Ballomania hits Norfolk

A conversation in The Chequers pub in Wimbotsham alerted my attention to the fact that Charles Green, balloonist extraordinaire, crash-landed nearby in 1835. The landing was reported in a contemporary newspaper.[1]

Green lands balloon Wimbotsham Downham Market

Balloon launches and landings attracted vast crowds, many of them a little the worse for drink. On 21st June 1826 Green took to the skies in his balloon from the gasworks at King’s Lynn watched by 15,000 spectators, and came down at Southery, near Downham Market.[2]

But not everyone was a fan. Author Charles Dickens loathed balloons, had nightmares about them and thought ballooning and popular ‘ballomania’ absurd.[3]

Charles Green (1785–1870) was a showman balloonist. His first aeronautical ascent was from Green Park, London, on 19 July 1821 to mark the coronation of King George IV. The occasion was the first time anyone had ascended with a balloon filled with carburetted hydrogen (coal gas).[4] After this he made over 500 ascents, many of them over Norfolk. Thank goodness none of his East Anglian jaunts were quite as uncomfortable as his 1834 encounter with the River Tyne, reported with different slants on Green’s bravery or otherwise in two contemporary newspapers [5],[6]

Green was also instrumental in testing out a new invention, the aneroid barometer. On 4th September 1849 Green took to the air in his balloon from the Cavalry Barracks, Norwich, accompanied by Mr. Rush, of Elsenham Hall, Essex, “who was desirous of trying some experiments with a new instrument called an aneroid barometer invented by himself, and the first ever made on the new principle.”  The balloon came down in a field at West Newton.

Other East-Anglia-bound aeronauts were also caught up, like Green, in the showmanship of ballomania, On 27th July 1849 Lieut. Gale, R.N., “of Cremorne celebrity,” made a balloon ascent from the Cellar Gardens, Pockthorpe, Norwich, accompanied by Mr. A. W. Pashley, of Harleston, and Mr. Nevey.  “There was a second car [basket] or fake bottom attached by a rope to the balloon, and when at the altitude of about a mile this was lowered thirty or forty feet.  A rope ladder was fixed to it from a trap door in the car, and by that the gallant aeronaut descended into the lower car, from which he discharged shells and other pyrotechnics.”  The descent was made in a field near Coldham Hall.[7] How extraordinary the sight of those inflated craft and their associated fireworks must have seemed to our forbears, used only to the sight and sounds of birds in the sky.

[1] The Bury & Norwich Post, & East Anglian: Or, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridge, and Ely Intelligencer, Bury Saint Edmunds, Wednesday, September 23, 1835; Issue 2778. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

[2] Mackie, C. Norfolk Annals Vol. 1, 1801-1850 Norwich 1901 p. 257

[3] Holmes, R. Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air London, 2013

[4] G. C. Boase, rev. Julian Lock Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

[5] The Bury & Norwich Post, & East Anglian: Or, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridge, and Ely Intelligencer Bury Saint Edmunds, Wednesday, November 26, 1834; pg. [1]; Issue 2735. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900 [accessed 30th August 2017]

[6] Caledonian Mercury Edinburgh, Monday, November 17, 1834; Issue 17686. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900 [accessed 30th August 2017]

[7] Mackie, C. Norfolk Annals Vol. 1, 1801-1850 Norwich 1901 p. 478