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John Meads 2014 and 2019
'Parachute Joe' Ingram

Kettering Parish Church Rushden Parish Church
St. Mary's Kettering
one of Joe's early conquests
A 1893 sketch of
'Parachute Joe' Ingram
Rushden St. Mary's. Climbed by Joe Ingram in 1893

'Parachute Joe' Ingram was a colourful character who lived in Burton Latimer at the turn of the 19th-20th century. He was born at Oakham in about 1847 and moved around to find employment until settling here in the last years of the 1890s, in Kettering Road. He gained his name by building some 40 feet high scaffolding in the Victoria Grounds, Wellingborough, and offering to give an exhibition of parachuting off of it, using a parachute made out of a huge sheet usally used to cover railway wagons. Happily for Joe, he was prevented from carrying this out by the Deputy Chief Constable.
By 1911 he had moved to Finedon where a he described himself on the census form as "Bricklayer and Inventor. Aerial Hydro and Caloric Inventor" and on another part of the form as "Employed by Bricklaying mainly repairing and Jobbing work and Steeplejack and Lightning Conductor Fixer on Chimney Stacks".

One of his first feats was to climb the steeple of Kettering church which was recalled in this report from the Northampton Mercury dated 11 November 1892: Joseph Ingram, variously known as "Parachute Joe," "Tietan, the Prince of the Air," &c., a man who distinguished himself a year or two ago by ascending the spire of Kettering Church and fetching the weathercock down on his back, was charged with stealing a wood fence, at Great Harrowden, on October 22nd. -- He pleaded guilty, but in defence read a lengthy and exraordinary statement, maintaining that, through injuries he had received in his calling, a little drink upset him, and that when he committed the offence he was drunk, and, therefore insane. -- The plea did not, however, avail him, for the Bench inflicted a fine of £1, or 14 days'.

The accident referred to may well have been this one, reported in the Northampton Mercury 3 August 1889:
ACCIDENTS: On Thursday July 25, a bricklayer named Ingram, better known as "Parachute Joe," whilst at work at the extension of the Victoria Mills, fell from a wall with his head on a heap of bricks, sustaining some severe injuries.

St Wulfram's Church Grantham
St. Wulfram's, Grantham. Climbed barefoot by
Parachute Joe on at least three occasions

UP THE STEEPLE AGAIN - Grantham Journal Saturday 14 January 1890 - On Saturday afternoon the individual known as "Parachute Joe"made a second ascent of the church steeple, this time for the purpose of removing the weather vane, which appeared to be in some need of some alteration. The task was safely carried out in the presence of a large concourse of spectators, who assembled on Market-hill, whilst others viewed the operation from their doorways or windows in different parts of the town. On Monday evening a third ascent was made for the purpose, so it was understood, of preparing the axis on which the vane moves.

Then, in 1893 he had achieved national notoriety when he scaled the spire of Rushden Parish Church without climbing aids. It was reported in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph thus:

A MAD ADVENTURE - "PARACHUTE JOE'S" EXPLOITS - A daring feat has just been performed at Rushden, Northamptonshire. A man named Ingram, known as "Parachute Joe", having obtained possession of the keys of the parish church , was soon afterwards seen on the battlements, and speedily commenced to climb to the top of the lofty spire by means of the stone crockets. A crowd of spectators gathered in the street below. Having reached the weathercock, which he swung round several times, he pulled off his necktie and threw it to the ground. He then turned round, and, placing his back to the masonry, waved both his arms to his horrified audience below. He succeeded in returning safely to the ground, to the relief of all who witnessed the dangerous exploit.

When he died in 1922, one of his obituaries contained the following: "...on Boxing Day, 1893, Ingram made a daring ascent of Grantham Parish Church steeple, climbing by means of the crockets. On reaching the weather vane, he waved his hat to the spectators below, and having tied a coloured handkerchief to the top, he calmly descended. The daring feat was watched with breatlhless attention by a large crowd.... He was refused permission to ascend the spire by the Vicar, the late Canon Glaister, but Ingram and a few friends adopted the successful ruse of getting the tower keys from the clerk ostensibly for the purpose of going up to the oiliers. There he took off his boots and ascended the steeple..."

Joe also claimed to be an inventor as this extract from the Grantham Journal in April 1905 explains:

The celebrated steeplejack, Mr Joseph Ingram of Burton Latimer, near Kettering, who, it will remembered, climbed the steeple of our Parish Church by way of the crockets and affixed a handkerchief to the weather-vane some few years ago, paid a call at The Journal office on Thursday morning to assure us that he was still alive! He has been "killed" by various newspapers quite a dozen times during the last ten years, the most recent occasion being about six weeks ago, in the columns of the Dail Mail. Judging from his appearance, he will be able to withstand the killing experience at least a dozen times, for he is hale and hearty, and as enthusiastic as ever in regard to his scheme for bringing out a reallly practical flying machine. So confident is he of the success of an aeroplane which he has just patented, and in which he asserts he has had a "big hand," that he promises to be flying over Grantham in less than four months' time! "Parachute Joe," as he is known in the profession, is certainly very much alive, and we hope that his confidence in his latest creation may be fully justified.

Joe Ingram gained a certain amount of notoriety through his exploits as a long-distance walker e.g. from Land's End to John O'Groats and London to Land's End and in 1905 we find in the Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle:

"PARACHUTE JOE" AT LUTON - Yet another march on London has commenced. But the invasion on this occasion is not the work of a large party like the Raunds strikers, it is being organised and carried out by one man, Joseph Ingram of Burton Latimer, who is better known as "Parachute Joe," champion steeple-jack of the world. Joe is an remarkable character. For 40 of the 60 years of his life, he has devoted his leisure hours to the study of aerial navigation, and is now marching on London to arouse public interest in his aerial machine. He claims that his ship is an improvement on all existing types, and when he has convinced Londoners of the truth of that assertion, and drawn from them the £1,200 required for the construction of the machine, he will present it to the War Office. On Thursday, Joe arrived in Luton, wet and weary, and called in at the "News" Office to explain his scheme. He intended to lecture on the Market Place, he said, but the weather was against him, so he trekked on. It is stated that the steeple-jack's airship has been favourably noticed by Dr. Barton. (Dr. Francis A. Barton was president of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. His goal was to build an airship less dependant on air bags for lift and more dependant on aeroplane frames.)

In 1899, the Northampton Mercury reported:
OUNDLE - 1000 MILES WALK - J. Ingram, alias "Parachute Joe," who has undertaken to walk 1,000 miles on Northamptonshire roads, arrived here on Monday evening at six o'clock and left at 6.15 en route for Burton Latimer.

The Northampton Chronicle and Echo reported on 21 November 1905: "Professor " Ingram of Burton Latimer, who started his thousand mile walk as a vegetarian and total abstainer at Kettering early this morning, is not the only man on the road at present trying to break records of pedestrianism. J. Green, a long-distance walking champion, is staying in Northampton for a few days , preparatory to going to London. His next performance is to do 4,000 miles in 2,000 hours, and his ambition is to beat Buckler's records. Green was noted in the seventies and the eighties for long distance walking, many of his performances being on behalf of charities , which have benefited to the extent of over £200.

Joe made sure that he called in at the local newspaper offices en-route to keep them informed of his progress and it is from some these papers that we get our information, some of it tongue-in-cheek like the following:

Northampton Chronicle & Echo 20 November 1905: "PROFESSOR INGRAM", the Burton Latimer celebrity who wound up his walk of over 2,000 miles at Northampton on Saturday afternoon, claims to have beaten the record of E.P.Watson, against whom he was walking, by abour four days. Ingram set out from Kettering on September 25, and he says that he was delayed 72 hours "by unwarrantable police action, but" (he adds) "there were no convictions." This is satisfactory, because it would certainly be hard luck, when walking against time, to be detained 14 days for instance, within the gloomy portals of an establishment, normally spoken of in Northampton as "the Mounts."
Ingram, by the way, commences his test of vegetarianism and teetotalism in a thousand-mile walk which he commences tomorrow, and is to spend his evenings lecturing upon his experiences. He wishes it to be known that he is not walking for a wager; his reward comes in the material which hw finds for his lectures -- and, I presume, in the collection which follows.

Also in 1905, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent reported:
2000 MILES WALK - On Thursday at 10am Mr. Joseph Ingram, otherwise known as "Parachute Joe" of Burton Latimer, reported himself at our offices. He stated that he is seeking to beat Weston's world record of 2000 miles walking on turnpike roads. He has already covered 1,737 and has time in hand, and will probably finish at the Nelson Column in London on Monday. He is 57 years of age, and bandaged up like a racehorse. Before starting training for the event, he weighed 11 stone 12, and now only scales 9 1/2.

Above left,The First and Last Refreshment House in England, Land's End, as Joe Ingram would have found it on his visits.
Above right is the John O'Groats Hotel around about the same time. These views are very different today.

On 27 April 1906 the Bedfordshire Times and Independent reported: Joe Ingram, the well known steeplejack, of Burton Latimer, who this year, on Feb. 7th,at 2 p.m., left Hyde Park Park corner, London, to walk 3,550 miles by July 28th, 12 mid-day, called at this office on Thursday. Ingram is well able to accomplish this great walk. He has been delayed 17 days by his son's illness, and the wintry weather in Scotland. However, he arrived at John O'Groats on March 31st, at 7.30 pm., and left John O'Groats Hotel on April 1st at 10.30 a.m. travelling south by Inverness, Glasgow, etc. He crossed Scotland in under 300 hours. On arriving at our office to report, he had walked 1,886 miles. He is en-route to Land's End via London, Brighton etc. Ingram will visit Bedford again in less than a month's time. He has just 39 1/2 miles to walk daily for the next 95 days, or 280 miles per week. His age is 58 on June 1st 1906. He looks as fit as a fiddle, is as brown as a berry, and has a clear blue eye, which is worth all the characters in the world to him.

Sadly, Joe's inventions literally never got off the ground, his health, mental and physical, deteriorated over the years until he died in Northampton Poor Law Infirmary in January 1922 aged 72 years.

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