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1909 Hurlingham International Balloon Race

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The Hurlingham International Balloon Race was was held on the 22nd May 1909.

Other Hurlingham national races were held on June 23rd, July 17th, August 28th and October 10th that year

Persons Mentioned in this Article

The Competition

Ideal weather, the second largest attendance at Hurlingham on record, and a very good entry list favoured this year's International Balloon Point-to-point Race, organised by the Aero Club of the United Kingdom on Saturday. French entries were conspicuous by their absence, but there were three German representatives, one Belgium, and ten competitors on behalf of the United Kingdom.

The preliminaries at Hurlingham evidently interested a great number of fashionable visitors, the presence of sixty men from the balloon section at Aldershot lending just that suspicion of a martial air that imparted to the effect a sense of official orderliness.

It was not necessary to start the balloons from the polo ground this year, the green beside sufficing for the purpose. The work of inflation was without incident, for there had been no overnight rain to drench the ground and make the balloons heavy, as on a like occasion last year. Those competitors whose envelopes were filled first deemed themselves lucky because they got the lighter gas, whereas some of the later balloons found that the margin of lifting power was over-narrow when carrying the complement of passengers and ballast.

Some authorities hold that with such a supply as is available at Hurlingham, when you get your gas matters little, the last filled being no heavier than the first, and that the real fault is with the present internationally accepted system of handicapping. Be these things as may be, the fact remains that perhaps the second balloon to be filled, the "Ziegler," found that, owing to leakiness, the lifting margin was so narrow that Dr. F. Linke had three bags of ballast sealed and, presenting his last passenger to an official appointed by the Aero Club to check the number of persons carried, asked whether he might take the ballast in place of one of his passengers and still be eligible for the competition, provided his sealed ballast was attested to on alighting. He states that he received permission to do so, having made it quite plain that if it were refused him he would chance being overweighted and carry the passenger.

Again, still in connection with this weight problem, lack of ballast caused M. H. Demoor to have trouble with the "Belgica" at West Ham at a time when she was making a dead true line for the day's objective, which had been fixed at a point approximately thirty miles east-north-east from Hurlingham in a rye-field between Tye Common and Billericay. The "Belgica," however, was piloted uncommonly adroitly, a paltry matter of three tiles off a roof being the only tale to tell, and eventually she came down at Galley Wood, and was placed fifth.

A German balloon, Dr. Hutz's "Moenus," that had drawn the number thirteen, also came down about half-an- hour after starting, and in much the same neighbourhood. She was making a good line over Bow, but travelling very low over the Cygnet Brewery and Cook's Soap Works. The spot chosen for alighting was a piece of waste ground adjoining the canal at Warton Road. The space available being too cramped, the envelope swayed up against the side of a house, some of the gas escaping from the pulling of the rip drifting through an open window. A man named Belcher calmed an alarmed mother and child who were the only occupants of the room, and afterwards helped to get the envelope off the roof, having the ill-luck to scratch his hand rather nastily. "Stratford is not the best part of England," observed one of the competitors. "The people there are rather common, and keep asking for money."

So much for premature descents. Mr. Rolls was able to take about the widest margin of ballast of any of the competitors, being over-greedy in that matter, so that the "Mercury" looked like coming down again before she had risen a dozen feet clear of the ground. A hasty jettisoning of a bag of ballast from a height of less than nine feet on to the polo ground caused momentary alarm among about half-a-dozen fashionably-dressed people seated within a few feet, while some of the sand blew on to their clothes, which immediately occasioned the issuing of strict instructions to all subsequent starters to make sure that their balloons would be weighted so as to lift freely. On another occasion it will be desirable to clear a temporary space in the seats if there shall chance to be any so near to the actual starting point as were some of those on Saturday. It is rightly held, as well by the Hurlingham Club as by the Aero Club, that it is not desirable to run the risk of scattering particles of sand on fashionably dressed folk.

I (H. Hassac Buist) followed Mr. Rolls immediately, being one of Mr. Griffith Brewer's passengers on the "Vivienne," of 75,000 cubic feet capacity. She is the biggest balloon of the afternoon, and the one which M. Santos Dumont had for the first Gordon-Bennett Balloon Race.

At half past two o'clock it had looked as though the struggle would be chiefly to keep away from the mouth of the Thames; but half the balloons had not been sent off when it became clear that the difficulty would be to prevent drifting too much north-west of the ideal imaginary line, which would have meant crossing the Thames about Lambeth and passing over Wapping, Limehouse, Plaistow, East Ham, Barking, Rush Green, Wingle Tye, Little Warley and Ingrave, and so to the white cross laid down in the marshy rye-field, where, in striking contrast to the fashionably dressed throng at Hurlingham, there were assembled a crowd of unsophisticated villagers, greatly curious, delighted at the prospect of balloons descending in their midst, and discussing with bated breath this point and that concerning chances, and what it must be like to be up in a balloon, what time sundry enthusiastic aeronauts — including Mr. J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon, in the act of running up a £3 taxi-cab fare — some Germans and a batch of Territorials discussed the situation among themselves with a trifle more technical understanding.

The only possibilities of excitement in a short distance competition of this sort are in the direction of having to make involuntary descents for lack of ballast, or, when finding a balloon very close on the objective, in dropping quickly and bumping badly in consequence, in order to drift away from the mark as short a distance as possible.

Had the wind continued more easterly there might have been some fun in the matter of landing between the wrigglings of the winding Thames towards its mouth.

Our log shows us to have been fortunate in keeping low over London in a twelve to thirteen mile an hour breeze that was blowing a point more to the north than we desired when ascending at ten minutes to four. Thanks to Mr. Brewer's insisting on the envelope being immediately over the basket in the course of its swayings during the trying of the lift of the balloon, we were able to carry easily two more bags of ballast than they were minded to have let us. Consequently, we were at no time troubled for spare sand throughout the journey, having three full bags when we alighted; also the carrying of the two additional bags doubtless accounted in large measure for our being able to drift three-quarters of the way over London at a height of not more than 600 feet.

We were a little north of our course, with King's Road below us, then Fulham Road, along which our shadow followed a motor bus steadily for quite a while. At this low altitude the view was nevertheless over a vast stretch of country, all which appeared flat as a billiard table. For example, the Crystal Palace seemed to lie as low as Ludgate Circus, while Hampstead Heath seemed on a level with the Mall.

We are wont of speak of London as a straggling sort of city, nor does one realise how amazingly regular and neat any town is until you float over it in a balloon. We needed to be up another couple of thousand or three thousand feet, as I was on an equally fine day last summer, to see the city and its suburbs dwarfed to the proportions of a hamlet. At the height of six hundred feet on Saturday last by far the longest thoroughfare — that from Cheapside along Holborn, Oxford Street and through Kensington to Shepherd's Bush, which certainly ought to be given but one single name throughout its entire length — appeared to be scarcely more than a couple of hundred yards long, yet we could see with absolute distinctness every vehicle in the road and every person walking its pavements, a motor omnibus being about the bigness of an ordinary house fly, while men seemed about the size of ants. Staines Waterworks to the west seemed a refulgent steel shield, the Serpentine presented somewhat the outline of a Farseval dirigible, the Mall showed a fine prospect, the trout pond in Buckingham Palace looked rather stagnant, and the noises of London town were mingled into a mere monotonous and not unmusical hum.

Mr. Frank McLean, following us in the "Corona," rose to a goodly height right away. The "Mercury " kept very low and on a true line. The expansion of gas caused us to rise about twenty minutes after we had been sent off, a rather curious illusion being that, to our view, Mr. Rolls appeared to be scraping the dome of St. Paul's yet he was nearer our own altitude at the level of the Cathedral.

One of the chief points about ballooning is that unless a lot of craft are up in the same neighbourhood about the same time, it is impossible to appreciate whether you are rising or falling. Even when there are others around you it is hard to tell whether it is themselves that are rising or yourself that is falling.

London looked extraordinarily tiny and tidy beneath us, for the same glance, without shifting of position, enabled us to view the marshy lands beyond Barking, the strange threadwork of railway lines focussing on the east of London, the fine expanse of the British Museum, the straight street of Holborn, Oxford Street, and the continuous thoroughfares, the contrasting curlings of the river, the fresh decorations of the Shepherd's Bush Exhibition, in the Stadium of which our fellow-passenger, Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, was supposed to be judging the Marathon Race, and the numerous green playing-fields where masses of black ants appeared to be watching a handful of white ones in each, all tended to convey the notion that London had become but a corner of Lilliput, the process of dwarfing having been a great gain in that everything, including the slum districts, showed as a pattern of cleanliness.

There being a good field and a variety of opinions among the pilots as to the best heights to float at to secure favourable breezes, now there began to be plenty of changing of positions, Mr. John Dunville's "Banshee," which was very high by comparison with the rest — albeit probably not more than between six and seven thousand feet — appearing to be in the best position about quarter past four, when we were still rising in quest of another current, having come approximately two miles north of the ideal imaginary line.

At half-past four we were at three thousand feet only, however, and our position was not so bad as to make it worth while to let out gas. Rather was it better to continue rising on the off-chance of encountering a better current. The "Tillie" now began to come up close to us, rising at a greater rate than ourselves. At four-thirty we had been at three thousand feet, five minutes later we were at four thousand feet, which possibility always strikes me as being a rate of rising that must be quite beyond the capacity of any power-sustained machine for many years to come.

With a balloon the thing is so utterly effortless that the aneroid barometer alone tells you what you are doing, while momentary pressure on the indiarubber tube of the statoscope shows more obviously than any other instrument what you are actually doing at any given moment. We were using a tell-tale, in the guise of a pocket handkerchief tied to the lower end of about one hundred feet of string, by way of finding out when the balloon was in a different current from one almost immediately beneath it.

The wind kept coming in faint puffs and was very shifty, every gust seeming to change our direction and cause a shifting of chances. The "Venus" and the "Tillie" were now far to the north, but the majority of our rivals appeared to be making a better course than ourselves, at a quarter to five o'clock, because a more easterly one.

It was now deliciously cool, and an observation of our position showed that we had travelled at about thirteen miles an hour since getting off. At half-past four o'clock the last three balloons could still be seen hard by Hurlingham; but the haze and smoke over London soon shut them out of view, so that presently only the quartette that had preceeded us, and the half dozen immediately following, came within our purview.

In quest of a current that would carry us slightly more towards the south, Mr. Brewer now allowed the balloon to rise steadily, so that we began to be grateful for the cooler air encountered higher up, because at lower altitudes the sun had proven uncommonly hot. Because balloons travel with the moving air in a seemingly dead calm, one rarely has any appreciable sensation of a breeze when aboard them, the only and rare occasions being at the moments when change of direction is given to the balloon by the actual encountering of a contrary current.

Some get thirsty when ballooning, others are not troubled that way, as instance Sir Claude de Crespigny, Captain Butterworth, and Mr. Harry Delacombe. Mr. Brewer and myself, however, having mixed a sufficient proportion of coal gas with rarified air, became somewhat curious concerning the contents of a bottle of plain water which was the only liquid we had in the car. At the moment of uncorking it, it gave forth a little fizzing sound as thought it were aerated, the explanation being found in the difference of atmospheric pressure within and without the bottle.

We rose to six thousand one hundred feet before achieving the desired change of direction into a more easterly course. That was at twelve minutes to five o'clock, when we had done the first thirteen miles in one hour. At five o'clock we were at six thousand seven hundred feet over Wanstead Park, nnd tending overmuch towards the north again, but it was not worth while losing gas by opening the valve to bring us down. Round about us there was plenty of changing of places, some of the balloons managing to perform an aerial, and therefore feeble, imitation of a grand chain movement in a dance. This meant that now and again we were passing under a "deadly rival" drifting across our path, or over one. Therefore it became needful to pay out the three hundred feet of trail rope, because you cannot see an object overhead when ballooning, consequently it is desirable to have about that margin of warning before bumping the bottom of somebody's basket with the mandarin's cap-like valve apparatus at the top of the balloon.

You must not imagine this sort of competition to be an idler's pastime. There were five of us aboard, and everyone was busy throughout, including Sir Claude, as the self-appointed honorary look-out man, than whom none could have been better chosen for the purpose in that hereabout was all his own country, every hedge and ditch of which was familiar to him through hunting. In brief, what he did not know, had he chosen to communicate it, concerning such-and-such a hall that had been in the hands of three generations of drunkards; such-and-such a house, where is the finest cellar of port to be found in England; such-and-such a lodge, the heir to which married so many tens of thousands a year and got through the lot in as many months; such-and-such another place, where a disastrous fire had reduced a palatial residence to Goldsmith's "four naked walls that stared upon each other," and so forth, was not knowledge. Seemingly, our genial fellow-passenger and impromptu cicerone had advised all his friends for miles around to be on the look-out for us so that we should be sure of a hearty welcome anywhere within a wide range of the winning post, not omitting Champion Lodge.

Mr. C. F. Pollock seemed to become enviable of our position about 5.10 p.m., to judge from the rate at which he began rising, so that we were soon within haling distance and learnt that by now he was mighty short of ballast. After some chaff he let down his trail rope.

About this time London was lost to our view in the heat mist that hung rather low over it. We were about six thousand feet with at least six balloons in a better position than ourselves, being more due east than us, but seemingly throughout the afternoon no competitor succeeded in getting south of the Great Eastern Railway mainline through Romford and Brentwood.

About a quarter-past five, we began to drop from seven thousand one hundred feet in the endeavour to encounter a breeze that would take us a little more southerly, the gas contracting owing to the cooler atmosphere serving our purpose admirably in this connection, so that soon we came within hail of dog barkings, albeit the hum of the towns was now left well to south of us.

At half-past five o'clock we saw Mr. Pollock's "Valkyrie" descend perforce not far from Haveringatte-Bower for lack of ballast, while five minutes later we had come down to eighteen hundred feet, and were making a perfect line for the afternoon's objective as from Low Leyton to Leyton Station, a crackling in the ears and a hint oi temporary deafness communicating the fact of our fall to us.

Then we began to trail northwards towards Hainault Forest, so that it was desirable to try higher altitudes for a spell, some of the sand that was being jettisoned floating back into the car in token that we were dropping fast. At five-fifty, however, we were up to five thousand feet again, and bearing second best course to the "Mercury," which held the best position of the balloons ahead of us, while the " Tillie " and Mr. John Dunville's "Banshee" in the rear were well to the south of us, and in a more favourable course for the Aero Club's mark.

After we had been up two hours, Mr. Rolls was seen to be drifting too much towards the river, so he threw out ballast, and rose to approximately eight thousand feet. At five minutes past six we reached our maximum altitude of the day, eight thousand two hundred feet, or approximately one and a half miles sheer.

Now we let out our first gas, because it was time to make a descent if we were to reach the ground without a very bad bumping before passing beyond the region of the rye-field. Three times Mr. Brewer opened the valve; thrice we heard the rush of escaping gas overhead, and thrice it was followed by the satisfactory snapping sound of the closure of the valve. But we had to go through many contrary currents on the descent, so that in the result we got rather badly driven to the north of our objective.

The clearness of the objects below when at our maximum height made it incredible to believe that we were removed from the earth about one mile and a half, from which distance some stagnant ponds below looked like nothing so much as custard in glasses. True, we had drifted south of Navestock, but we thought ourselves to have gone so far north that there was no object in forcing the descent, therefore we drifted onwards towards a suitable ground, landing on the Hon. Robert Cecil's estate, Writtle Park, after a friendly caress with a trio of trees, with which we had been doing some steeplechasing in the course of the rebound after the first bump.

Nothing could have been more convenient than the spot of our descent, which separated us, by a field's distance only, from hosts who gave us a hearty welcome. Had we guessed that our rivals were mostly in even worse case than ourselves, however, we would have come down a couple of miles sooner, and so been nearer the aftermoon's, objective as the crow flies. The competition was a delightful one for all who took part in it.

In conclusion, Mr. Harry Delacombe and myself wish to express our hearty appreciation of Mr Frank K. McClean's generous forethought in instructing his motorman, in the event of his failing to trace his master, to drive back any of the balloonists he could come across. It chanced that master and man did not meet, also that we were the happy gainers in convenience by the occurrence. Many thanks, Mr. McClean.

C. S. Rolls' Lunch Meeting

On Sunday the Hon. C. S. Rolls gave a lunch to the competitors and passengers in the balloon race, in honour of the foreign visitors. There were about thirty people present, including the representatives of Germany and Belgium, nearly all the other competitors and their passengers, the Earl and Countess of Clonmel, Viscount and Viscountess Massereene, and Mr. Roger Wallace, K.C.

In proposing the health of the foreign visitors, Mr. Rolls alluded to the pleasant recollections many of those present had of visits to Berlin and Brussels for aero contests, and the Aero Club were pleased to welcome the foreign competitors here. He complimented Dr. Thewald on his excellent performance in landing nearest the finishing point.

In reply, Dr. Thewald expressed his gratitude for the cordial manner in which he and his fellow visitors had been received in Great Britain.


The following are the official placings, passengers in the respective balloons, and points of descent:—

  • 1. Banshee (England), 2,200 cubic metres, (John Dunville). Passengers were Mrs. John Dunville, Prof. A. K. Huntington, E. de C. Oakeley, D. Bingham. Landed at Ray Farm, Ingatestone
  • 2. Satellite (England), 778 cubic metres, (Major Sir A. Bannerman, Bart.). Passenger was Major G. J. Farmar. Landed at Fryerning, Ingatestone.
  • 3. Mercury (England), 900 cubic metres, (Hon. C. S. Rolls). Passengers were Capt. W. A. de C. King. Landed at Handley Green Farm, Margaretting.
  • 4. Vivienne (England), 2,000 cubic metres, (G. Brewer). Passengers were Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, Bart., H. Delacombe, H. Massac Buist, Capt. Butterworth. Landed at Writtle Park.
  • 5. Belgica (Belgium), 1,600 cubic metres, (H. Demoor). Passengers were Dr. Archibald, Malcolm Carter, Mrs. Malcolm Carter. Landed at Galley Wood.

The following Competitors have not been placed.

  • Corona (England), 1,415 cubic metres (Frank K. McClean). Passengers were Dr. W. J. S. Lockyer, Miss McClean, Miss Stevenson. Landed at Havering.
  • Valkyrie (England), 1,698 cubic metres, (C. F. Pollock). Passengers were Hon. Mrs. Assheton Harbord, H.S.H. Princess Blucher, H. Adderley, B. H. Barrington Kennett. Landed at Havering.
  • Tillie (Germany), 600 cubic metres (Direktor Neumann). No passengers. Landed at Havering.
  • Venus (England), 1,190 cubic metres (Capt. A. H. W. Grubb D.S.O., R.E.). Passengers were Capt. J. W. Skipwith R.E. and J. H. Deakin. Landed at Norton Heath.
  • Kismet(England), 1,273 cubic metres (Philip Gardner). Passengers were Fred Chaplin, Capt. V. C. de Crespigny, Mrs. Baillie. Landed at Wiggingale
  • Enchantress (England), 1,415 cubic metres, (E. C. Bucknall). Passengers were Martin Dale, Miss H. Holland and d'Aula Donnisthorpe. Landed at Berwick, near Ongar.
  • Moenus (Germany), 900 cubic metres, (Dr. Hutz). Passenger was Dr. Neiderhofheim. Landed at Stratford.

The following were disqualified owing to their carrying an insufficient number of passengers:—

  • Ziegler (Germany), 1,400 cubic metres (Captain Thewald). Passengers were Paul Merzbach and G. H. Hermann. Landed at Ingatestone. (This balloon landed nearest to the stipulated destination.)
  • La Mascotte (England), 1,415 cubic metres, (V. Ker Seymer). Passengers were Mrs. J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon and J. H. M. Greenly.Landed at Noak Hill, near Brentwood

The new Club balloon "Icarus" followed the race in charge of Major Baden-Powell, accompanied by A. C. Hunter, J. Wedg Wood, and Lieut. Gerard Hetherington, and descended at Chipping Ongar.

Mr. Philip Paddon kindly took charge of the arrangements at Tye Common, Billericay, and was successful in reaching the spot selected in good time to enable him to place the white cross.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Flight magazine of 29th May 1909