Humphrey Woodspring was a British space-travel pioneer who conducted the first rocket experiments of the Edwardian era. Woodspring was raised in Barnsley and apprenticed as a carpenter in his father’s furniture manufacturer’s company, finally taking it over in 1903 at the age of thirty-one. That same year, Woodspring paid an enlightening visit to the cinema tent at the county fair which included a screening of the early French science-fiction film Un voyage en fusée pour visiter les dames grandes bosomed sur la surface de la lune (A trip by rocket ship to visit the well endowed ladies on the surface of the moon). Soon after he placed an advertisement in the Barnsley Echo which stated that Woodspring and Sons would henceforth dedicate itself to pursuing excellence in the twin fields of space exploration and home furnishings.

Seven years later, Woodspring was satisfied that he had finally constructed a rocket ship sturdy enough to carry a human being, a comfortable armchair, a cup of cocoa, and a small library. A flyer for Woodspring's 1910 demonstrationHe announced to the public that the launch would take place next to the bowling green at Cudworth Park on the 1st of August 1910, and a large crowd duly assembled on that date. Woodspring began the programme by delivering a lecture on the physics of the rocket, and followed this with a demonstration of the launch, and a detailed commentary on the rocket’s path as it blasted out of the Earth’s orbit. After inviting the audience to ask any questions they might have, he was soon forced to concede that he was in fact supposed to have been inside the rocket during take-off and had forgotten amidst all the excitement. Humiliated, his only consolation was an intellectual victory over an eight-year old child who had taunted him with the suggestion that his cocoa would be getting cold, instructing the young brat that in the vacuum of space his cocoa would remain warm indefinitely.

Undeterred, Woodspring set about building a new design, which could be ignited from the inside through the use of a long pipe. His plan was to suffer a setback in the form of the British Explosives Act of 1912, which rendered illegal the launching of rockets on British soil, and dampened the ambitions of many an aspiring British astronaut. Incandescent with rage, Woodspring drove his improved design to London in the back of a company truck and launched a vocal protest on the cobbles of Whitehall, just yards from 10 Downing Street. His ejaculations drew the attention of Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Campbell, who appeared publicly outside his residence to announce that Woodspring was guilty of the upmost treason, and ought to go home and take his toys with him, like a good little Northener. Woodspring responded with an impressive show of patriotic defiance, taking one final puff on his pipe before reaching out of the window and launching the rocket and himself into space to enthusiastic applause from onlookers, and much grumbling from passing Hansom cab drivers.

Humiliated by this slight, Campbell-Campbell ordered Scotland Yard to send a squad of detectives to arrest him, but after several minutes of inspecting first the ground on which the rocket had launched, and then the sky through which it had forcefully exited, they concluded that this would be somewhat difficult. Campbell-Campbell immediately ordered the passing of the British Criminal Justice Act of 1913 which allowed for serious offenders to be launched into space, and then pronounced Woodspring to be a criminal of the most notorious kind, stating that he’d got exactly what he deserved. (Campbell-Campbell later appeared to have a change of heart regarding space travel, establishing the British Space Programme, and channelling a large chunk of taxpayer’s money into a project to build the first Prime-Ministerial rocket ship. Anecdotal evidence suggests this about-turn may have been inspired by a showcase of French science-fiction cinema which the Minister for Culture had invited him to attend.)

The whereabouts of Humphrey Woodspring remain unknown, but his original unmanned rocket ship is still in graceful orbit around our Earth. It wasn’t until several years later that his contribution to space travel was fully appreciated, and in 1954 the government repealed the Explosives Act of 1912, replacing it with the Humphrey Woodspring Act which endowed his original craft with the status of Grade II listed vehicle, and required that it be furnished with a fresh mug of cocoa every year in the event that he should ever return to collect it. The British government is currently locked in a bitter dispute with the International Space Station over whether or not this should be part of the official ISS remit.