Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Balloon Stone

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Loretta reports:

From Last Night’s Scandal:
“There it is,” he said.
      As they neared, she saw the metal plaque set into the stone.
      “A rock,” she said.  “You’ve stopped the carriage and taken me to see a rock.”
      “It’s the Balloon Stone,” he said.  “The first balloon ascent in England landed here.”
      “Did it, really?”
Yes, really.*  I can’t make these things up.

"It was not until almost a year after the invention of the balloon that the English were convinced of man's conquest of the air. A number of attempts were made but they turned out so badly that people were skeptical of the craze for flying which had swept over France.

"On September 15,1784, Vincent Lunardi, a young Italian, demonstrated the success of his French predecessors before a great multitude in London including the Prince of Wales and many eminent statesmen. In a hydrogen balloon, brightly decorated, Lunardi ascended with a dog, a cat, and a pigeon, and traveled 24 miles. "

This quotation is from the Fiddlers Green website, where you'll find lots of illustrations, more information about Lunardi and his balloons--and where you can even buy a paper model of the balloon.   

*There's more about Lunardi here, where you'll also learn why Peregrine says, "Actually, there's a prior claim."

The British Museum site provides more pictures.

As to the Balloon Stone...

“Midway between the hamlets of High Cross and Collier's End, at the second of the two left-hand turnings sign-posted for  'Rowney Abbey and the Mundens,' is the other hamlet of Standon Green End—if the two cottages and one farmhouse in a by-lane may so be dignified. Some three hundred yards along this lane, in the centre of a meadow, stands the singular monument known in all the country round about as the 'Balloon Stone,' a rough block of sandstone, surrounded by an iron railing, placed here to record the alighting on this spot of the first balloon that ever ascended in England. Tradition still tells of the terror that seized the rustics when they saw 'a summat' dropping out of the sky, and how they fled for their lives.

“On lifting a hinged plate, the astonishing facts of this antique aeronautical adventure may be found duly set out in an amusingly grandiloquent inscription, engraved on a bronze tablet let into the upper part of the stone—"

From The Cambridge, Ely, and King's Lynn Road, by Charles G. Harper.  The information about the Balloon Stone is here, along with the inscription, which I quoted in my book.

As these photos demonstrate, the Stone is still there.  You can even read the plaque Olivia read aloud to Peregrine.

Above left:  The English balloon and appendages in which Mr. Lunardi ascended into the atmosphere from the artillery ground, Sepr. 15, 1784

Below right: This ticket will admit one person into the ... on the day of Mr. Lunardi's ascension, price three shillings

Both illustrations are courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  Clicking on the picture titles will bring you to their respective information pages, where you can find large scale versions.


belaine58 said...

I love this stuff! Evidently, I'm a nerdy history girl myself. Write on, ladies!

Finegan Antiques said...

Up Up and away! I love ballooning. It is so peaceful and serene. I can well imagine what the country folk thought when they saw the balloon landing. Simply terrified.


Amy said...

Woot! When I read about this in your book, I didn't know it was real. Awesome that it is. Thanks for sharing your research!

ILoveVersailles said...

Ballooning must have been so exhillerating to these first brave souls. Now we're so jaded by air travel, but how glorious to be the first people to fly over the countryside.

Mirella Patzer said...

I can imagine how the first balooning pioneers must have felt at such heights under the great blue sky. I must have taken great courage. Thanks for sharing.

Charles said...

I had a ride in a balloon once. I loved it. When we touched down the pilot gave us a brief history of ballooning. And then it hit me: that day was the 210th anniversary of the first balloon flight. How cool was that.

LorettaChase said...

I am fine with flying in an airplane, but my powerful fear of heights means I can only admire those who'll travel in balloons. And I do agree that it must have taken great courage to be among the pioneers of ballooning. I think it's a pretty amazing thing to do now--back then, how extraordinary, to look down on the world from the sky. Another reason I loved the Balloon Stone Story was that Lunardi was another Intrepid Italian, like Giovanni Belzoni, the remarkable Regency-era explorer of Egypt. Charles, that was extremely cool.

Anonymous said...

I Like this story very much. My daughter won a balloonflight last year and the 1 of August she and my man went, to as much as 1 kilometer height. He doesn't like heights either (i even less), but he found it so exceptionally fantastic.

And two days later this was on the Dutch TV : http://nos.nl/video/popup/176300-luchtballonnen-landen-op-snelweg.html?hasFlash=true&

... luckily after they wher in the air !

I like your blog very much, please keep the future full of history-news!

LorettaChase said...

Marleen, what a wonderful opportunity. I'm guessing that the balloon in the news went down unexpectedly or encountered some other problem? In any case, I'm glad, too, it happened before your daughter's flight. How wonderful that you discovered our blog--and yes, we'll keep bringing you news from the past!

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