The Tragic Demise Of Miss Lily Cove

We have to go back to the year of 1906 for the Lily Cove incident, strangely, although this incident was not unique, it seems to be the one that keeps being retold -and now being retold by me :-).  I found quite a lot of information on the Internet for this post, and I must mention a couple of books that I purchased ( for different reasons). Now I am not a book critic , but I will give you a personal  opinion with no bias.

Bronte Country - Lives &Landscapes
Bronte Country – Lives &Landscapes

Bought on line (used) in new condition for about £3.00 +p / p – I found this to be an excellent book – full of short stories about the area ( including Lily Cove)  – I have found only one error so far  – so I have got a lot of my information from here.    Then  I also took delivery of this one.

A Few Special Ghosts
A Few Special Ghosts

This cost me 1p ( yes one penny) in new condition , and I’ve got to say it was worth that penny – JUST.  Apparently the Author talks with the ghost of Lily Cove, – this book is so full of cliches,  coincidences, and conspiracies – Sorry Mr Burns – it is going straight to a charity shop  – where the customers carry Barge poles. Now I’ve digressed- I should give you a bit of background history.  In the second half of the 19th century , and the very beginning of the 20th century – the Victorian and Edwardian era, Balloons (as in hot air balloons – but they were mainly balloons filled with coal gas) were seen as ” the future”, almost like Sinclair C 5 in the 1980s – but longer lasting. One such balloon maker/operator was a ” Captain Frederick Bidmead “, I have not been able to find out much about his background, or where the captain title came from , could be a former military captain, or even a self given title, or maybe  a captain of a cricket team. Someone somewhere will have him in a family tree – please let me know if you do.

Captain Frederick Bidmead
Captain Frederick Bidmead

This is an image I borrowed (!) from a postcard. I have also borrowed a few more images – some from the postcard – well it is mine – it cost me 30p, and some from on line  – I will mention when I use them, the rest of the images are down to my own legwork and Mrs W’s driving.

Now the idea with the ballooning, was to appear at galas, and fetes etc throughout the country and to give displays, to add drama for a number of years balloonists had been going up in the balloon and parachuting  down . In 1898 Captain Bidmead  appeared at Keighley  Hospital Gala,went up in the balloon, and when trying to parachute down, the parachute ropes entangled with the balloon ropes. The balloon, with Captain Bidmead lashed underneath  landed in Pontefract 27 miles away. At the time Captain Bidmead said that the jump would have been his 48th jump had he been successful. This was not the only incident with Captain Bidmead – he certainly lived life on the edge – but it is Lily we are looking at . Lily – or to give her , her correct name  – Elizabeth Mary Cove  was born in the Poplar area of London in 1886, and at some point  finds employment with Captain Bidmead, – did she see him performing at a gala ? Did she find work in the balloon manufacture workshop ? Or was Captain Bidmead looking for a young woman to join the show, we will probably never know, but what we do know is that young women,  for some time had been going up in balloons  (more like under balloons ) and parachuting to earth – definitely  a better crowd puller to see  a woman do it – rather than a man.

Captain Bidmead
Captain Bidmead

Lily lived in East London, a poor area, her father was a boot maker,  in the 1901 census , he is a lodger in Bow road, and a widower. In 1903 I have found Thomas Cove, ( a Shoe maker) in prison , I  am pretty sure that it is the same person (Lily’s father) . Strangely I cannot  find  Lily at all  1n the 1901 census, but  haven’t spent too much time looking , because she was here somewhere.

As I have previously stated,  I could not find out how Lily began working with Captain Bidmead, but Captain Bidmead must have seen some potential in her and decided to train her as an “aeronaut, ” I.E to ascend in the balloon , then to parachute down to the ground;  they first of all did it as a duo , using a double harness, then Lily started to do it alone, it must have been an exciting life for a young woman, almost like “running away with the circus “, the opportunities for young single women were very limited – either going into service and working very long hours, or working long hours in a factory  – lily was traveling the country and being the centre of attention – you can see the attraction can’t   you ?.  I have got a picture of Lily (again from the postcard) – Lets have a look.


Lily Cove
Lily Cove

It has to be said at this point that older members of the public thought that ” A young woman should not be traveling around the country with a man that was not her Husband”; and even worse – just before going up with the balloon she would whip her skirt off , probably with a bit of drama, to reveal her legs (shocking !!) covered by tights and/ or long bloomers tied with ribbon. The reason for the skirt coming off was so that it wouldn’t interfere with the parachute descent, but it was all part of the show and you can just imagine all the young men drooling ( like young men do when a young woman starts to disrobe), and all the older women gossiping with each other and saying things like ” Has she no shame ? ” ” Shocking ”  ” These young uns today – what must her mother think !” etc . You get the idea don’t you ? Lily was described as ” A good looking, well proportioned young woman”[ Peggy Hewitt – Bronte Country] . There is no suggestion at all, that the relationship between Lily and Captain Bidmead was anything other than a platonic employee – employer relationship, but he must have got to know her quite well.

In the year 1906 it was decided that the Haworth  (West Yorkshire) Gala would raise money for ” The Victorian Nurses Fund”, and as previous galas in the town had been ” hit and miss affairs”, the committee thought that a special attraction  – Captain Bidmead , should be invited to perform, I am sure that some people would remember him from his appearance in neighbouring Keighley.  Handbills were given out and displayed in windows advertising the gala and all its attractions.

Gala poster
Gala poster

Captain Bidmead and Lily arrived in Haworth on Friday 8th June 1906, the gala was to  held the following day, they had booked into the “Old White Lion Hotel” , at the top of Main Street, Haworth . Lily had room 7, and soon made friends with the young daughters of the proprietor, who saw her as a glamorous, adventurous, exciting, modern young woman. Lily loved life, she was an outgoing girl, and in the evening would often sit and chat with the other guests, and customers of the hotel where they were staying.

Old White Lion - Haworth
Old White Lion – Haworth

Saturday 9th June 1906 was gala day, the gala was being held in the football field on West Lane , ( now the site of the cricket field ?).

West Lane Haworth
West Lane Haworth
Cricket field Haworth
Cricket field Haworth

This is the where the gala was held in 1906 – currently the cricket club . Gala day was a hot still day  and about six thousand people turned up, – a good turn out, there  were all sorts of acts, displays,  music, brass bands , punch and judy etc ;[ Peggy  Hewitt] – but the star attraction was of course Lily Cove . Lily readied herself  and sat on the Trapeze type seat under the inflated balloon, but the balloon would not rise into the air, six attempts were made before it was decided to postpone the attempt and it was announced that another attempt would be made Monday evening, Captain Bidmead said it was due to the Impure gas supplied by the local gas company, and the stillness of the air on the  day.  The following day, Sunday, Captain Bidmead repaired the damage caused by the manual deflating of the balloon , then they both went into Haworth for tea at the home of  Albert Best, secretary of the Gala committee,  Albert had become unnerved  by failure and tried to persuade Lily to call off the following day’s attempt, but Lily would hear none of it.[ Peggy Hewitt] Perhaps Albert had a premonition about it.

The following Monday Evening Lily and Captain Bidmead  went back to the Gala field, and no doubt , a smaller crowd than Saturday, the balloon was inflated , Lily got on the seat, Captain Bidmead checked the parachute harness, fastenings etc, and away Lily floated.

Lily Cove
Lily Cove

This is an actual picture of Lily , though from an earlier performance.

Gala Field
Gala Field

This was the gala field, and Lily took off from somewhere on this field, the balloon floated off up the valley ( over the modern cricket club building to the extreme left of the photo, towards Stanbury.


The people in the gala field lost sight of the balloon , under the shadow of the hill, She floated past Stanbury towards Ponden  reaching the hamlet of Scar Top, which lies beside Ponden  Reservoir.

Scar Top
Scar Top.

We will look now at what a witness – Mr Cowling Heaton , of the Scar Top refreshment rooms, said at the inquest. “ He saw the balloon at a quarter to eight, on Monday night as it passed over the back of his house. He saw no one sitting until the thing ” exploded” (!) . It opened out and the deceased came down head first. She fell like a cart-wheel turning over once or twice. She and the parachute had parted company. When he first saw the balloon it was sailing steadily across the next field not very far from him – about 100 foot high. The balloon went onto the Lancashire moor. The parachute opened out , but then the deceased was falling, having let loose of the lot, as if she had been clinging onto something , then released her hold.    He thought she was just alive when he got to her. he raised her up and said “My good woman if you can speak, do ” there was no answer, though her eyes were wide open.      Lily’s address is given as 170 Bow road , London- more than 200 miles away. Bow Road has changed beyond all recognition, with the blitz , and post war modernisation, but with the help of Google Earth lets look at 170 Bow Road  today.

170 Bow road  2014
170 Bow road    2014

So a tragic end to a young life, Captain Bidmead , who had followed the course of the balloon in a horse and trap was the next person to arrive, then Charles Merrall , the local mill owners son in his ” new fangled motor car ” [ Peggy Hewitt] – It appears that Charles Merrall  might have had a bit of an infatuation with Lily. When Dr Thomson arrived . lily was already dead, at the inquest the Dr Robert Thomson stated – “ There was a fracture of the left tibia and of the right thigh, and a large effusion of blood on the right side of the head. There was also signs of  fracture of the base of the skull. Death would be the result of shock..     Lily’s body was put in a covered cart and taken through Stanbury  , back to Haworth.  The cheering crowd in Gala field, expecting the triumphant return of Lily, fell silent when informed  of  the accident, some crying as Lily’s battered body passed by.  So why did Lily fall ? Unfortunately only Lily would be able to tell us for sure, but I have a theory. – Lily, being a non swimmer, had a great fear of water ( per Captain Bidmead’s testimony at the inquest) , and when it looked like she would have to parachute over Ponden reservoir , she decided to unhook herself from the parachute, prior to jumping, and to just hold onto the parachute hoop, so she could let go before the parachute dropped into the water. Unfortunately when the parachute opened fully  ( Cowling Heaton’s  “the thing exploded” ) the upward thrust was far too strong for Lily to keep hold of the parachute hoop, so it was torn from her grasp. Lily landed about 50 yards from the reservoir in a field with the parachute some yards away. here are a few shots of the reservoir.

Ponden Reservoir
Ponden Reservoir
ponden reservoir
ponden reservoir
Ponden Reservoir
Ponden Reservoir

Lily’s body was taken back into Haworth , some say back to The Old White Lion, but The Kings Arms across the street claims that their cellar was used as a mortuary by the local undertaker, and the truth is that it makes no difference. Lily’s father was brought up from London, and Captain Bidmead  bought him a decent black suit for the funeral.[Peggy Hewitt] . A short service was held at The Old White Lion, all the curtains and window shutters were closed in Haworth ( as was traditional with mourning in those days) The coffin was carried up to Haworth Cemetery ( the churchyard was no longer used for internments), followed by a carriage carrying Captain Bidmead, Thomas Cove, – Lily’s Father, and a few friends . Behind them was the  private coach of the Merrall family, plus hundreds of people from the village followed the funeral procession.

Lily's Funeral cards
Lily’s Funeral cards

Here is a Funeral card for Lily. I feel like I almost know the girl now so I think we should go up to the cemetery and pay our respects.

Cemetery Gate
Cemetery Gate

Through the gate.

Cemetery path
Cemetery path

Up the path.

Cemetery entrance
Cemetery entrance

If you wish to visit the grave, ( please do if you are in the area ) go to the cemetery entrance , look to your right  about 1 o’clock on a clock face and 20 yards away there she is.

Lily Cove R..IP
Lily Cove R.I.P

A closer look

Says it all
Says it all

Lets have a quiet five minutes.


As Charles Merrall  reputedly said ” She gave her life for charity” – how much charity ? the Gala raised the grand total of £17 / 6s (£ 17.30)  – Approx £5000 – £6000 today.

As I said at the beginning Lily was not the first or last lady balloonist / aeronaut to come to grief , but she seems to be the one that just won’t lie down. I will give you a few more names – Adelaide Bassett , 1895,      Edith Brookes, 1902,    Jeanette van Tassel 1892,     Sophie Blanchard 1819,   Edith maud cook 1910.

Peggy Hewitt  tells he story better than me in her book –  Bronte Country  lives & landscapes  – I have used some of her information  and recommend the book. If you get Chance to visit the area please do – it is a beautiful part of the world , I hope the pictures give you a very small taste of this part of west Yorkshire:-)

















19 comments on “The Tragic Demise Of Miss Lily Cove

    • I stayed in that pub about 15 years ago, not in Room 7, but the one above the front door entrance. I was woken in the early hours by what I can only describe as a ghost. I told the receptionist and she said the ghost of Lily Cove had appeared numerous times at the pub but in room 7.

      • Hi, I posted this story this morning without much detail but if anyone is interested I have a little more to share.

    • Hallo Dave,
      I am interested to hear the rest of your story! As you can see below Elizabeth Mary is my first cousin once removed, and we stayed in Room 7 last week……..visited her grave……did not see her, but had a whole body feeling in the wee small hours! The receptionist I spoke to said no-one had seen her, only felt her presence, she has worked there for 20 years or more, so the one you spoke to must have been a different lady. She told me the Most Haunted team stayed there when they were doing a programme on The Black Bull next door, and when she said to one of the mediums as they left “You know we have ghosts here” he said “Yes I know, Jeremiah in the cellar!” No mention of ‘Lily’. She looked into the history and found that one of the previous landlords was a Jeremiah…………….

  1. Hallo!
    Thanks so much for writing down all this information about Elizabeth Mary ‘Lily’ Cove. I have been researching my family history for years now and have never come across her before. My brother sent me some info about her and asked me to see if she was a relative or not. Well she is! She was our Dads cousin, what a wonderful discovery! My grandfather was William Cove b1875, son of Walter Cove and Elizabeth Mary Franklin, and younger brother of Thomas Charles. I am so pleased to have an adventurous woman in the family, and I hope one day to visit her grave and stay in Room 7 at the Old White Lion!
    The Thomas you found in 1903 is her father I think, as I found him on the Criminal Registers and sent to prison 3 times after that. I cannot find Lily in the 1901 census either, or 1891 come to that, but I did find her on the school register in 1890, strangely her father is named as George. It is her because the birthdate is correct 7.11.1895, her grandfather Walter had a brother George, or it could be her grandmothers second husband George Whitehead. I will continue looking…..

  2. Thankyou for writing about Lily Cove. She is my Dads cousin, and I had never heard about her until a week ago when my brother sent me a Find the Grave saying relation or not. I have been researching the family history for about 15 years now, so I could check to see quite easily. She was the daughter of my grandfathers eldest brother. I am so pleased to have found a brave adventurous woman in the family, and I will visit the grave and stay in room 7 of the Old White Lion one day.

  3. Thankyou for writing about Lily Cove. I had never heard about her until a week or so ago when my brother sent me some info from FindaGrave asking me if she was a relation or not. I have been researching the family history for about 15 years now, so it was easy for me to check, and there she was, she is my Dads cousin, daughter of my Grandfathers eldest brother. I am so pleased to have a brave and adventurous woman in the family, and I will visit the grave and stay in room 7 at the Old White Lion some day.

      • Hallo Wessyman,
        Just wanted to let you know that Who Do You Think You Are magazine are going to print Lilys’ story. They were looking for family hero stories so I contacted them, told them about your blog and about Debra who contacted me via you, and they were very interested. They commissioned a writer to do the article, and want to use some of the photos that I downloaded from your blog. I hope that’s okay with you. They are asking me for higher resolution photos, but I don’t know what they are talking about!
        Exciting! I will let you know which issue it will be in.

      • Thanks for letting me know, Glynis, The posts I put on my blog are there for people to read and take whatever information , or images that they wish, but I am always grateful to be informed, as it makes my efforts seem worthwhile.

  4. Hello Mr Wessyman!

    My name is Debra E. Wallace I have only recently found out about Miss Lily Cove through your blog post – (So Thank You) – as I have been researching the life and times of another Edwardian Lady Parachutist.

    You see in August 2015, purely by accident, I came across a Daughter of Potters Bar, called Dolly Shepherd, born in 1886 who is also a Guinness World Record Holder, celebrated and honoured in other parts of the UK and the world, however not well known of in the place she was born and raised.

    I now live in Potters Bar, having moved here in 2014 from East London and maybe as someone who was born and raised in East London – Miss Lily Cove has a special place in my heart esp. as I know where about her residence would of stood in her day as I use to do community outreach work in the area.

    It does not seem that Miss Cove has not been shown the same respect to her in Tower Hamlets as in Haworth,

    I truly feel this will change now.

    Someone recently said to me it is hard to get women honoured and remembered in this country and after almost a year of trying to get Dolly Shepherd Celebrated Officially, I am starting to wonder if this is true.

    I understand to many people, these Parachuting Women were not the famous scientist of their day, nor where they campaigners or celebrated artists or for some from a wealthy background.

    However they were still someone’s daughter, sister, and for some they were mothers and a friend to many.

    They deserve to be remembered and honoured respectfully.

    These Women Should Never Again, Be Forgotten!

    So My DSJourney Continues…

    Kind regards

    Debra (An Edwardian Lady Parachutist Fan)

    • Dear Mr Wessyman
      Hello again!
      I have recently got back from a visit to Haworth, to pay my respects and leave flowers:
      From Me: One East London Born Girl To Another East End Girl From So Long Ago!
      What a wonderful trip it was in a lovely part of your world.
      I used your blog post as my tour guide and it worked wonderfully.
      Lily is buried in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK .
      Miss Lily Cove You Are Gone But Not Forgotten & Will Always Be Remembered By Me!
      Mr Wessyman I have written an ‘Open Letter Of Thanks’ to you on My Dolly Shepherd Blogsite –
      Thank you again!
      Debra E. Wallace (An Edwardian Lady Parachutist Fan) 4:20pm Wednesday 24th August 2016

  5. Thank you for your comments Debra. I am very pleased and somewhat humbled that you made the long trip to Haworth to visit Lily I feel that in someway Lily was with you. God bless.

    • Dear Wessyman
      I have written a play about Lily Cove and love your post telling the story. I was the young reporter on the Keighley News who helped to bring Lily’s story back to prominence in the early 1990s (and I think I am fictionalised in that 1p book you mention [hmnnn…. think I decided to shrug and laugh it off at the time… don’t think it was a bestseller… 🙂 ] Anyway, I see here that other Lily enthusiasts have been in touch and am not sure of the etiquette of the blogosphere – would it be okay to contact Glynis and Debra through you here? I love the post. ‘Friller’ will be performed at Ponden Hall on October 30 if you are interested. There is more information here:
      Sharon Wright

  6. Dear Wessyman
    Sorry to bother you, but the magazine are trying to get confirmation of the copyright for the photos, and I wondered if any of the ones on your blog are photos that you took yourself that you could give permission for them to use?

    • Hallo Wessyman,
      Just to let you know that the article about Elizabeth Mary “Lily” Cove will be in the February Issue of the Who Do You Think You Are magazine which is out on 17th January.
      Thanks for all your help.
      Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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