Balloonists at the Turn of the 18th & 19th Century, The English Flights

James Sadler in a Balloon above Oxford

The Tuscan Vincent Lunardi made the first balloon ascent in England. His first flight took place from the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Park at Moorfields, on September 15, 1784. The Prince of Wales, Lord North, Pitt, Fox, Burke, the lovely Duchess of Devonshire, other distinguished personages, and a crowd of more than 150,000 witnessed the ascent.

James Sadler

James Sadler (1753–1828), the first English balloonist, was the second man to make a balloon ascent in England. Sadler made his first ascent on 4 October 1784 when he "ascended into the atmosphere" from Christ Church Meadow in Oxford. The balloon was estimated to have risen to a height of 3600 feet. It landed six miles away near Wood Eaton. In the next year, his second ascent reached Aylesbury after about twenty minutes.

The exciting events in England occurred less than a year after the very first manned balloon flight took place in France. On November 21st, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes spent twenty-five minutes aloft in a balloon. It was created by the inventive Montgolfier brothers, Joseph (1740-1810) and Jacques Etienne (1745-1799) de Montgolfier. The balloon traveled over 5 and 1/2 miles at an altitude of about 328 feet (100 meters). The spherical balloon was blue and its many decorations included the golden face of the sun god Apollo. These experimental balloonist were known as an aeronauts.

Aeronaut Sadler made numerous ascents and experienced a number of adventures, including two ascents that ended in a body of water--once in the Bristol Channel and once in the Irish Sea. Articles detailing his exploits appeared in period publications like The Gentleman's Magazine. James Sadler survived his adventures to die peacefully in his bed in 1828, at the age of seventy-five.

Some of Sadler's Balloon Ascents

  • 7th July 1810 ascent at Oxford, on the occasion of the installation of Lord Grenville as Chancellor of the University
  • September 1810 ascent from Bristol with chemist William Clayfield. Their balloon landed in Bristol Channel, four miles off the Somerset coast, near Combe Martin. Fortunately the sea was calm, and after floating for an hour they were picked up by a boat.
  • August 29, 1811 During a flight from Hackney, Middlesex, to East Thorpe, Essex, which is five miles from Colchester, Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy (1786-1851), who accompanied Sadler on this ascent, took readings with a watch, barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, electrometer, mariner’s compass, and a needle compass; he also performed experiments with bottles of champagne. He published the diary he kept during the flight the same year. A scrapbook kept by Beaufoy filled with newspaper articles and broadsheets about balloon ascents is at Princeton.
  • October 7th, 1811 during a flight accompanied by a Mr. Burcham, Sadler set a speed record as a gale swept their balloon over 100 miles in one hour and twenty minutes.
  • October 1, 1812 ascended from Belvedere House, Drumcondra in Ireland in an attempt to cross the Irish sea in which he narrowly escaped drowning.
  • 1814 opened the festivities of the Grand Jubilee in London with an ascent and dropped favors and programs to the thrilled crowd below

Charles Green

Mr. Charles Green, Aeronaut
G.P.Harding, F.S. advisam delt. et fecit. Day & Hague, Lithrs to the Queen. Pubd. July 9th 1839, by G.P.Harding, Hercules Buildings, Lambeth.
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Charles Green (1785-1870) experimented with hydrogen gas and coal gas balloons. Coal gas was cheaper than hydrogen and also safer. He made an ascent from St. James Park, London, in a balloon filled with coal gas on 19th July, 1821 as part of the coronation festivities of George IV. This was the first use of coal gas for a manned flight. Green made over 200 ascents over the next twenty-five years in various balloons including his "Great Nassau," which was recorded in a contemporary watercolor. He developed the drag line, a rope attached to the basket dropped to the ground at low altitude, used to slow the speed of ascending or descending. On 7th November, 1836, Green, accompanied by the Englishman Robert Hollond and the Irish Thomas Monck Mason, ascended from Vauxhall Gardens, London and traveled to Weilburg, Germany, a distance of 480 miles (772 km) in 18 hours, in a huge balloon christened "The Royal Vauxhall". This set an English long-distance ballooning record not broken until 1907. When Green retired in 1852, he had taken part in over 500 flights.

Find out more about Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of the Development of Hot-Air Balloons and Airships by David Owen

Georgette Heyer included a balloon ascent in her novel Frederica

Read about the forgotten scientist who bridges the work of Newton and Einstein-- Emilie du Châtelet in the David Bodanis book Passionate Minds.

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