User:Dumelow/Leicester balloon riot

Leicester balloon riot 1864

Leicester balloon riot took place at Victoria Park 11 July 1864 and resulted in the destruction of a hydrogen balloon owned by aeronaut Henry Tracey Coxwell.


Henry Tracey Coxwell

Henry Tracey Coxwell was an English aeronaut of the mid to late 19th-century. He became famous for a 5 September 1862 flight with meteorologist James Glaisher.[1] Setting off from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands in a Hydrogen balloon they reached a record altitude of 37,000 feet (11,000 m). With low oxygen levels and temperatures below −20 °C (−4 °F) the pair almost died before Coxwell managed to release gas from a valve with his teeth (his hands being unusable) to lose height. The flight, which was funded by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, provided valuable data about the earth's atmosphere and Coxwell and Glaisher resolved to continue high altitude flights.[2]

Following the Wolverhampton flight and a subsequent flight on 29 September Coxwell determined that his balloon's gas envelope was too worn to carry out further flights.[3] He constructed a new envelope which he named Britannia.[1] It was capable of holding 100,000 cubic feet (2,800 m3) of gas, a more than 10% improvement over his previous envelope.[3][3] The new balloon required low altitude flights for testing and to make the envelope gas-tight so Coxwell carried out a series of demonstration flights in June at Crystal Palace and Derby.[3] Coxwell planned a further flight on 11 July 1864 from the racecourse at Victoria Park, Leicester during a fete organised by the Foresters Friendly Society.[4][1] Tickets were sold and 13 passengers, including two women, were scheduled to accmpany Coxwell on his flight.[5][6]


The fete was attended by 50,000 people and was lightly policed (Coxwell later claimed there were only eight policemen on duty).[4][7] The flight was to take place at 5.30pm from a 15 acres (6.1 ha) field.[4][5] The field was enclosed by a fence but there was only an insubstantial barrier surrounding the ballon.[4] Early in the afternoon there was a disturbance when a gentleman, claiming to be an aeronaut, announced that Britannia was not Coxwell's newest and biggest balloon but an older model.[1] This enraged teh crown who, shortly after 2pm, broke down the barrier and demanded that Coxwell take off immediately.[8][1]

At around this time Coxwell's passengers forced their way into the balloon basket against his instructions in such a manner that prevented him from taking off.[1] The carpenters necessary to remove the scaffold from around the balloon were also not available.[8] One of the passengers then announced to the crowd that Coxwell was refusing to ascend and this, combined with his bad language and gestures, enraged them.[1] It is said that the police, who numbered only five in the immediate vicinity of the balloon, then struck a female member of the crowd on the forehead.[8][5] She fell to the ground bleeding which is said to have caused further anger in the crowd.[5]

A member of the crowd threw a bottle which damaged the balloon envelope and others tore the mesh enclosing it.[1] Coxwell threatened that unless order was restored and the crowd moved back he would let the gas out of the balloon.[1] There was no response to this, aside from verbal abuse, and Coxwell followed through on his threat. After the envelope collapsed the crowd surged forwards and tore it to pieces.[1] The police, led by Inspector Haynes and Sergeant Chapman, attempted to hold back the crowd but could do little more than attempt to protect Coxwell.[1][1] Coxwell was attacked, amid shouts of "rip him up", "knock him on the head" and "finish him", and his clothes were torn.[1] One man who attempted to protect him was knocked to the ground three times.[1] Coxwell eventually found refuge at the house of the town clerk, Mr Stone, who lived nearby.[6]

Britannia was destroyed and the balloon car, used for all of Coxwell's earlier ascents (including his famous high altitude trip with Glaisher) was burnt.[7][4] The metal hoop, which supported the envelope, was paraded through the streets of Leicester by the mob.[7] One woman suffered injuries during the riot and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken back.[9]


The London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art and Science described the crowd as "a horde of savages as fierce and untamed as South Sea Islanders and differing very little from them except in their habitat, which was at Leicester". The people of leicester blamed people from out of town, perhaps Nottingham. But the townsfolk were tarnished for a while with the nick name "Balloonatics".[1]

Teh destruction resulted in a reduced number of high ascents made under teh auspices of parlimanet's Balloon committee in the remainder of 1864.[10]

Mayor of Leicester later led a meeting to procure a public subscription to replace the balloon.Coxwell went back to the old balloon later that year and resumed flights at Crystal palce on 29 August with Glaisher.[3]

Alleged some of the mob were foresters.[6]

Coxwell vlamed the occasion on a lack of police. [8]

demonstrated the lack of control aeronautics had over the public at such events. Marked the beginning of the end for Coxwell's association with Glaisher. Glaisher, who was associated with the London Foresters, tried to raise money from the Foresters to replace the balloon. However there was some disagreement and Galisher claimed Coxwell had acted "impertinantly" to him though he remained indebted to Coxwell for "enablin me to make observations in the great altitudes". Glaisher "deeply regretted that a wanton mob destroyed his property and that events should have followed leading me to stop the experiments in which I was engaged". A friend of Glaisher described Coxwell's replacement balloon, teh even bigger Research, as "ill-gotten property" due to the "way in which [Coxwell] obtained the money from Leicester".[7]

Considerable cost to Coxwell. Foresters were applied to for a grant to cover the costs but their reules reuqired a period of delay before payment. A local subscription raised £500, of which £386 came from Mr ES Ellis. [11]

Britannia was replaced by a new balloon, the "Research". Considerably larger in which Coxwell ascended first from York in 1865. [12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "The great balloon riot of 1864". BBC News. 9 August 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  2. ^ Robson, David. "The Victorians who flew as high as jumbo jets". BBC Future. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents (1864). Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution. p. 351.
  4. ^ a b c d e Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 230.
  5. ^ a b c d Clay, Jeremy (2013). The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton: And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press. Icon Books Limited. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-84831-620-1.
  6. ^ a b c Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 232.
  7. ^ a b c d Tucker, Jennifer (1996). "Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air: Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of "Balloonacy"". Osiris. 11: 173. ISSN 0369-7827.
  8. ^ a b c d Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 233.
  9. ^ Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 234.
  10. ^ Bath, 1864. Authorised reprint of the reports in the special daily editions of the “Bath Chronicle,” etc. 1864. p. 144.
  11. ^ Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 235.
  12. ^ Coxwell, Henry Tracey (1889). My Life and Balloon Experiences. London: W.H. Allen. p. 240.