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Balloonomania in 18th Century Wiltshire

The Diary of Edward Poore

"At last we see the Balloon making its way slowly amongst the stars . . . like a Star of the 2nd Magnitude"

Balloonmania began in 18th century France, with the flight of the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 (in a balloon inflated with hot air). It wasn't long before interest spread across the channel and thousands became captivated by the fad...

A diary from a Wiltshire bachelor, found in our Library and Archive, gives us an interesting insight into how balloonmania swept through Wiltshire - and how quickly one can tire of diary writing....

On 23rd August 1784 Edward Poore, a bachelor barrister of North Tidworth decided to keep a diary which was written in a small spidery hand with many abbreviations.  It begins 'Having always from early youth kept occasional memoirs in which I might recall things remarkable but none in this form'.

Poore, came from a well known Wiltshire family and mixed with county society attending supper parties, bridge evenings and  Fete Champetre and waspishly recorded his opinions of the events and company in his diary. After less than a week of writing he states 'I make one observation on diaries . . . if they are kept effectively they take up too much time, if not they are useless. A little time but regularly devoted does much by degrees'.

One of the subjects which was widely talked about was the first unmanned hot air balloon which had been flown by Montgolfier in France and a few months later a manned hydrogen gas flight was made in Paris. The following year on 2nd September Edward Jenner launched a balloon from the Inner Courtyard of Berkeley Castle followed on 15th September by a flight by Signor Vincent Lunardi. who it was thought had been inspired by his friend Dr Caleb Parry who had made and launched one earlier in the year on  2nd January 1784.

On the 10th September 1784 flights were being made in England as recorded by Edward Poore who was in Salisbury. 'Went with Hussey [MP for Salisbury] to see Dr. P[arry] fill his balloon – exhibited with Success in a room'.  Poore then went on to play several rubbers of Bridge. “We break up at Nine for a chance of an expected Balloon. Find the Market Place full of people a Carnavale. Walk about ½ an hour with A:F on my arm. At last we see the Balloon making its way slowly amongst the stars . . . like a Star of the 2nd Magnitude. Miss F contemplated it with rapture till lost in the horizon of the buildings . Walk home with her with great decorum'.

A friend of Poore's was the Rev. Henry White who was the curate for North Tidworth and the brother of the naturalist Gilbert White who lived at Selborne. He recorded another ascent a few weeks later.

'18th October : Mr Wellman . . . saw on Saturday last p.m. Half-past 4, at Rumsey,  Mr Blanchard in his grand air balloon hovering at a great height over ye church and soon after saw him descend into a meadow near the town, he then let out ye gas, folded up ye balloon and put it into a chaise in which he returned to London instantly. . . Mr Blanchard was only 3 ½ hours passing from London to Rumsey,75 miles, and was seen passing over many places, particularly from Selborne Hill and village, where he appeared in ye N.E. Like a blue spot in ye sky about ye size of a small tea urn'.

18th November a friend tells him about Mr Sadler's ascent of a balloon in Oxford. 'His passage through a cloud wants explanation, i.e. whether it rained on ye ground at ye same time that his machine received so much water'.

Edward Poore's enthusiasm for diary writing soon expired and this is the final entry. On 17th November after a busy day he attends a performance of She Stoops to Conquer which seem to include dancing dogs. He concludes 'went with Hussey to the hall again – too noisy to endure – carryed him home . . . much fatigued and spirits exhausted – went to bed'.


Edward Poore's Diary : DZSWS.MSS.1445

Henry White's Diary : The Diaries of an Eighteenth Century Parson : ed. Clive Burton : Andover : 1979


Written by Sandy Haynes, Library and Archive volunteer

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