Alnwick, Family History Society

Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.
Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.

The first meeting this autumn was a talk by Jennifer D’Alton, a director of the British Balloon Museum, on the subject of Ballooning Families.

The first family to make a significant contribution to ballooning were the French brothers Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier, from Annonay. They were from a paper manufacturing dynasty and had 14 siblings.

It was while watching their mother’s chemise drying by a range when they observed it inflated with hot air. This inspired them in December 1782 to construct a balloon envelope from taffeta and paper, with a fire of straw and paper hung underneath.

Their first test flight took place in June, 1783. By September they had launched an unmanned balloon with a duck, sheep and rooster on board at Versailles in front of Louis XVI.

The balloon travelled eight miles and reached a height of 1,500ft before crash landing.

The Montgolfier brothers then went on to build the first recorded tethered balloon carrying humans in October, 1783.

The first free flight took place in November, and although the French king had suggested using criminals as pilots, Mr de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes flew the balloon five miles in 25 minutes.

Interestingly, the Montgolfier brothers had made a promise to their father that they would never fly so never piloted a balloon themselves.

Only a few days after the first manned hot air flight, the Roberts brothers launched the first manned hydrogen balloon in Paris, with a crowd of 400,000 watching. Hot air versus hydrogen rivalry has continued to this day.

In England an Italian named Vincent Lunardi was the pilot in September, 1784, of a balloon flight from Moorfields, London, with a crowd of 150,000 in attendance.

Balloon development continued apace, and in 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard was the first to cross the channel.

Other balloonists included James Sadler, a confectioner by trade who made many flights including one over Newcastle in 1815, and Charles Green, from a family of balloonists who launched a craft from the Grainger Market area of Newcastle.

More recently, the Piccard family has had great success in ballooning, with Auguste Piccard in 1932 breaking all records when his balloon reached a height of 52,498ft. His grandson Bertram Piccard, along with Brian Jones in 1999, set a world record in being the first to fly around the world in 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes.

The next meeting of the Alnwick Branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society will be on Tuesday, October 3, at 7.30pm, at Bailiffgate Museum. The topic will be Using Internet Resources for North East Family History Research, presented by John Stobbs.

All are welcome. Donation invited from non-members.