Snippets 194. The Crystal Palace was a famous London landmark, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. After the Exhibition it was relocated from Hyde Park to Penge Common, where it stood until it was destroyed by fire in 1936. For over 80 years it was a useful venue for exhibitions and festivities. The following news article is from the Dover Express, 11th August 1899:
Part of the Bank Holiday festivities at the Crystal Palace took the form of balloon ascent, the success of which was marred by a mishap, fortunately unaccompanied by personal injury, but sufficiently alarming at the moment to create general excitement and consternation. Mr. Sydney Spencer ascended in a giant balloon, accompanied by two fellow-voyagers. The balloon, which recently made a successful trip across the Channel, rose majestically several hundreds of feet, the wind carrying it over the central transept of the palace. Just when interest was at its height, and the spectacle was being enjoyed by vast concourse of spectators, the ascent was seen to be arrested, and the aerial travellers commenced throwing out ballast. The balloon again ascended for a brief period, but very soon began to descend. One of the seams had given way, and the rent, small at first, quickly became of formidable dimensions, causing the balloon to collapse, and come earthwards with great rapidity. Fortunately, the speed was somewhat arrested by the silk and cords fouling a house just before the car touched ground in Victoria-road, very near to the palace, and the occupants escaped with little worse than a severe shaking. After the mishap, Mr. Spencer, making his way without loss of time into the palace grounds, was able to reassure the assembled crowds by making another ascent in the captive balloon within half-an-hour of the accident.
An eye-witness gives the following account of the mishap: “I was proceeding up the avenue, towards the Crystal Palace, when saw the balloon, and remarked that it was at surprisingly low elevation. Just as it crossed the road, ballast was thrown out. I could then see huge rent in the balloon, extending from near the bottom to half-way up the body. It was descending, but not very rapidly, for there seemed to be still a large amount of gas in the upper part of the chamber. But in a few minutes its shape became more like a parachute, for the silk of the lower part was flying in the wind, and the top looked just like an inverted saucer. Still it seemed that there was gas enough to bring it down safely; but a moment later this hope was dissipated. The balloon was falling through space, amid clouds of its own ballast, and it only remained to speculate whether it would fall on a tree or a house. The actual fall, I should say, would be between 400 ft. and 500 ft. I had just time to dart through Colby-road into Victoria-road when down came the balloon with a crash. It descended with such a rush at last that it was not possible for me to take in the details; but from the position of the remnants it was evident that the aeronauts had had the narrowest escape possible. Had the car struck a roof they could scarcely have escaped with their lives. But it fell quite close to the front of house, and had reached the level of the top of the front door when the mass of silk and cordage, now actually destitute of gas, veered over on to the roof. For a moment there was great ripping of silk; then the cordage caught firmly in the chimney, checked the fall of the car for second, and then jerked the occupants out head over heels on to the lawn. They were all on their feet immediately, looking at one another rather curiously, as though they could not comprehend what had happened. Looking up, they saw the wreckage of the balloon suspended from the chimney, and reaching down to the ground. Mr. Spencer seemed to be the first regain his presence of mind, and set about ascertaining if his companions were injured or not. Then they all shook one another by the hand and congratulated themselves heartily on making such marvellous escape.”
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