Edith Maud Cook (1878-1910) was a balloonist, parachutist and one of the first UK woman pilots. She was born in Fore St. Her father was a baker who also had shops in Tacket St and Foundation St. Edith was possibly inspired at the age of 10 by a balloonist who was part of a celebration event in Ipswich.
She made 300 balloon ascents - with her parachute she would hold on to a trapeze bar which was attached to a smoke or gas balloon. The balloon would be lifted to 4000 feet and she would then let go. This thrilled the public watching and was a sought-after entertainment at that time. She used various ‘stage' names, such as Viola Spencer and Viola Kavanagh. It was a dangerous life, and descents didn't always go to plan. She was probably well paid, but must have had enormous courage.
In 1909 she started to train as an aviator at a flying school in France, and is said to have been the first British woman to pilot a plane. It was her ambition to cross the Channel.
She also continued with her balloon activity. In July 1910, she made a parachute descent at Coventry, landed on a factory roof by mistake, and was fatally injured when the parachute dragged her off onto the street. She died of her injuries five days later.
In 2010, to mark the 100th anniversary of her death, the Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group and her descendants marked her grave in Coventry with a headstone. They are now working towards a permanent memorial to her in Ipswich. The Ipswich Women's Festival Group is happy to support this project.