The Fearless Aeronauts

Lydiard House and Park feature in the local and national newspapers many times over the decades and today we bring you an excerpt from an article in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal from 3rd November 1823 about the famous balloonist George Graham.

“Bath,—On Tuesday Mr. Graham ascended for the third time in his balloon, from a field near the Gas Works, Bath. The morning was unfavourable,- by an early hour the surrounding fields and points of view were occupied by immense crowds of people. About a quarter after two Mr. Graham, accompanied his wife climbed into the car, and at two minutes after two the machine rose majestically from the ground, amidst the shouts and acclamations of the admiring multitude, which the enterprising aeronauts acknowledged repeatedly waving their flags. The balloon took an easterly direction, and in ten minutes entered a dense cloud, and was not afterwards visible from Bath.

The following particulars have been communicated Mr. Graham:—” We ascended amidst a heavy shower of rain. At about the height of mile we found it necessary to throw out some ballast: soon after we experienced a heavy fall of snow. This caused the balloon to descend, but on throwing out more ballast the machine preserved equilibrium for nearly half an hour, when it began to descend, and in eight minutes reached the earth. After rebounding thrice the balloon was secured by the grappling iron taking hold of a five-barred gate, and in a few minutes, with the assistance of two men, we were landed from the car, after being in the air exactly thirty-one minutes. The spot where the balloon descended was on the Lydiard estate, between Swindon and Wootton-Basset, being a distance of thirty-one miles from Bath. We were met by Lord Bolingbroke, accompanied by several gentlemen, and some of his tenants, who, at his Lordship’s desire, took the greatest care of the balloon and its appendages, while we went to Lydiard House, where we experienced the greatest kindness and hospitality from Lord and Lady Bolingbroke and family. We left Lydiard House at 7 o’clock in a post chaise, and arrived in Bath about half-past 11.”

The Lord Bolingbroke in question would have been George Richard, the 3rd Viscount who, with his wife Isabella would have entertained Mr and Mrs Graham at Lydiard that afternoon. One can only imagine the excitement of his lordship’s tenants and all the local villagers to see the balloon approaching and to help with its landing!

George Graham was famous as one of the most accident prone of the well-known aeronauts of the early 19th century. His misadventures, and later those of his wife Margaret, may often have been due to an over-optimistic faith in the theoretical lifting power of what was probably poor-quality coal-gas! The flight to Lydiard had been undertaken after some previously flights had barely managed to get off the ground and was, he said “principally in order to disprove the unjust imputations on my conduct to which the partial failure of my former ascent had given rise.” Luckily on this occasion he was completely successful and could return to Bath in triumph! Margaret Graham went on to become a pioneering female aeronaut and was the inspiration for the character of Amelia Wren in the recent film The Aeronauts.