other girl’s parachute would not release, so she had to wrap her arms and legs around Dolly so that they could descend on the one parachute. The descent was of course much too fast, and Dolly was paralysed for several weeks. She nevertheless returned to her act and flew again.

She did her last jump in 1912 though much later in life she still managed a flight with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died aged 96!

I love her outfit.  Apparently her aeronaut uniform consisted of a navy-blue knickerbocker suit with gold trimmings set off with a decorated peaked hat and high laced boots.

The photographs are of her appearance at Pickering Gala in 1911.

 

 

 

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