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The magnificent woman in her flying machine

Find out about a female pioneer in the early days of flying, with Nick Thorne

The photo of the aviator and the elephant that started a search for more information

When we think of the early days of flight, the tendency is to recall those awe-inspiring men in their flimsy flying machines made of little more than wood and fabric. But it should be remembered that women were also flying pioneers.

A photograph of Mrs Cheridah de Beauvoir Stocks, in TheGenealogist's Image Archive, raised the question about who the first lady pilots on Britain were. The picture shows Mrs Stocks on her aeroplane, meeting Jumbo the Daily Mirror elephant-one of two elephants imported into Britain to publicise the newspaper. This intriguing picture of perhaps the first Jumbo on the runway, was the starting point for researchers at TheGenealogist to discover more about this intrepid young lady's identity.

Cheridah was born Cheridah Annie Ernst on 6 November 1887 in Evercreech, Somerset, the daughter of magistrate and landowner Henry Ernst, and his wife Annie (nee Waring).

In the 1891 census, we can see that Cheridah's family were slightly unconventional – while Cheridah was a child in her third year, and her mother was just 30 years old, her father was at the time 63.

Cheridah was a magistrate's daughter from Somerset, as this birth record shows

The 1891 census shows the age gap between Cheridah's parents

By the 1901 census, the young Cheridah was listed as a guest at the swanky Hotel Metropole on Northumberland Avenue, London with her sister Bessie and her mother, who, was by now, widowed. In a remarkable coincidence this hotel was at one time the base for the Aero Club, whose members shared a passion with the grown-up Cheridah.

When Cheridah was 18, in 1909, she got married to David de Beauvoir Stocks in London. From the indexes on The Genealogist, we can see that the wedding was registered in the smart district of St George Hanover square.

Hotel guest: the 1901 census lists Cheridah's location as a swish London hotel

This marriage index tells us that Cheridah married in her teens

SUBMARINE TRAGEDY

Her husband David, was a naval officer. Sadly, after less than nine years of marriage, Commander Stocks died on 31 January 1918. His submarine, HMS K4, was lost in an accident during the night-time fleet exercises that became known as the Battle of May Island. The K4 was attached to the 13th Submarine Flotilla, and while attempting to avoid a collision with K3, she became the victim of collisions with K6 and K7. HMS K4 was lost with all hands.

David tragically died during World War 1 after just nine years of marriage

A search of the indexes of World War 1 deaths on The Genealogist finds Commander Stock's death.

In the years before World War 1 and this tragedy, Cheridah Stocks made a name for herself by becoming an aviator. The photograph of the glamorous lady aviator with the Daily Mirror's young elephant was obviously a publicity shot designed to catch the public's eye. A search of The Genealogist's occupation collection finds this pioneering woman flyer within the pilots' records.

EXHILARATING PAST-TIME

Many of the early female pilots were from the strata of society that could easily afford their exhilarating new past-time, and Cheridah was no exception. She trained at Grahame-White flying school at Hendon and became only the second British woman to be awarded her Royal Aero Club aviator's certificate – following fellow British woman Hilda Hewlett. It was on 7 November 1911 that Cheridah Stocks achieved this milestone, passing her test using a Farman biplane at Hendon. At the time, she was only 24.

Cheridah made her name as a pilot and occupational records can tell us more about this

The inspiring lady pilot then became a regular competitor at the various air meets and races at Hendon, often flying her  Bleriot monoplane, or co flying with male friends in other aeroplanes. It was whilst airborne with one of her fellow pilots that the incident which would bring the end of her flying career occurred.

In 1913, just two years after she had obtained her prized aviator's certificate, she was flying with pilot Sydney Pickles when their plane spun out of control. The pair crashed-landed, with Pickles smashing up his leg. A seriously injured Cheridah Stocks was taken to the Central London Sick Asylum, where she remained unconscious for several days – her predicament being followed by the general public in the newspapers.

ANTHROPOLOGY

When she finally recovered, Cheridah was paralysed down her right hand side. Flying was no longer an option for her, although she remained interested in aviation for the rest of her life. She now forged a new career as an anthropologist, going on to study at Oxford in the 1920s, where she gained a Bsc in Social Anthropology. This trailblazing woman died on 1 May 1971 in Northampton, aged 83.

From a picture found on TheGenealogist's fascinating Image Archive and then using the birth, marriages and death records, plus census and occupational collections on the site, we were easily able to trace this pioneering female aviator and to discover that she effectively gained her 'wings' in 1911, when she was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Aviator Certificate number 153. TheGenealogists's powerful keyword search allows researchers to easily build their ancestors' stories using the rich resources found on the website, simply by specifying a few key words to refine their results.