1) George Graham
I’m open to informed contradiction on this, but I believe the first manned flight over The Ridgeway took place on July 16th 1824 at around 19:45. It was the first perhaps the only entirely successful flight of an accident-prone aeronaut, George Graham. The earliest balloonists had used hydrogen, hot air or lethal combinations of the two. The chief disadvantage of Hydrogen was the cost, a disadvantage overcome by Charles Green who pioneered the use of coal gas: a mixture of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide that was one sixth the price of hydrogen. (As Green’s first flight marked the coronation of George IV, one could contrive quite an intricate political allegory here.)
Coal gas may have been one-sixth the price of pure hydrogen but it was also seven or eight times the weight. George Graham tended to leave his passengers behind or crash his balloons because he overestimated the lifting power of coal gas. On his first attempt, a disappointed audience rioted. Despite clogged gas mains and the wrong sort of clouds, Graham persevered. During Bath Race Week in 1824, he ascended in his new silk balloon from Sydney Gardens for the benefit of the Bath General Hospital. At 18:30 with his assistant Mr J Adams he lifted off faultlessly, flew 50 miles in an hour and a half and landed within 5 miles of Ramsbury. To do this, he had to overfly the Ridgeway.
My source Up, Up and Away An account of ballooning in and around Bristol and Bath 1784 – 1999 written by John Penny for the Bristol Branch of the Historical Association, does not say exactly where he landed; local historians in Ramsbury may know. Neither does a monograph on Bristol and Bath ballooning prove that no one made an earlier flight from somewhere else. Anyone who knows is invited, as usual, to add to the sum of exact information by writing in.
2) Colonel Fitzpatrick
My speculation in the Autumn 2006 Newsletter about the first balloon flight over The Ridgeway was admittedly open to refutation. I may have started to refute it myself: it depends which way the wind was blowing when Colonel Fitzpatrick, Lord Ossory’s brother, ascended from Oxford.
Horace Walpole, who rather disapproved of balloonation and airgonauts, accounting balloons “a mere job for getting money from gaping fools” and censuring Lunardi for risking the life of his cat on a voyage even if he had “every right to venture his own neck”, mentions this trip in a letter dated June 21st 1785. “The vessel not being potent enough for two, the Colonel went alone, had a brush with a high hill in his descent, but landed safe about fifteen miles from the University.” So, was he wafted to the high hills of the Chilterns, the Downs or, so far as this society is concerned, in the wrong direction entirely? Does any member, local historian, “airgonaut”, Horry Walpole fan actually know?
Anyhow, I’m glad a colonel, not a cat was in peril.
3) James Sadler
Anyone who edits a club newsletter welcomes proof that he is not bombinating in a vacuum so it was reassuring to be sent an e-mail from a descendant of George Graham the balloonist whose Ridgeway over flight was described in Issue 74 (see above). I was also told about the plaque to the Oxford aeronaut, James Sadler, the first Englishman to rise in a balloon. He ascended from Merton Fields, but landed at Woodeaton, short of the Ridgeway. So Colonel Fitzpatrick, with a fair breeze may still have been the first person to see the Ridgeway from the air.