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British Industrial History

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Hilda B. Hewlett

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Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (17 February 1864 – 21 August 1943) was the first English aviatrix to earn a pilot's licence. She was also a successful early aviation entrepreneur. She created and ran the first flying school in England She also created and managed a successful aircraft manufacturing business which produced more than 800 aeroplanes and employed up to 700 people. She later emigrated to New Zealand.

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was born in London on 17 February 1864 to Louisa Herbert née Hopgood and George William Herbert. Her father was a Church of England vicar. Hilda was one of seven siblings.

As a young woman she attended the National Art Training School in South Kensington. She specialised in three skills which served her well in her later aviation engineering career: woodwork, metalwork, and needlework. Her art was good enough to be exhibited.

When she was 19 she visited Egypt with her parents. Aged 20 she spent a year training as a nurse at a hospital in Berlin. She was an early bicycle and motor car enthusiast and participated in automobile rallies.

She married Maurice Henry Hewlett on 3 January 1888 in St. Peter's Church, Vauxhall, where her father was the first incumbent. The couple had two children, a son, Francis, and a daughter, Pia

1891 She is a visitor at Shaw Hill, Addington, Kent (age 27 born Clapham). With her husband Maurice H. Hewlett (age 30 born Walton on Thames), Legal Antiquary and Barrister. They are staying with his parents Henry G., Civil Service Department, and Emmaline M. Hewlett and their children. [1]

1901 Living at 7 Northwick Terrace, St. Marylebone, London (age 37 born Clapham). With her husband Morris(sic) H. Hewlett (age 40 born Oatlands Park, Surrey), Civil Service, Keeper of Law and Service Records, Barrister at Law, and their daughter Barbara F. G. (age 5 born ). Plus five servants. [2]

Hewlett attended her first aviation meeting at Blackpool in 1909.

In January 1910, in partnership with a French engineer, Gustave Blondeau, she decided to make a start in aviation. They ordered a Henry Farman biplane and under the pseudonym Mrs Grace Bird she travelled to Mourmelon-le-Grand to attend the Farman Flying School. There Blondeau acquired his brevet.

Hewlett returned to England with the Farman biplane (named the Blue Bird with Maeterlinck’s express permission) and, in September 1910, Hewlett and Blondeau established the first flying school in England at the Brooklands motor-racing circuit at Weybridge, Surrey. Many people gained their first experience of flying at the Hewlett and Blondeau school, including Thomas Sopwith. Thirteen pupils graduated from the school in the year and a half it operated and, with a remarkable safety record for the time, there were no accidents.

On 29 August 1911, Hilda Hewlett became the first woman in the UK to earn a pilot's licence when she received certificate No. 122 from the Royal Aero Club after completing the test in her biplane at Brooklands on 18 August. Hewlett also taught her son Francis, to fly; he earned his pilot's certificate, dated 14 November 1911, and went on to have a distinguished military aviation career in both the UK and New Zealand, making him the first military pilot taught to fly by his mother. He earned a Distinguished Service Order in 1915 and rose to the rank of Group Captain RAF, and Air Commodore RNZAF.

Hewlett and Blondeau started an aircraft manufacturing business, Hewlett and Blondeau Limited. They built Farman, Caudron and Hanriot aircraft under licence. The business began at Brooklands, moved to Clapham, London, and finally settled on a 10-acre (40,000 m2) site at Leagrave, Bedfordshire, in June 1914, called Omnia Works.

During the First World War, Hewlett's company manufactured more than 800 military aircraft and employed up to 700 people. After the war the business diversified into making farming equipment, but the factory had closed by the end of October 1920. The site remained unsold until 1926. A road in Luton, Hewlett Road, was named after her in recognition of the importance of the company towards the war effort.

Hewlett had previously spent nine months touring New Zealand, Rarotonga, and the United States, but it wasn't until the factory site was sold that she emigrated to Tauranga, New Zealand. Her son, and daughter and family, were eventually to follow her. Having escaped the ‘three Cs of Europe - crowds, convention, and civilization,’ she enjoyed the outdoor life, especially camping and fishing. Her family gave her the nickname "Old Bird".

In 1931, Hilda Hewlett flew to Jakarta from London en route for New Zealand on a KLM airliner, Oolevaar (Stork), a Fokker FVIIb/3M, becoming the first passenger - male or female - to fly as a through passenger on that route. It took 11 days.

In June 1932 Hewlett was present at the inaugural meeting of the Tauranga Aero and Gliding Club. In July she was elected as the club's first president.

In January 1939, at the opening of the Tauranga airport, Frederick Jones, New Zealand's then Minister of Defence, named a nearby road after Hilda Hewlett and her son Francis, in recognition of their services in pioneering aviation in Tauranga.

Hewlett died 21 August 1943 in Tauranga. Following a service on the railway wharf, she was buried at sea.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1891 Census
  2. 1901 Census