Gas Stations of the Past - Part Four

Ignore the hot air about hot air. Sun 05 December 2021

Balloon accident at the gas works. Source: Watch Out for Gas! 2

Early balloonists flew silk or rubber balloons inflated with 'town gas'. With sewage fumes.

Event Year Take-Off Landing Site Notes
Jane/Sophia Stocks/Thomas Harris fatal flight and crash 1824-05-25 Beddington (possibly Croydon gas works) Not known Silk balloon
Jane/Sophia Stocks first balloon flight from Stamford, Lincolnshire 1825-02-02 Stamford gas works Thorney Probably silk balloon
First solo female balloon flight 1826-06-28 White Conduit Gardens, London N/A Originally planned to fly with Jane/Sophia Stocks. Site likely supplied gas to neighbouring London metalworks.
London to Wielburg, Germany, long-distance balloon flight record 1836 Vauxhall Gardens gas works Weilburg
First Shrewsbury flight 1838-10-06 Shrewsbury gas works N/A
Colonel Burnaby's English Channel crossing 1882-03-23 Dover gas works Near Calais Rubber balloon
De Crespigny's North Sea crossing 1883 Maldon gas works Vlissingen Rubber balloon

Gas works take-off sites in early balloon flights.

Links to details of gas works take offs:

Take off from the gas works... Source: Presenting Mrs Margaret Graham

Many other clues hint that early balloons were filled with town gas, not hydrogen. Two accounts of a balloon fire at London's Cremorne Gardens - a pleasure garden famous for its gas lights and balloon ascents.

From Illustrated London News, 1850-08-17. p138:

I continued emptying the balloon. Upon walking round to see if the valve was open, a man indiscreetly came behind me with a light, which coming in contact with the escaping gas, instantaneously ignited, giving forth a volume of flame which resembled the dome of St. Paul’s on fire: the effect of the sudden combustion of from 8000 to 10,000 cubic feet of gas was terrific.

And from The Principality, 1850-08-16, p8:

DESTRUCTION OF MRS. GRAHAM'S BALLOON. Mrs. Graham made a night ascent from Cremorne Gardens, on Wednesday, under circumstances of great disadvantage, owing to the state of the atmosphere, and the heavy rain that had fallen during the afternoon and after a somewhat hazardous trip, descended in a field near the South-Eastern Railway, at Edmonton, but in so doing, owing to the incautious conduct of some person who came to her assistance, the remainder of the gas contained in the balloon was ignited, and the balloon totally destroyed. Mrs. Graham was much scorched about the face.

Claude Champion de Crespigny cites Burnaby lighting up a cigar during his 1882 crossing the English Channel:

regardless of the fact that there was a continuous escape of inflammable gas just above his head. He might just as safely have smoked in a powder magazine. Burnaby admitted the riskiness of the proceeding in describing it afterwards, and chuckled when he pictured what the discomfort of the owner of the balloon would have been, could he have seen what was taking place!

Some eastern European and Russian UFO sightings read more like balloons whose gas density - and therefore altitude - could be controlled.

From RIAP Bulletin Vol 4, Number 3, July-September 1998, p4:

[In 1958,] the kolkhozniks (collective farmers) living in the village near Suzdal, interpreted in similar fashion (ie as a devil or serpent) the nature of a strange object that periodically appeared in their locality. To these people, stepped in old Russian superstition, it was a "Fiery Serpent" embodying the soul of a person who had recently passed away.

The "Serpent" resembled "a motor-car headlamp"


"However, it had a tail, with which it could stabilise its flight. More often than not it hovered over villages and sometimes glided towards the earth. Once it glided not far from me: I imagined that either a truck, or a tractor with a searchlight was approaching me from behind." 1

Another witness of the Suzdal aerial phenomenon described the "Serpent" as:

"a luminous ball that did resemble a motor-care headlamp". It hovered at the angular height of 30 deg - 40 deg, standing out against the dark night sky. "It's colour was yellowish-green. To determine the distance to this object was impossible, <...> {but it could be estimated as 1-2km. Its visual size was half as big as the moon's angular diameter. This body was a little flattened and seemted to rotate around its vertical axis <...>.

Some minutes later, the ball began to descend and dim. After a few seconds the "Serpent" vanished", but then reappeared three or four times, in ten-minute intervals. Each appearance of the object lasted from three to four minutes (See Ref, 4, p. 48.)

Suzdal (Google Maps), (Google Streetview), (OpenStreetMap), (NLS), (Flickr images).

Zigel is pictured holding a photograph of a drawing by other witnesses of an object they saw:

It looks like a balloon to me. Source

There are various other accounts of slowly pulsating, often crescent-shaped, coloured objects in the sky.

Also from RIAP Bulletin Vol 4 Number 3 July-September 1998, p4:

On August 26, 1943, platoon commander Gennadiy Shalaginov was at the Kursk salient, scene of one of the greatest battles of the [Second World] war. At about 9.30 AM he left his observation post and saw "a crescent-shaped object that flew at a very great speed to the SW and soon disappeared from my sight. The color of its frontal part and rear parts was the same: dark-bluish with a play of changing light; at the middle part it merged into light orange. There was an impression that this huge "dolphin" was breathing: its middle part now diminished, now increased in size.

Kursk salient (Google Maps), (Google Streetview), (OpenStreetMap), (NLS), (Flickr images).

Also from RIAP Bulletin Vol 4 Number 3 July-September 1998, p5:

... a TU-4 plane, was carrying out ice reconnaisance near Greenland. He recalls:

"We came out of some cloud, and unexpectedly noticed a strange flying vehicle moving to the left of us, parallel to our course 180 deg. It looked like a large lens, pearl colored, its edges waving."

This same pilot had seen something similar over Nizhnie Kresty in the Kolyma region, six years earlier.

Kolyma (Google Maps), (Google Streetview), (OpenStreetMap), (NLS), (Flickr images).

Their night-time brightening and dimming, and pulsating or bobbing motions give us a clue that these were balloons or airships whose gas temperature - and therefore gas density - was being varied to control their altitude.

From Forty Years of Sports, Claude Champion de Crespigny, Chapter 5, Ballooning Experiences:

At ten minutes past six a rather startling thing occurred. The sun peeped out of the bank of clouds which encircled it, and under the influence of its rays, the balloon instantly took a wild leap heavenwards, carrying us in a single bound from 8,000 to 17,000 feet. In our mad career upwards we passed through what looked like a great field of glaciers and snow-covered mountains.

Other flying entities of the past

Legendary Bladud: The Flying King And Historical Founder Of Bath, England

The Magnificent Ancient ‘Flying Airship’ Of King Solomon

Medieval Celtic Mystery Written In Konungs Skuggsja – The King’s Mirror

Horrifying Flying Head That Terrorized The Iroquois

Mysterious Object In Asuka – The Place Of ‘Flying Birds’

See also:

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  1. Ref 4, p. 48 is The UFO Phenomenon, F Zigel, Moscow, Inventsiya, 1993. 

  2. Note the square platform above the outlet holes for the gas delivery pipe. Remains of square platforms are found around England

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