The day hero balloonist brought Bristol to a halt
Say what you want about the constellations of modern stars, but it is doubtful whether any celebrity in the 21st Century would have the power to visit Bristol one day and expect every school, shop and factory to close. Plus have the day formally decreed as a public holiday by the Council. Yet that is exactly what occurred when James Sadler decided to conduct a balloon ascent in Bristol on 24th September 1810. Take note, One Direction!
“Bristol was all bustle the whole of the morning, and every house that could command a view of the ascension was crowded. The shops were all shuttered-up, and all business were stood down during the whole of the forenoon. The schools were all out, the day made a holiday, and young and old, rich and poor, all came to watch,” trumpeted The Morning Post. “There was not a house in Bristol that did not boast its party of visitors.”
The venture, reported to be his 16th balloon ascent, certainly made some much needed money for Sadler, who was publicly known to be settling his debts. This is the likely motivation for ratcheting up the admission price, as he charged a hefty three shillings and sixpence each to access the gardens. Noticeably this time, security was employed to collect the admission, with the Bristol Volunteers employed for this specific purpose.
However, there was a problem. With the one o’clock take-off time approaching, a persistent breeze was blowing directly from the east.
This meant any ascent would see the balloon inevitably drift due westwards, and straight over the perilous Bristol Channel.
Also, it was reported the day afterwards that Sadler had intended to take his daughter up with him, but such was the likely threat of being blown over the sea that he steadfastly resisted his daughter’s entreaties.