Balloon ascent, parachute descent

Balloon Ascent, Parachute descent

A turn-of-the century novelty display of daring-do


During the 1890s and into the twentieth century a popular entertainment appears to have been watching a balloon being inflated and then carrying a man (or lady, in the case of Miss Alma Beaumont) aloft. The man (or Alma) then proceeded to launch him/herself from the balloon, and return to earth by means of a primitive parachute.

The advertisement in the Gallery below, from the 8 September 1899 edition of the Western Chronicle, advertises a balloon ascent and parachute descent taking place at the Yeovil gas works and also refers to a failed attempt at Yew Tree Close Park on 8 August 1899. For full details, see the reports at the very bottom of this page,

The series of four balloon photographs below, by Yeovil photographers Witcomb & Son, are of a different event in fields close to Yeovil. This event also appears to be slightly later, say c1902.




Advertising a 'Balloon Ascent & Parachute Descent' from the 8 September 1899 edition of the Western Chronicle. A temporary main of iron pipe was laid from the Gas Works to the center of a garden joining and abutting Stars Lane, where the balloon was filled with 12,000 sq ft of gas. When the balloon was released, it narrowly missed a factory in the lane and ascended up over Summerhouse Hill. At 2,500 ft, Mr Gaudron parachuted from the balloon - landing next to the cricket field at the rear of Newton Farm. The balloon carried on in the direction of Yeovil Junction, coming down in a field on Clifton Maybank Farm.


Auguste E Gaudron - the Aeronaut


Miss Alma Beaumont - balloonist


The balloon begins to inflate. Clearly not in the town gasworks, but in a field close to town?


It clearly takes a lot of people to hold down an inflated balloon, while a large crowd looks on.


The man jumps from the balloon, his parachute is about to open above him.


Here, the balloon is at the top of the photo and the daring parachutist is at the bottom.


Newspaper Reports


From the 11 August 1899 edition of the Western Chronicle. (Many thanks to Rob Baker).


The annual fete held under the auspices of the local Societies, took place on Tuesday, and may well be termed the event of the year in Yeovil, and is looked forward to with keen interest by hundreds and thousands of people not only in Yeovil, but in the district round for many miles. The fete, in point of attendance, was the most successful of the festivals held by the societies, an unprecedentedly large crowd of people thronging the town in the morning, and the field in the afternoon and evening.

Some disappointment might at first have been felt when, owing the recent death of Mrs Harbin, of Newton House, the beautiful grounds Newton Park were not available, as has been the case in former years. However, the committee made the best of the matter, and after a good search obtained the permission of Mr Neale, Mrs McCall, and Mr Derryman, to hold the gala in Yew Tree Close Park. The Park itself could hardly have been better for the event, and the beautiful surroundings of the park added much to the enjoyment of the multitude pleasure-seekers, the only drawback to the locality being its comparative long distance from the town.

The committee worked very hard to secure success having met nearly every evening for some little time, and, with a programme more attractive than ever, only fine weather was needed in order to secure the success so well deserved. The morning opened very dull, a few drops of rain falling a little later. By dinner time, however, the weather was quite settled, and the rest of the day was fine, a gentle breeze moderating the heat. Yeovil practically kept a whole day’s holiday on Tuesday, the business establishments of the town closing at 3 o'clock, so that the streets were almost deserted in the afternoon and evening.

In the morning St. John’s hells rang merrily, flags floated from every flag-staff, and the Borough and Middle Street were almost blocked with the streams of sightseers, the Railway Companies having run excursions from all directions, Bristol being even included among the favoured towns in this respect. The country roads in the district, too, presented quite an animated appearance during the morning, the villagers in the rural districts around making no small addition to the sightseers. Last year there was a record attendance, but that was beaten on this occasion, the public thus showing their appreciation of the excellent bill-of-fare provided.

The day’s programme proper commenced shortly after noon, when the Yeovil Town Band (Bandmaster J Hyde) and the Langport Band (Bandmaster E Purchase) having rendered some inspiring music in the Borough and near the Hotel respectively, marched to the Station Road, where the members of the societies had assembled for the formation the procession. Wearing their regalia and with flags and banners flying, the procession was well marshalled by Bros. Whensley, Elliott, Clinker, and Jennings.

The following was the order of the procession:- Yeovil Town Bind; Preston Maypole dancers; members of the "Loyal Alexandra" Lodge of Oddfellows and visiting brethren with their banners; juvenile members of the "Loyal Alexandra" Lodge Oddfellows with their banners; members the Rational Sick and Burial Society with their banner; members the Hearts of Oak; Langport Band; members the Court "Good Intent" Foresters; juvenile members of the Foresters with their banners; members of the Yeovil "Guardian" Society their banners.

At the rear the procession rode the members of the Yeovil Volunteer Fire Brigade (under Capt. R Damon), dressed in their smart uniforms and wearing their glittering helmets, mounted on their fire engine, which was drawn by four grey horses kindly lent Mr F Box, of the Choughs Hotel, driven postilions in red livery. Mr Box drove the performers and the members of the committee in a well-equipped char-a-banc.

Mr Vincent, of the Red Lion, and Mr Matthews, the Mermaid Hotel, drove the inmates of the Union to the Park, and in accordance with his annual custom, Mr Levi Beer conveyed the old people of the Woborn’s and Corporation Almshouses to the Park, and also treated them to the luncheon. The procession, to the strains of the bands, made way through the crowded streets, taking the following route : Middle Street, Borough, top of Hendford, West Hendford, to Yew Tree Close Park.

Soon after the arrival at the Park a public luncheon was provided in a large marquee, erected by Mr R B Brown, of Dorchester. His Worship the Mayor (Mr J Vincent) presided, and among those present were: Mr W Peake Mason (the Conservative candidate for the division), Mr Sidney Watts, the vicar (Rev. J Phelips). the Revs. H T Pinchin, C J H Locke, and G Hugo Heynes, Dr. Colmer, Ald. C W Pittard, and H C Tompkins, Messrs R J Brutton, L Bier, C J Hook, F Box. T Elliott, H S Bennett, Gaylard, W J Browne, R Damon, Matthews (of the Mermaid Hotel), and R H Wickham (official judge).

An excellent spread was provided Mrs M H P White, at the conclusion of which the Mayor announced that had received an apology for inability to attend from Mr E Strachey, MP, who had contributed his annual donation of £2 2s to the funds of the fete. Mr Peake Mason had also made a similar donation. Letters were also received from Dr. Hunt, Mr J B Petter, Mr W T Clements, the Revs. H Hawkins and J G James, and others who were prevented from attending.
The Chairman having given “The Queen” in felicitous terms.

Mr J Hook proposed "The Bishop and Clergy and Ministers all all Denominations." He said the societies were always lucky in having good weather and a most successful fete, and they were fortunate that day in having the Vicar of Yeovil with them. (Applause). He coupled with the toast the names of the Vicar and the Rev. G Hugo Heynes.

The Vicar said that wherever be had lived had always been very interested in friendly societies, and in all his parishes had always tried to help forward thrift. He and his fellow ministers fully recognised how much those societies were promoting the general welfare of the people. They felt how much the country owed to the Friendly Societies in promoting thrift, and hoped nothing would interfere with the good work friendly societies were doing. Referring to temperance, he said they hoped the societies would help to promote temperance principles. They trusted that whoever brought in the Bill for establishing Old Age Pensions that they would take care that there was no interference with the splendid work which had been done those societies. (Hear, hear.) The Rev. G Hugo Heynes, in responding, also spoke of old age pensions, and said if a system of pensions were instituted it would have to be formulated on the principles of those societies. Moreover, it seemed to him that if the Government was going to touch the subject all, it should be through the efforts of those societies, and by backing them. (Hear, hear).

The Mayor proposed the toast of "The Friendly Societies,” and called upon the hon. secs. (Messrs. Atkins and Elliott) to respond. The toast was received with enthusiasm, three cheers being given in honour of the societies by the assembled company, the instigation of Ald. Pittard.
No response was made to the toast by the gentlemen whose names were coupled with it, as they were found to be absent attending their onerous duties in the field.

The Chairman then gave “The Visitors", and Mr Sidney Watts replied. He said they had with them that afternoon a very distinguished visitor in Mr Peake Mason who had come that day a very long distance to with them. He had had the misfortune to miss his train but he had succeeded somehow or other by the aid of air balloon to reach Yeovil in time. (Laughter). Mr Peake Mason made up his mind that he would not miss the pleasure of being with them that afternoon but had not come to talk politics but bad come to shake bands with them and to join them in their sports and amusements.

Three cheers were then given for Mr Peake Mason and Mr Watts. Mr Mason said "When a well-graced actor leaves the stage" all eyes are turned on him, but idly turned on those that follow. He did not propose to detain them more than five minutes, but they must allow him say how heartily he thanked them for the kind reception they had given him. He thanked them for their hearty hospitality, and wished them to understand how much had enjoyed it; and having said that he felt that ought to leave them to enjoy the sports waiting for them without dwelling on the many advantages of Friendly Societies. He entirely concurred with all that had been said about Friendly Societies by previous speakers. He rejoiced to know that it had never been treated as a party question by the great parties in the State. Both parties in the State had united in one common effort to assist the working classes in their endeavours to be thrifty, and he hoped that course of things might long continue whatever party were in power. So far as old age pensions were concerned, be entirely concurred with the remarks of the other speakers. It would be altogether wrong if any scheme were propounded which would in any way affect the friendly societies, who were the great pioneers of the principles involved. He thanked them again for the cordial welcome they had given him, and be hoped to be enabled to come amongst them on many future occasions. (Applause).

The Vicar proposed “The health the Mayor,” who was always ready to do all be could on these occasions, and who always helped them whenever he could. The Chairman replied, and "God Save the Queen" concluded the luncheon.

An adjournment was then made to the open, where an excellent programme of races had been arranged. The contractor, Mr Hyde, had made quite a transformation the usual pastoral appearances of the Park, and the entrance very much resembled a fair, stalls having been erected along the path. A course had also been well roped off. Notwithstanding the inconvenience experienced in obtaining a suitable spot for the fete, a race track had been prepared which, though not quite as level as billiard table, way said to be equal to those provided in former years in Newton Park.

A grandstand had been erected to an admirable position, and every convenience was afforded. The other attractions included a roundabout, swings, shooting galleries, etc, while vendors of refreshments, ices, sweets, etc, appeared to be doing a roaring trade. A bandstand was placed at either end the park, and at intervals during the races and during the performances the Yeovil Town and Langport Bands each rendered a choice selection of music. Mrs Purchase's maypole dancers were also present and their performances were witnessed with much interest.

Undoubtedly the attraction of the day was the announcement that Mr Auguste E Gaudron (the Alexandra Palace aeronaut) and Miss Alma Beaumont (the champion lady parachutist) would make “two grand balloon ascents and parachute descents," Miss Beaumont, it was stated, having challenged Mr Gaudron that she would ascend 2,000 feet higher than he went, but to the disappointment of the the vast crowd it unfortunately happened that the young lady never left terra firma.

In the afternoon the gentleman made his ascent and descent with great success. As was the case last year, an underground furnace had been constructed with a chimney through which the hot air from the burning wood below ascended and inflated the huge balloon. The inflation of the balloon occupied about half-an-hour. the process being watched with interest by the spectators. A large number of men were employed in holding it down, and the daring parachutist (who turned out to be Mr Harry Spencer, of 232, Hornsey Road, London, Mr Gaudron being unable come) having seen that everything was all right, and having attached himself to the parachute, gave the word to let go. Immediately on being released the balloon rose grandly, and floated away in a westerly direction. The ascent was watched with breathless delight, and when Mr Spencer had reached an altitude of nearly 3,000 feet he released his parachute, which at once dropped with him at a great velocity. The parachute then opened, and the aeronaut gracefully descended to the ground, alighting in a field only a short distance from the Park.

On being relieved its burden, the balloon, influenced by a bag of sand attached to the top, at once overturned and deflated, descending not far from the spot reached by the parachutist. A crowd of people rushed over the hedges to meet the successful balloonist, and returned to the Park amid the cheers of the spectators.

By half-past seven in the evening the attendance had been largely augmented, and the second ascent, by the lady, was being eagerly waited. At about this time the arrangements previously described were repeated, and pointed to a successful ensue. But disappointment awaited the onlookers.

The inflation was completed, and everything was ready for Miss Beaumont's departure. The word to let go was given, but the crowd were surprised see the balloon ascend without the parachutist, and almost immediately rent in two. Commencing with a little slit, the balloon was in a few seconds seen to rent in twain from top to bottom, and it once descended to very close from where it started. Happily, disaster was averted by the disconnection of the parachute just as it had risen from the ground.

The lady aeronaut consequently did not leave the ground, but was pulled a few feet before her parachute was freed of the damaged balloon. Mr Spencer explained that the mischief was caused through the men on one side not letting go quickly enough, with the result that the strain the other side was so great as to tear the cover. Much excitement prevailed, and keen disappointment was felt by the thousands waiting the event.

A representative of the Western Chronicle interviewed the aeronauts shortly after the occurrence, and their explanation of the failure will found below.


by Our Own Special Reporter

Immediately after the attempted ascent of Miss Beaumont, which proved a failure, a Chronicle man sought an interview with the aeronauts, to hear from their own lips their explanation of the occurrence. At the time a large portion of the crowd had surrounded the fallen balloon and were busily engaged in examining the texture ol the cloth of which it was composed, expressing freely their opinion that the whole attempt was a “put-up-job," and that the lady never intended to make her advertised parachute descent. It was asserted that the balloon was rotten and was not fixed properly on purpose to deceive the public.

Desirous of ascertaining what truth there might be in these statements, our Representative found Miss Alma Beaumont, who was in the company of Mr Harry Spencer, the latter of whom had on this occasion made a successful parachute descent earlier in the afternoon, taking the place of his brother-in-law and partner, Mr Gaudron.

Both of these daring aeronauts are much below middle height, and extremely slight, the lady being a diminutive specimen of her sex. There was, however, no mistaking the fact that they were both very much upset about the accident which had prevented the parachute descent coming off, and Miss Beaumont pathetically protested that she had never disappointed the public before.

How many ascents have you made, enquired our representative?
I have made about 150 ascents altogether, I made about 30 last summer alone in all parts of England, and I never had anything like it before. I have never deceived the public in my life!

How do you account for the accident?
Well, said Mr Spenser, the first ascent came off satisfactorily enough. Everything was very favourable. I went up about 3,000 feet, and dropped about a quarter-of-a-mile off. We brought the balloon down, and prepared for the second ascent.

It is stated the that the balloon which was sent up the second time was not the same balloon as that with which you made your ascent earlier the afternoon. Is that so?
No, it was the same balloon!

And, also, you have another balloon in reserve which you might have used?
No, there is another on the ground, but it is not in a fit state send up.

How was it the balloon burst, and Miss Beaumont’s ascent did not take place?
It failed through the negligence of the people here. The people were right upon us, bidding Miss Beaumont good-bye - they were right round her, instead of being kept back.

What was the exact cause the balloon burst?
Well, in consequence of the state of things I mentioned, the people holding the balloon down were not properly under control, and when the word to “Let go” was given, instead of letting go properly all round, they only let go at one side, and the opposite side still kept hold.

What was the effect of this on the balloon ?
Why the balloon, under the terrible strain, gave way.

Did the lady ascend at all?
No, the balloon tore up and never lifted the lady off her feet.

You have never had an occurrence like this before, Miss Beaumont?
No, never!

What do you think ought to have been done to prevent it?
Why, said Mr Spencer, they ought to have given us an enclosure instead of allowing the people to come crowding round us. It's a matter of life and death to us if anything goes wrong, and any distraction may cause a disaster!

You complain, then, that the Committee were negligent in their duty you?
Yes, when it occurred they laughed and joked about it!

There can hardly have been any justification for that I should think?
No; we did our best, and everything could do keep faith with the public. No-one is more upset about the matter than Miss Beaumont and myself. We did all we could to make a successful ascent, and when I went round shouting to keep the people back, I was hoarse. There was not a constable in the ring, and (turning to Miss Beaumont) they were shaking hands with you!

One other question: You are billed as from Alexandra Palace, London?
Yes, that correct. My brother-in-law (Mr Gaudron) and myself are one firm, and we have ascended successfully at Wimborne, Dorchester, Alton Towers, Spalding, Aldershot, and Redhill, amongst other places.

With this explanation of the mishap, which might have become a tragedy if the balloonists had been less experienced, or if the rent in the balloon had not been instantly seen by their watchful eyes, our reporter left.


From the Western Gazette's edition of 15 September 1899


With a view to satisfying as far as possible the immense crowd of people who were disappointed at the Yeovil Amalgamated Friendly Societies' Fete on August 8th, the committee on Saturday afternoon gave free entertainment - Mr A E Gaudron, of the Alexandra Palace, London, performing a successful parachute descent from a balloon in sight of a vast concourse of spectators.

It will be remembered that at the fete at Yew Tree Close Park, Yeovil, the day after the August Bank Holiday, nearly 12,000 people were anxiously waiting to see the ascent and descent of Miss Alma Beaumont, a lady who is employed by Mr Gaudron.

The balloon on that occasion was successfully filled with hot air, but immediately on its release it was rent from bottom top and descended from height of 30 of 40 feet. Miss Beaumont releasing her parachute just in time to prevent being placed in a perilous position. The public were naturally disappointed at the failure, although in the afternoon of the same day Mr Spencer, also of Mr Gaudron's firm, had made a highly successful descent from the same balloon. Unfounded and ridiculous theories were entertained in some quarters that the affair was "put up.” The simple facts of the occurrence, as related by a good many who were privileged a near view of the accident, absolutely disproved these aspersions, but, nevertheless, the Committee felt that the popularity of the fete might diminish another year if some amends were not made for the misfortune.

Mr Gaudron also felt his business might be similarly affected by the failures, and he readily met the Committee in the proposal, the result of which was witnessed by thousands of excited and delighted spectators on Saturday, when a grand ascent and descent was made by Mr Gaudron from the Corporation Gas-Works.

The daring aeronaut arrived at Yeovil on Friday evening, and on Saturday morning superintended the arrangements for the inflation of his balloon. On previous occasions, when the ascents have been made from Newton Park and Yew Tree Close Park, it has been found necessary to fill the balloons with hot air by means of a wood furnace of special construction.
This method however is a very costly one, the expense incurred being no less than £5. The use of gas is found to be considerably cheaper, and therefore arrangements were made with the Manager of the Gas Works fill the balloon with gas in the works and that the ascent should be made from there.

A temporary main of iron piping was laid from the works to the centre of the gardens adjoining, and abutting on Stars Lane. To the end of this was attached some flexible tubing, which communicated with the balloon itself, and in this manner the inflation was carried out. The balloon was constructed of silk which had been treated with oil to render it gas proof, and was enclosed in netting. Operations were commenced about quarter-past four, only the members of the committee and press being privileged enter the Gas Works.

The balloon was first held down by means of a number of sandbags, attached to the netting. As the balloon gradually assumed globular shape these bags were removed and the gentlemen present were employed holding the ropes. By just after 6 o'clock, the process was successfully completed, 12,000 ft. of gas having been used. The aperture the bottom was closed while the parachute was attached, and the balloonist having performed this delicate piece of work, everything was in readiness for the ascent. The general impatience the onlookers seemed to be shared by the balloon itself, as while it was held captive the high wind that was blowing made it sway about to rather an alarming extent.

But all fear of another accident was soon dispersed, the ascent successfully made at about 5.15. Mr Gaudron having completed his preparations, drew away his parachute in a straight line and gave his directions in the coolest manner. With his hands he held a hoop to which the ropes of the parachute were fastened and he partly supported himself in a sitting posture in a rope swing. He then directed a man to pull the string, by which means the exit at the base of the balloon was opened to allow the gas eventually to escape, and then at his shout of "Let go; let go,” the straining balloon was released, and shot upwards with great rapidity.

The aeronaut was swung with much force in the direction of the factory in the lane, but he maintained his hold and then ascended quite gracefully over Summerhouse Hill. The balloon behaved magnificently, and rose to a height of 2,500 feet, the higher atmosphere appearing to be quite calm. The spectacle did not last long, for the aeronaut pulled his string and he at once dropped towards earth. The parachute almost immediately opened, and Mr Gaudron returned to terra firma with as much grace as a bird. The northerly wind had carried him over Summerhouse Hill in the direction of Yeovil Junction, and he landed quite safely in the ground next the Cricket Field at the rear of Newton Farm.

The balloon, relieved of its living burden, seemed loath to leave its native element, and floated about for some minutes. When the gas at last had exhausted itself, the balloon descended and was found to have been carried by the wind to a field on Clifton Maybank Farm. Mr Gaudron. finding his legs, first accosted a shepherd who was near, and shortly afterwards met Mr H E Higdon, who returned on his bicycle with the parachute to the Gas Works.

The members of the Town Band, under Bandmaster J Hyde, rendered a selection of music in the Station Road during the latter part of the afternoon. Thousands of spectators witnessed the performance from various vantage points. A dense crowd collected on the summit of Summerhouse Hill, where a good view was obtained. Wyndham Hill, too, was extensively patronised, and from here the best sight was afforded, as the aeronaut could be watched till he disappeared behind the trees in close proximity to the spot where landed.

Stars Lane was packed, and all the windows in view of the preparations were occupied with interested spectator’s faces. Mr Gaudron commenced his flight amid a cheer, which must have spelled the public's satisfaction with him in his daring feat. Mr Gaudron was met on the Newton Road with waggon and was driven back to the Station Road, where he was heartily received, the band playing *' See, the conquering hero conquer." He was accompanied through the town by large crowd, the band heading the procession playing a lively march.

Great praise due to Messrs T Elliott and T H Atkins the hon. secretaries, and to the committee for the commendable manner in which they have satisfied the public under most trying circumstances.



There than followed a court case, known as the 'Yeovil Balloon Case', that made the newspapers in the spring of 1902. The balloonist in this instance, 'Professor' Charles Fleet, claimed that payment had not been made following a failed balloon / parachute attempt due to bad weather in August 1901.


A report of the re-hearing of the 'Yeovil Balloon Case' from the 25 April 1902 edition of the Western Gazette.


Three days earlier than the Western Gazette's report above, this report from the 22 April 1902 edition of the Western Morning News confirmed that the verdict was in favour of the plaintiff, 'Professor' Charles Fleet.