Unusual Science Lesson at the College 1899
A lovely report of the balloon flight – fun times for the adventurous and scientifically curious!
DOVER AND GRAVELINES FROM A BALLOON, by Percival Spencer.
On September. 14 this year the Rev. J. M. Bacon’s interesting acoustic experiments in mid-air were to have been resumed at Dover on the occasion of the British Association meetings. A suitable site was granted in the Dover College grounds for the inflation and ascent of the balloon, and all was in readiness for the aerial trip; but as the afternoon advanced, it was observed that the slight north-westerly breeze which had prevailed earlier had completely died away, and so calm had the air become that captive ascents only could be made during that day.
This, however, gave me the opportunity of making one of the pleasantest aerial voyages in my career as aeronaut, the balloon was permitted to remain inflated with gas overnight in the College grounds, and by 10 a.m. the next morning I had entered the car with a friend (Mr. Bacon having been called to town) and ascended into the freshening breeze. First securing a picture, by means of the snap shot, of the rapidly opening-up view of the College grounds (with their refreshment-tents specially provided for members of the British Association for scientists still require meals), we soar aloft, see Dover Valley, the town with its innumerable houses, the Castle, always picturesque, but now more so in its novel aspect plan-like on a country-side devoid of hills. The balloonist sees no undulations of the ground all is level to his lofty gaze. Look at the harbour, the docks, and the Admiralty Pier take another picture to retain a record of this most novel scene. We are now passing out to sea the coast-line of England has passed the perpendicular line of sight.
Slowly but surely the other shore becomes more distinct we can even make out a harbour and town. We are not approaching the shore directly, hut in an oblique direction, and floating slowly upwards. At eleven o’clock we are at 4800 feet, and note the perfectly clear blue sky above the clouds, which extends like a vault overhead from horizon to horizon. We are evidently nearer, though not making exactly for Calais we can even see the roads in the town, looking like white-brown threads. The hum of the waves underneath is like the roar one hears in a shell. We leave Calais to the right. A little sand thrown out has caused us to rise again, and at half-past eleven we are at 5000 feet.
The sound of distant guns from the English coast occasionally reaches our ears, and shortly afterwards similar sounds from Calais. In half-an-hour we have passed considerably to the right of Calais, and can distinguish another town on the sandy coast our course is towards this town, and the trail-rope, which hangs perpendicularly, is now observed to cross the sands. We approach nearer for ten minutes we are over the shore, and then our course is overland. Our greatest height reached is 5400 feet, and the temperature is here 52 degrees Fahrenheit it was 68 degrees on the ground not sufficient to even feel cool, to us in the car.
As we approach nearer, we see that the town is fortified and surrounded by a moat. We take a snapshot of it – it is Gravelines, midway between Calais and Dunkirk. At twenty minutes past twelve we touched the valve-line, and in ten minutes had descended from five thousand feet to earth. The landing was easily effected in a plough- field at St. Georges, a photograph being taken. Every assistance was given, and vehicles speedily found to drive us to Gravelines Station, whence we returned to Dover via Calais, reaching England at 5 p.m. We had descended forty miles distant from the place of ascent.
Article taken from the Dover Historical Facebook page