Stokes Croft balloon goes up

We came across this posted on Flickr by Paul Townsend

First Balloon Ascent from Bristol

The ascent from Stoke’s Croft, 24 September 1810

The crowds flocked into Bristol to witness the flight. The report in Felix Farley‘s Bristol Journal recorded how … ‘the crowd continued to increase, till the adjoining gardens, fields, and hills seemed one forest of people; arid all the windows, roofs, and the very trees, in the immediate neighbourhood, were covered with spectators.’

Sadler's balloon flightThe same report also describes in some detail the apparatus used to prepare the hydrogen with which the balloon was filled. This operation involved the familiar reaction between sulphuric acid and iron filings, but on a large scale — two and a half tons of filings were used on this occasion.

The same report also described the balloon: ‘This magnificent machine, the same in which Mr. Sadler ascended at Oxford, was made of silk, glazed or painted in ribs of green and light purple; it was about thirty yards in circumference, and the middle was enveloped by a circle, inscribed in letters of gold — Right Hon. Win. Windbam Grenville, Baro de Wotton, Cancel. Univers. Oxon.’

A watercolour of the balloon is in the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. On the back of the drawing is written ‘Sketch by W. Edkins of the Ascent of Sadler’s Balloon from Bristol. Sadler was accompanied by Mr. Win. Clayfield. My father painted the banner held by Sadler in his Ascent. Win. Edkins Jnr.’

The fresh north-north.easterly wind carried the balloon over Leigh Down, where the acronauts dropped by parachute a small basket containing a cat. It was retrieved by a lime-burner and passed into the hands of a local doctor who appropriately christened it ‘Balloon.

They shortly passed over the coast, and recorded that as they neared Cardiff they drank the health of ‘Col. GORE and the Bristol Volunteers’. (The Volunteers had controlled the crowd while the preparations for the ascent were being made, allowing them to take place without hindrance). The balloon ‘Descended so low as to hear the shouts of the people, and the breakers between Barry and Scily Islands. (A typographic error, Sully was intended.) Fearing the main land could not be reached, and a current of air impelling the Balloon towards the sea, more ballast was thrown out, in doing which, Mr. SADLER lost his hat.’

The balloon continued its drift to mid-channel, but Sadler and Clayfield were able to check the descent by releasing a quantity of ballast. They recorded that as they neared the coast of Devon they drank ‘To all absent friends’; about half an hour later, off the small town of Linton, they again had to attempt to check the balloon’s descent.

They ‘threw out everything that could be parted with, including a great-coat, a valuable barometer, a thermometer, a speaking-trumpet, the grapling iron, — and even part of the interior covering of the Car, in the hope of reaching the main land about Barnstaple; but, owing to the exhaustion of the gas, the Balloon would not rise sufficiently . . .’ and they landed in the sea, about four miles from the land. Fortunately the event had been seen from the shore and a boat was launched immediately. It took an hour to reach them, and another two hours to completely deflate and secure the balloon.

The rescuers and rescued reached Linton at nine o’clock. An eventful day.

More details of the ascent, and the prospect of a riot on Stokes Croft when the flight was nearly cancelled, can be found in The Man With His Head in the Clouds: James Sadler, The First Englishman to Fly by Richard Smith, 2014.

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