Jessy Blackburn

Jessy Blackburn

1894 - 1995
Jessy was born 20th April 1894 and christened Tryphena Jessy Thompson the youngest daughter of Wesley and Catherine. She became the first woman to fly a monoplane and took part in the spectacular King's Cup in 1922 and 1928. She celebrated her 100th birthday at The Grand Hotel and died in St Margaret's Nursing Home, Eastbourne.


Jessy was born 20th  April 1894 and christened Tryphena Jessy Thompson the youngest daughter of Wesley and Catherine. Just before her fourth birthday her parents died, leaving her in the care of firstly Clarence, her much older brother, and then Eugenie once she married.  At 16 Jessy was sent to Finishing school, the Ecole d’Etrangers in Brussels. She met her future husband Robert in Paris in 1912, marrying him in 1914.

During the first 10 years of marriage Jessy had four children two boys and two girls and travelled extensively with Robert.  She also has her personal sadness, one son had to be nursed for 2 years gravely ill with Tuberculosis and another died in 1935 at the age of 16, being knocked off his bicycle by a car while away at school.

Jessy and Robert divorced in 1936 after 23 years of marriage and married twice more: Group Captain Jack Noakes  one of the founding members of the RAF and then to Stanley Barton a farmer. Nether marriage lasted very long.

She moved to Eastbourne where she celebrated her 100th birthday at the Grand Hotel  and died 14th May 1995 in St Margaret’s Nursing Home Upper Carlisle Rd. Eastbourne.


Jessy loved flying and she was in her element in the aviation world. She learnt to fly soon after marriage, and with her vivacious personality became a valued member of her husband’s team. She acted as a de facto ambassador on all the trips abroad with Robert running the business side.

With the help of Jessy’s legacy in 1914, the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor car Company was created, opening a factory at Roundhay Leeds.  Jessy also bought their first house Gledhow Lodge Leeds and Bowcliffe Hall Bramham Wetherby which became ‘The’ meeting place  for aircraft pioneers, RAF officials and national politicians with an inner circle including Amy Johnson, Lord Northcliffe, Louise Bleriot, Sir Sefton Brancker and Winston Churchill.

Jessy was the first woman to fly a monoplane and also took part in the Kings Cup in 1922 and 1928.  These air races were spectacular 2 day events, with around 40 flying machines racing over courses stretching 1,000miles across Britain.

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I felt that though she’d had a strange upbringing being moved around between relatives and shipped off to Switzerland, at the time it wasn’t unusual. It probably made her quite resilient and strong headed. She wasn’t one to sit in the back and just have children, because she became an entrepreneur and insisted on flying which at the time was not something that a woman did. Just imagine flying in a cumbersome outfit like a riding habit, long skirts, lace blouse and wool jacket! Her strong character came through.

Hilary Richards


1: The Times July 1995

2: Independent June 1995

3: Leeds Engine Builders Sunday 2nd April 2017

4: Forgotten Yorkshire Roundhay Park

5: Graces Blackburn aeroplane and motor co.

6: Yorkshire Life Bowcliffe Hall Wetherby.

7: www.BowcliffeHall

8: National Archives Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.

9: Herald local paper archives.

Photographs reproduced with kind permission of Robert Blackburn Collection



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