Balloonastic Rochester

Balloonastic Rochester

In the 19th century balloon ascents were a technical and theatrical marvel. Wherever a balloon was inflated it was sure to draw huge crowds. One of the first - if not the first - inflations of a gas balloon in Rochester took place at the Bull Inn on Wednesday 6th June 1827. It’s location close to the gas works, was a great help as the balloon required 20,000 cubic feet of gas to reach its magnificent hight of 60ft hight and a circumference of 40ft.

Although the ascent was not scheduled until 3pm, crowds assembled early to witness the spectacle. Doors of the Bull Inn opened at 12 noon. Admission to the yard was 2s [10p], and to the Ball Room, which had been engaged for the accommodation of Ladies,  3s [15p] - children and schools were half-price. Those not wanting to pay these exorbitant prices secured vantages points on the bridge (the now demolished stone bridge), the castle and other elevated positions around the city.

At 5pm the aeronaut, Henry Green, gave the order for the ropes to be loosened but as the balloon rose from the shelter of the yard it was caught by the wind and dashed against nearby houses. With assistance from those on the ground the balloon was pulled back down. On examination it was found the balloon had sustained two or three tears. However, not wanting to disappoint the crowds, Mr. Green, decided that as the rents were below the cone he would attempt another ascent. 

This ascent was successful and the balloon headed off in the direction of Sheerness, before, some 35 minutes later, making a safe landing in a bean field near the village of Rainham. Mr. Green made his way back to to Rochester to receive the congratulations of his friends before 9pm.

Amongst the crowd watching the ascent may have been Henry Coxwell from Wouldham, who was to become a self-confessed Balloonatic and champion of the military use of balloons. In his memoirs he recalls witnessing an ascent by Mr. Green from Rochester, which he described as the first event of its kind in this part of Kent. 

A number of other other ascents were made from Rochester but perhaps the most spectacular sight occurred on 31 July 1838, when the Royal Nassau balloon (157ft. in circumference and 80ft. high) made an unscheduled descent into a field - on the banks of the Medway - a short distance above Rochester Bridge. The huge balloon and the “multitudes of people from across the three towns” who rushed to the spot where it landed, did considerable damage to the crop. After securing the balloon, Mr. Charles Green, aeronaut, and his party retired to the Crown Inn for refreshments.

Geoff Rambler.