The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dolly Shepherd

Last weekend we visited a local craft trail where the wonderful art of yarn bombing was on display. Trees, lamp posts and other street furniture had been wrapped in colourful knitting and crochet all on the theme of flight. Among the displays was one about a woman called Dolly Shepherd, who was a new name to me. 

A decorated tree dedicated to Dolly
Dolly Shepherd (1886-1983), born Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era. Born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, as a teenager she went to work as a waitress in a North London cafe so she could afford to see a concert by the composer John Philip Sousa. While there she overheard two men talking about needing a girl to act as 'target' in their shooting act, and volunteered.

She immediately became known as a daredevil and, in 1905, she ascended to 4,000 feet on a trapeze slung below a hot air balloon, descending by parachute. This became a regular act, but on one occasion she made the descent with another girl whose chute failed to open.

Dolly carried the girl to the ground but the descent was too fast, and both were severely injured. Dolly was paralysed for many weeks but fought her way back to health and returned to her high flying act at a show in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire. 

She continued her flying tricks throughout her life and never showed fear. On one occasion she almost hit a steam train on her descent but the driver had the presence of mind to blow his whistle, and the blast diverted her into the nearby canal.

She flew with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.


  1. There was an exhibition about her at the Ashby de la Zouche Museum when we visited last year. She was a fascinating and brave women:)

  2. I've never heard of either yarn bombing, or Dolly Shepherd: not sure about the former, but the latter tale was amazing; what a gal!!


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