The morning was cold, but bright, perfect for the flight. Slowly the balloon was inflated until, just after noon, it bobbed over the castle square in Chester. Mr Baldwin checked the equipment he had installed in the car, then climbed aboard. He listened to a few final instructions from the aeronaut, then was released. As he shot upwards he felt his feet pressed down to the floor, the first of the many new sensations he was to feel that day – for the year was 1785, the balloon was only two years old, the number of people who had flown had only recently reached double figures, and he was to be the first scientist to take to the air.
As the rate of ascent steadied he bent to his equipment, measuring temperature and air pressure. The aeronauts who had ascended before him had gone into raptures at the sight of the earth from above, and he didn’t want to be distracted from his record keeping. As soon as he had taken his first readings, he looked over the side and gasped – he hadn’t expected it to be so wonderful. For a moment he stood in wonder, then began to make notes.
Chester looked blue!, after a moment he realised that this was because of the slate roofs, the river Mersey looked reddish, perhaps because of the mud. And the clouds, he was looking down on clouds! He pulled out his sketch block and began to draw, no one had ever drawn clouds from above before.
So it went on, observation after observation, he rose to more than a mile high, he tested out the strangest theories, did such height affect taste, he tried pepper, salt and ginger ( there was no change ).
Four hours after he took off he finally descended, his notebooks full of information. He was to spend the next six months writing up his notes, his book Airopaidia became an instant best seller.
He included a drawing of the counties of Cheshire and Lancashire seen from above. This was the first such aerial view ever produced, and came with instructions on how to look at it.
The View is seen to the best Advantage, when placed flat on a Table or Chair, and rather in the Shade: the Eye looking directly down upon the Picture. Whoever will be at the Trouble of viewing distinct Parts of the Balloon-Prospect, throu’ a very small Opening, made by rolling a Sheet of Paper into the Form of a hollow Tube, and applying it close to either Eye, at the same Time shutting the other; or by looking throu’ the Hand, held a little open, and close to the Eye; may form a very accurate Idea of the Manner, in which the Prospect below was represented gradually in Succession, to the Aironaut;
In 1783 Benjamin Franklin had seen the first balloon rise over Paris. Someone him asked him what use it could be, he famously replied.
“What use is a new-born babe?”
Two years later, over Cheshire, the baby had taken its first steps.