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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 12:16 UK
Lilian Bland remembered
Lilian Bland
Lillian Bland prepares to take to the air

The first woman in the world to build and fly her own plane is being celebrated in Cornwall.

Lilian Bland named her plane the Mayfly as in "may fly, may not fly" - and took to the air a hundred years ago this month in Northern Ireland.

This remarkable woman is buried in Sennen after moving to Cornwall.

Lilian had a wonderful time living in west Cornwall where, in her own words, she gambled, drank and painted.

Lilian Bland
Today Lilian Bland is remembered fondly in west Cornwall where she lived for many years

Lilian Bland's life reads like a Girl's Own Adventure.

She was a sports photographer and journalist. Lilian took some wonderful photos of hunting in action - capturing as one critic said 'muscle movements in horses unseen by the human eye'.

Lilian tried to ride in the Grand National but was refused because she was a woman and she became a frontier pioneer in Canada.

Without doubt her most magnificent achievement was the Mayfly.

In 1910 men might cavort in the sky but very few women did and none of them had built their own plane.

Lilian Bland's great niece Imogen Holmes lives at Ponsonooth near Penryn.

Imogen says: "She seemed to be top of her tree in everything she did. She was always very successful. She had enormous energy. We all had to behave when she was around."

The young Lilian Bland had been inspired by the Frenchman Bleriot flying the Channel in 1909 and so designed and built the Mayfly.

She was so keen to fly that she came over to England to pick up the engine and took it a back on the train with her.

Once home in Ireland, there was no petrol tank so she used an empty whisky bottle and her aunt's ear trumpet.

Imogen says: "When she flew it, it actually flew for 30 yards."

It was barely longer than a cricket pitch but only a little short of the distance Orville Wright flew on his first flight in 1903.

Lilian's father was so worried about the dangers that he offered her a car if she gave up flying and Lilian jumped at the chance, in the process becoming a car dealer as well.

Her family disapproved of what they saw as 'unladylike' jobs. Lilian accepted an offer of marriage from a cousin in Canada. She helped him to establish a farm on virgin land near Vancouver.

Lilian retired to Cornwall in 1955 where many people still remember her to this day.

Cornwall's History of the World
09 Mar 10 |  History



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