Lily Cove (1885 to 11th June 1906)


Not far from the parsonage where the Bronte family grew up lies Haworth Cemetery. I’m sure they passed it on their walks to get on the moors. The whole family had died by the time Londoner Lily Cove arrived in the village to do a parachute jump but I’m sure they’ve have gone to see her. She travelled the country performing as a stunt balloonist at fetes and galas. She’d rise up in a harness under a hot air balloon and then parachute down. Aged 21 a jump went wrong and she died near Ponden reservoir. Here I am at her grave just outside Haworth village.


I consumed a sandwich and a coffee in the car before I went looking for her not knowing her headstone was in view all the time. It’s not a big cemetery so soon found her (later I saw an elderly man enter the cemetery and salute the headstone as he walked passed it.) By 1906 Lily was a fairly experienced performer with a giant balloon and had made six jumps from a parachute without problems. She’d been asked by Haworth’s tradesmen’s association to perform at a summer gala held on the West Land Football Field (now a cricket field) to raise money for the district. She arrived in Haworth and lodged at the White Lion Hotel. The next day the balloon was filled with gas from the local gas works but after about six attempts it wouldn’t rise off the ground (it was thought the local gas wasn’t right.) Not wanting to disappoint the large crowd of about 6000 people she said she’d attempt the jump the following week.


The evening of Monday 11th June 1906 was warm and summery, ideal for a balloon event. About 7000 people had assembled in Haworth to see Lily in action. This time the balloon inflated even though it was tethered to the grass. Lily stepped on to the launch platform before taking her seat on the cradle beneath the balloon. At 7.40pm the balloon was released and rose steadily into the air with Lily waving to the crowd with a white handkerchief. She rose high and drifted towards Stanbury (the next village.)


About five minutes later at a height of about 700 feet Lily was ready to jump. Normally she'd detach herself from the cradle and jump, a wire automatically opening the parachute. For some reason she didn't. Somewhere over Ponden reservoir she struggled out of her safety harness and jumped. The parachute opened anyway but Lilly wasn't attached to anything now. She fell, cartwheeling two or three times and plummeted head first into a field. When three local men got to her Lily was still alive and her eyes were wide open. They asked her to speak if she could but heard nothing but breathing which stopped within minutes. Her body was put in the back of trap and pulled by pony back to Haworth where it was laid out in her room at the White Lion Hotel. Death wasn't expected so a coffin had to be quickly manufactured. At 9pm that evening a local doctor examined Lily’s body and found breaks in both legs and severe bleeding caused by a skull fracture.


There was an inquest at Haworth and though the death was up for much debate (including suicide) “death by misadventure” was recorded. Lily’s boss knew her best and said she may have jumped as she had a chronic fear of water and couldn’t swim - if the parachute looked likely to land in Ponden reservoir she’d rather have jumped than drowned. The man who first got to Lily after the jump said that if she'd remained in her parachute she would have lived (it landed a few feet away from her.) The truth died with Lily.


Oddly she wasn't taken back home to London and was buried here where I’m stood after a short service attended by her dad and some friends. The funeral cortege made its way from the Old White Lion Hotel and the whole of Haworth turned out to see her off. The District Nurses Association made a collection which paid for the granite headstone. Who left the flowers on the grave?


Wandering around the cemetery I saw some war graves; the youngest was 18 who was killed in an accident. I did a salute an left.


I've visited another woman who died young in a similar accident and the link is at the foot of the page.