Appeal to finally give female flight pioneer a headstone in Hackney

Margaret Graham was given a pauper’s funeral and has an unmarked grave.

Margaret Graham was given a pauper’s funeral and has an unmarked grave. - Credit: Abney Park Trust

A fundraising campaign has started to honour the first English woman to fly solo with a headstone at Hackney’s Magnificent Seven cemetery and park.

Trailblazing balloonist Margaret Graham was a pioneer of early female flight, showbiz celebrity and intrepid reporter who wrote gripping accounts of her aerial exploits.

But the legend was given a pauper’s funeral and has an unmarked grave when she died in 1864.

The Abney Park Trust has set a £5,000 target to pay for the memorial. The project has been co-led by Sharon Wright who has written a biography on Margaret’s life.

In 1826, Margaret became the first English woman to fly solo when she ascended in her balloon from Islington aged just 22. She wrote dramatic accounts of her many adventures for the press and accused critics of judging her failures – including some spectacular crashes – more harshly than those of her male counterparts.

Sharon said: “An early mistress of spin, she – like other headstrong and media-savvy Abney residents – fostered a close relationship with the English press, securing column inches for her side of the story when her ascents went awry.

“Yet despite a long and colourful career, England’s pre-eminent female aeronaut died impoverished aged 60 and was buried in an unmarked common grave at the park – which is a famous Hackney urban woodland and nature reserve.”

Sharon Wright is the author of The Lost History of the Lady Aeronauts

Sharon Wright is the author of The Lost History of the Lady Aeronauts - Credit: Sharon Wright

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Stoke Newington stonemason Charlotte Ruse has been asked to create a hand-carved slate headstone to honour Margaret. It will feature a relief carving of the celebrated aeronaut in her balloon and the date she made history with her solo flight. The memorial will also feature names of the four people who share Margaret’s grave.

Sharon added: “Margaret was a charismatic and fearless pioneer who helped make the sky an early frontier of female freedom.

“When I researched her life story I found a complex, savvy, self-made woman in what is often assumed to have been a male-only realm.

“You cannot help but love her, mother of a large family, for her professional achievements, her determination to control her own story and her sheer hard work.

“I was delighted when the Trust shared my enthusiasm for a memorial to this remarkable, overlooked resident. It’s high time the one and only Mrs Graham had a headstone and together, we can make that happen.”

To get involved in the campaign, email: info@abneypark.org