09 Apr 2020
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were the place of many world firsts and innovations in outdoor entertainment. With the orchestral sounds of Handel, masterpieces by Hogarth and Hayman, spectacular lighting and fireworks plus a cast of characters and daring performers, visitors could expect any number of novel and unusual marvels. But Vauxhall is famous for another pioneer, not from the world of entertainment.
Charles Green (31 January 1785 – 26 March 1870) was an aeronaut, who completed over 500 balloon rides during a flying career that spanned over four decades. His first trip was completed in 1821, and by 1836 he was known as the country’s finest balloonist having completed more than 200 trips. He also flew with some unusual passengers, such as a hippo, and there were plans for a tiger.
It was this all-consuming passion that made him attempt the record for the longest distance ever to be travelled by air. A plan was hatched to depart by balloon from the Royal Vauxhall Gardens to complete a trip so breathtaking, it would take nearly a century for the record to be beaten. Yes that’s right, nearly 100 years.
The spectacular balloon created for the journey was a marketing opportunity that would be regarded as priceless even in today’s digital world. 80 feet high and 50 feet broad, the ‘Royal Vauxhall Balloon’ would have been hard to miss in the sky as it departed on November 7th 1836. It quickly became synonymous with Vauxhall itself.
Accompanied by an Irish writer and keen balloonist Thomas Monck Mason, who documented the journey, and Robert Hollond who had backed the expedition, they departed from Vauxhall Gardens (although out of season) and set off in the direction of Paris on their memorable journey.
They sailed on comfortably until the early hours of November 8th, when an unusual sound from the balloon gave some cause for concern. They landed at the nearest opportunity. Locals informed them they had reached six miles left of the town of Freiburg, Germany – around 500-miles from London. Thus they set a record that was only beaten in 1914, by an aeroplane. The entrepreneurial team of the Pleasure Gardens celebrated the achievement by launching a ‘Grand Moving Panorama’ the following year. Visitors were able to imagine the journey by viewing 400 feet of moving canvas with images that brought Charles Green’s extraordinary adventure to life.