Miss Winifred Spooner, Aviatrix
DescriptionMiss Winifred Evelyn Spooner, a highly accomplished pilot and navigator was a resident of Wokingham.
She was the only women in the country to earn a living as personal pilot to an owner of private aeroplanes and manage his private airfield. She was the first woman to compete in the King’s Cup Air Race and win the Siddeley Trophy; the winner of the Harman Trophy for being the world’s outstanding aviatrix; the first woman to compete in the Challenge International de Tourisme; holder of the Trophy of the International League of Aviators; holder of a special commemorative medal presented on behalf of Mussolini; first holder of the Imperial Tobacco Company Trophy; first in the light aircraft contest in Round Europe Contest, and organiser of the first ever Night Flying Pageant to be held in the country.
Winnie was born on the 11th of September 1900 at Woolwich in Kent, the only daughter of Major Walter Boulton Spooner and Annie whom he married in 1891. She had four brothers.
Winnie’s flying career began with flying lessons at the London Aeroplane Club, a private aerodrome in Stag Lane in Edgware, London. Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo to India and Australia graduated from the same club. Winnie quickly obtained her commercial pilot’s licence and then purchased a De Havilland Cirrus Moth aircraft.
In 1930 she was elected to the membership of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire.
Winnie’s brothers, Frank and Hugh (known as Tony) leased some farmland and stables near Folly Court in Wokingham where they schooled and sold polo ponies, hunters and steeplechasers. Winnie built a wooden hanger for her Moth in an adjacent field. Winnie lived with her brothers and Frank’s daughter, Vivian at No. 4 South Drive in Wokingham.
Winnie provided an Air Taxi Service which became very successful and she moved to Scott’s Farm, near the junction of Northway and Chestnut Avenue.
Winnie flew all over the world in competitions and various other enterprises, winning many trophies as previously mentioned. In 1929 she received the annual Harman Trophy for being the world’s outstanding aviatrix.
In 1931 Winnie took part with a co-pilot in a long distance flight from Croydon to Cape Town and her aeroplane crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The aeroplane made mostly of wood floated to the surface and they were able to climb onto it. Winnie decided to swim ashore to get help not realising that it was over two miles away. In recognition of her epic swim the Mayor and Corporation of Wokingham gave her a Civic Reception and she was driven to the Town Hall on a fire engine.
Winnie later ran a private airfield at Radcliffe Hall, north of Leicester owned by Sir Lindsay Everard M.P. for Melton Mowbray and a successful brewer in Leicestershire.
Winnie died on the 13th January 1933 as a result of getting pneumonia. A large number of tributes were given best summarised C G Grey, Editor of Aeroplane, “For several years she has been recognised as the best woman pilot in this or any other country.”
A more detailed account of Winnie is available in “Miss Winifred Spooner, Aviatrix” by Jim Bell which can be obtained from the Wokingham Town Hall Information Centre and Wokingham Library.
Source"Miss Winifred Spooner, Aviatrix" by Jim Bell
“Miss Winifred Spooner, Aviatrix,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed December 7, 2019, https://wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0307.