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Campaign to remember pioneering female hot air balloonist

A campaign has been launched for a memorial in Abney Park for a pioneering 19th century balloonist who became the first English woman to fly solo.

The Abney Park Trust and biographer Sharon Wright have joined forces to raise £5,000 for the memorial to Margaret Graham, who currently lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

In 1826, Margaret Graham became the first English woman to fly solo when she ascended in her balloon from Islington in north London aged just 22.

Sharon Wright, author of The Lost History of the Lady Aeronauts, said: “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 Mrs Graham, 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.”

As well as being a pioneer of early female flight, Mrs Graham was a celebrity and intrepid reporter who wrote gripping accounts of her aerial exploits.

More than a century and a half after her death, Stoke Newington stonemason Charlotte Ruse has been asked to create a beautiful hand-carved slate headstone to honour Mrs Graham.

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.

Tom Walker, chair of the Abney Park Trust, added: “Monument restoration and development is a key part of the Trust’s role as a guardian of this magical urban woodland and Magnificent Seven cemetery.”

About Margaret Graham

Born Margaret Watson in Walcot, Bath, in 1804, she was married to chemist and aeronaut George Graham before they settled in London.

She soon became a famous aeronaut in her own right and built an impressive career as a professional pilot over more than three decades, from the late Georgian era through to the mid-Victorian period.

In 1826, Margaret Graham became the first English woman to fly solo when she ascended in her balloon from Islington in north London aged just 22.

She was also an early and outspoken advocate of a woman’s right to fly on equal terms with men.

Graham 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.

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.

Click here to donate to the fundraiser.


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