High-flying Hilda

Yesterday morning I joined a small crowd on Vardens Road, SW11, for the unveiling of a Battersea Society plaque honouring Hilda Hewlett.

Hilda who? Only the first British woman to gain a pilot’s licence, back in 1911, aged 47. And an extremely enterprising woman, who opened a flying school in Weybridge with her French business partner, Gustave Blondeau, and later diversified into manufacturing aircraft. This is where the Battersea connection comes in. Hewlett and Blondeau set up aircraft production in premises on Vardens Road. They built monoplanes and biplanes, employing skilled locals in their workshop, until the outbreak of the First World War. Then, with increased demand, they moved production to larger premises in Bedfordshire.

Pauline Vahey
Pauline Vahey at plaque unveiling, 4 Vardens Road SW11, September 19 2015

At the plaque unveiling, Pauline Vahey, from the British Women Pilots’ Association, spoke about the continued importance of celebrating such pioneering role models as Hilda Hewlett, to encourage and inspire girls and young women to pursue careers in aviation and engineering – or simply to consider recreational flying as a possibility.

Hilda’s grand-daughter-in-law, Gail Hewlett, was also at the unveiling. She gave a brief and entertaining overview of this formidable woman’s life, and concluded by saying that if Hilda knew there was a plaque commemorating her she would be amazed – and secretly rather pleased. Gail’s book about Hilda, Old Bird. The Irrepressible Mrs Hewlett, looks to be a cracking read with some great photos. I’m going to have to track down a copy somehow.

and behind the purple pashmina...
and behind the purple pashmina…

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