Charles Green and his Great Nassau balloon
Our picture shows one of the 527 balloon flights made by Charles Green (1785-1870), the most renowned British balloonist of the 19th century.
This ascent, made in 1850 from Vauxhall Gardens, was in his Great Nassau balloon, named after his record flight of 1836 from Vauxhall to Weilburg in the Duchy of Nassau in Germany, a distance of 480 miles in 18 hours – a record not broken until 1907.
Charles Green’s first ascent was from Green Park in 1821 to celebrate the coronation of George IV. He constructed the Great Nassau Balloon in 1836, and made his first flight in it that year, ascending from Vauxhall Gardens with eight other people. He made five other ascents in it from Vauxhall, including his famous record flight, and the one recorded in our picture. One of these flights ended in tragedy: on a flight with the aeronaut Edward Spencer and Robert Cocking, again in 1836, Cocking jumped out at a height of 5,000 feet to descend by parachute, but was killed when he reached the ground.
Green made experimental ascents with George Rush (his companion in our picture) to see how high the Great Nassau balloon could go – they reached a height of over five miles, and during the flights their barometer recorded temperatures below freezing point. In the 1840s he developed his ideas on the practicability of crossing the Atlantic by balloon. His last ascent was made from Vauxhall Gardens in 1852.
Before Green’s time hydrogen gas was used to inflate balloons, which was very expensive and slow to generate – it used to take two days to fill a balloon. Green showed that coal gas was a far more practical way to inflate balloons. He also invented the guide rope, a rope that trailed from the basket and could be lowered and raised to regulate ascents and descents.
His name lives on: the Charles Green Salver is awarded by the British Balloon and Airship Club for exceptional flying achievements or contributions to ballooning.