Slow Travel

The first English aeronaut

James Sadler was a pioneer of flight in Britain.

James Sadler might not be a familiar name today but 200 years ago all of England knew his name. He was a lowly pastry chef who had an eye for science. He began to experiment with gas-filled balloons, was the first to use heat (a fire in the basket) to ‘control’ a balloon’s altitude and on 4 October 1784 he became the first Englishman to fly, taking off from Christ Church Meadow in a balloon that he’d made himself.

Christ Church College Meadow, Oxford, England by ExFlow, Shutterstock

The site of the flight, Christ Church College’s meadow © ExFlow, Shutterstock

The balloon rose to approximately 3,000 feet before coming down near Woodeaton, four miles away. He returned to the city ‘an absolute hero’, balloon fever gripped the nation and 30 years later Sadler had the patronage of the royal family for balloon flights in Hyde Park at the 1814 Jubilee.

All that remains today to mark one of England’s greatest achievements is a commemorative plaque along Dead Man’s Walk, close to the spot where Sadler took off.

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