The Sunderland man who soared into the air in a record bid

A group of River Wear harbour pilots in 1895.

A group of River Wear harbour pilots in 1895.

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Recently, we began the story of Charles Green – the intrepid Sunderland man who attracted attention when he bought a hot-air balloon and tried to create history.

With the help of Sunderland Antiquarian Society member Norman Kirtlan, we told how Charles took off in the hope of creating history.

Burleigh Street in the east end.

Burleigh Street in the east end.

Today, we conclude the two-part story which has an intriguing ending.

Charles Green attracted a crowd of thousands when he launched his new hot air balloon.

In fact, 20,000 of them turned up in the prospect of seeing a Sunderland man reach the record books.

Hopes were high that he would fly through the sky.

It may be coincidence, but two years later, one Charles Green was to achieve a world record for continuous flight. Lifting off in London, he flew 373 miles before crashing down on the coast of Holland. Had Sunderland simply been a launching pad for greater things?

Norman Kirtlan

Onlookers gathered as they were intrigued by the giant object when it was first unveiled on the streets of Sunderland.

But a combination of factors, including a lack of wind and the fact he hadn’t inflated the balloon enough, took their toll.

And instead of majestically lifting off towards the clouds, Mr Green faced a different fate.

He plummeted to earth – or Burleigh Street to be more precise.

After narrowly missing a number of chimney pots en route, the intrepid flyer crashed to the ground below. It was a sad end to his first attempt to fly in a balloon.

But his story did not end there.

Mr Green simply refused to be deterred by that mere life-threatening experience on August 27, 1834.

In the further interests of science, on September 9, he made yet another valiant effort. This too failed miserably.

Once the cuts and bruises had healed sufficiently, Mr Green decided that he would allow himself one final attempt – one last bid for glory.

The date he set for his challenge was September 25. This time, the public was a bit more sceptical.

Perhaps they should have had more faith.

Norman told us: “Great crowds gathered in anticipation of yet another spectacular failure. Local wags enjoyed every minute with their raucous cat-calls. ‘Tie yer chimbleys down, here e’ gans agyen…’.

“This time, however, in successfully ascending from Mr Thomson’s raff yard, he sent the crowds wild with rapturous delight.

“But once again, the ensemble would be treated to a hair-raising pantomime as the balloon first drifted into the mast of a ship, and then, after almost ejecting its rider, ascended with great speed to a height of one mile.”

It had been a dramatic yet all too brief journey.

Norman added: “And as the well-known phrase goes, what goes up ... no sooner had the balloon reached the zenith of its spectacular flight, than it plummeted down to earth with equally alarming velocity.

“Crashing into the cold North Sea, Mr Green was ignominiously hauled out by a crew of river pilots.”

It was a sad end to a great attempt to create his own piece of remarkable history – or was it the end?

The history books actually suggest otherwise.

Norman added: “As the balloon slowly disappeared beneath the murky waters, one would have thought that Mr Green may have given up on dreams of manned flight.

“It may be sheer coincidence, but two years later, one Charles Green was to achieve a world record for continuous flight. Lifting off in London, he flew 373 miles before crashing down on the coast of Holland.

“Had Sunderland simply been a launching pad for greater things?”

The story is one of the many great tales in one of Norman’s books, which is called Characters of Old Sunderland.

It is available in all local libraries.

Sunderland Antiquarian Society, which was founded in 1900, is based at 6 Douro Terrace, Sunderland, SR2 7DX.

It encourages interest in the history of Sunderland and its region. The society holds extensive archives which have been amassed and donated over the past century by the people of Sunderland and these are available to members and visitors.