Aug 6 2011: Ballooning in Nottingham, 1785 (from Guy Denison’s This is Your Nottingham, c.1963)

Sandwiched between entries on the bare knuckle boxing champion William Abednego (‘Bendigo’) Thompson and The Bell Inn, this brief snippet in Guy Denison’s alphabetically arranged guide to the city of Nottingham is both little known (it’s certainly something I’d not heard before) and quite wonderful. After all, the fact that the first demonstration of human flight ever seen in the area ended with a miniature riot and arson attack on the unfortunate Mr Cracknell’s balloon when his hydrogen-making equipment broke down seems exactly the sort of thing that might happen today.

Which shows that Nottingham inclines to make its own entertainment when that offered by others fails to materialise, and the incident reveals a remarkably persistent strain in the city’s public character. Tagalini Jones’s  brief but vivid description of the activity to be seen on Long Row in 1879 proves that not much has changed in these respects down the centuries. Maybe we could also see the setting on fire of Mr Cracknell’s balloon as a bit of a warm up for the 1831 burning of the Castle after the Duke of Newcastle helped vote down the Reform Bill in the House of Lords that same year?

As for Mr Green’s enterprising efforts in the Market Square during 1826, those were surely a precursor of the Big Wheel (that regularly performs a similar feat in parting large numbers of city residents from their cash) and the surreal city centre Riviera – complete with artificial beach – that is sitting in that very same Square as I type. I can only assume the current council is missing a trick and may wish to consider offering a similar service in the near future. This would assume, of course, that they’d be able to find more reliable equipment than the ill-fated Mr Cracknell did in 1785.


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