Greenwich’s Phileas Fogg
It must be great to live in a house with a blue plaque, and I’m really rather jealous of number 20, Dartmouth Hill who have a splendid one, and clearly, when Benedict took this picture, felt they needed to bring the rest of the house up to the standard of the plaque – which explains the scaffolding.
James Glaisher FRS (1809 – 1903) was a meteorologist who worked up at the Observatory for much of his life, with coming up with ways to measure humidity and co-founding the Meteorological Society all in a day’s work. But what he’s best known for is his Great Balloon Ascent in 1862, where he flew higher than anyone had ever flown, conducted animal experiments which may or may not upset you, depending on your attitude to pigeons – and fainted before he could do his final measurement that would prove he actually went up seven miles.
Balloons had been around for just under 100 years – and not just as scientific experimental equipment, but for fun, too. The Prince Regent wrote a general letter for Edward Hawke Locker, a commissioner of Greenwich Hospital (and, incidentally, the guy who turned the Painted Hall into an art gallery) for a balloon flight he took in 1805, which requested that they were ‘well-entertained’ by the local toffs wherever they landed.
But back to Glaisher, who was very serious about this particular flight. He and his mate Henry Coxwell travelled up to Wolverhampton to get the best wind. They got more than they bargained for and at first they thought they might not go up. But as soon as they did, Glaisher busied himself with taking measurements and conducting experiments.