|Other names||née Elizabeth Spencer, married name Elizabeth Sedgwick|
|Known for||parachute jumping from balloon.
flight with Red Devils aged c.90+
Life and career
Dolly Shepherd was born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, England, as Elizabeth Shepherd. At the age of 16, she got a job as a waitress at the Alexandra Palace in North London so that she could see the composer John Philip Sousa. She overheard two men discussing the loss of a target for an act in which they shot an apple off a girl’s head; she volunteered on the spot.
In 1905 she ascended on a trapeze slung below a hot-air balloon to a height of two to four-thousand feet before descending on a parachute. On one occasion both the balloon and the parachute malfunctioned, and she found herself rising to 15,000 feet. At this height, both the cold and lack of oxygen were threatening to make her lose her grip and fall to her death. Fortunately, the balloon returned to earth 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 first flew again at Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Edith Maud Cook died from injuries sustained following a jump from a balloon at Coventry on 9 July 1910 when her parachute collapsed after a gust of wind blew her on to a factory roof. Dolly had been due to make the jump at Coventry but Cook had taken her place.
According to BBC History magazine she liked to “go high because I had it in my head that if I had to be killed, I’d like to be killed completely: good and proper!” She recalled that on one occasion she almost landed on a steam train “That driver, he had some forethought: he blew the steam and just blew me off into a canal at Grantham.”
Dolly later married, (married name Elizabeth Sedgwick), but still managed a flight with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.
There has now been a road named after Dolly in the town where she first flew again (Ashby de la Zouch); Dolly Shepherd Close is off Philip Bent Road approximately 0.6 miles due West of the town centre.
- Dolly Shepherd's biography
- Article by Peter Hart. BBC History Magazine. June 2014. P61.