The Edwardian Parachute Queen

By Tricia Waller

Originally published in Beagle North, part of their anthology on falling


“You ask why?

Well why not!

That was my motto Why not! I was always a bit of a tomboy – a thrill seeker. When I was a wee girl I decided to jump off the top of the roof with just an umbrella to break my fall!”

The frail old lady perches demurely, on the edge of the pastel coloured chintz patterned armchair balancing a bone china cup and saucer precariously on her arthritic knees.

“Then when I was seventeen I desperately wanted to hear the great Sousa at Alexandra Palace but I had no way of getting a ticket. So I took a job waiting on tables there and that’s When it all began.”

She smiles remembering happier times and her entire face lights up.

“Yes I met up with Sam Cody and his friend Captain Gaudron the French aeronaut.

I pause the recording and allow her to drift away in her dreams for a few minutes.


“They called me The Edwardian Parachute Queen you know. In my day I was something of a celebrity; cut a bit of a dash in my navy knickerbocker suit cap and boots and tall for a girl at over five foot ten  but that’s by- the-by.       Why did I do it? Well I just loved the exhilaration, the euphoria, the blissful sense of freedom up there.”

She points a withered arthritic finger up towards the tiled ceiling.

“Up there in the skies. Ascending in the hot air balloon, peering down over the rim of the basket at the patchwork quilt of fields, the silver thread of rivers and the tiny toy town villages all decreasing in size as we flew ever higher. It put me in mind of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and she smiled like the little girl she once had been all those years ago when everything and anything was possible.

“You see I knew no fear. I was headstrong, daring and impetuous.

I learnt how to fold my own parachute neatly so that the ropes would not be tangled – because of course that would have been the end of me!”

She laughs a crackly old lady laugh.

“Then I would just topple over the edge – you had to fall 250 feet before the chute would open but then  –
Oh My Word  –  then  –  the freedom of floating up above the clouds in that silent magical dream world. The air is so pure, so pristine rising and falling with the balmy breezes.

There were no breaking aids, you just go with the wind whichever way he chooses; gliding gracefully, drifting, cloud surfing or breasting the wind in a gale force sort of day. Avoiding pigeons, gulls, sparrows as you fall lower and lower passing through surreal sunbeams and radiant rainbows on the way. Up above me my dearest  friend – my silken parachute.

Yes of course there were accidents; like the time I almost landed on a steam engine but he blew me away and I landed in the canal instead. Then there was the time I jumped with another female parachutist and unfortunately her chute malfunctioned so we ended up descending together. I landed first and so broke her fall but my back was so twisted that I became paralised and there was talk that I would be shut up in a Home for Incurables for the rest of my life.

However it wasn’t to be thank goodness. My first stroke of luck was that I landed in a kind farmer’s field and his family cared for me whilst I lay flat on my back. My second that a doctor prescribed electric shock treatment and I was able to resume jumping once again.

You see Dear in my mind I thought if I did fall from that great height I would be killed good and proper if you know what I mean and that was fine by me! Then one day I heard a voice telling me not to go up again or I would be killed and so I never did!

You wouldn’t happen to have any of those delicious chocolate digestive biscuits to go with this cup of tea would you?” She asks smiling at me through twinkling blue eyes.


In memory of Elizabeth ‘Dolly’ Shepherd 1886 – 1983

This page was added on 24/02/2023.

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