ON October 4, 1784, Oxford aeronaut James Sadler made history by becoming the first Englishman to fly in a hot air balloon.
He took off from Merton Field, in Oxford, to the disbelief of watching crowds, and 30 minutes later landed safely six miles away near Woodeaton.
Sadler carried on a successful career in aeronautics and became known as the King of Balloons, but today he is largely forgotten.
Now, 230 years on from his first flight, a former Oxford resident inspired by his daring career has revived his celebrity in a historical novel.
Marianne Richards was living in Grandpont, South Oxford, in 2000 when she spotted the bronze plaque dedicated to Sadler near Merton Field.
And 14 years later, after much research, she has published the first part of her novel – The Oxford Aeronaut – with her own publishing group, Inspiration Works 4 U.
Ms Richards, who has published the book under her pen name Jane Browne, told readers on amazon.com: “This is the story of an ordinary man struggling against extra ordinary odds to find fulfilment.
“A man from a humble background admired by prominent men of his day – Samuel Johnson, Sir William Windham, Dr George Fordyce – and King George III himself.
“The characters are colourful and unforgettable, events thrilling and death-defying, as James battles enemies and elements at the very limits of 18th century knowledge.”
Sadler’s was not the first manned balloon ascent in Britain.
That was achieved by James Tytler from Edinburgh’s Comely Gardens on August 27, 1784, and an Italian called Vincenze Lunardi performed the first balloon flight in England a month afterwards.
Sadler was the first Englishman to take flight from home soil.
And, despite the sensational accounts of his later ascents from Oxford, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Manchester and Bristol, Sadler went ballooning for essentially scientific purposes.
He was renowned at Oxford University for skilful experiments in chemistry and steam engine design and later became an inspector of chemistry to the Admiralty.
In her novel, her version of Sadler is a social upstart, a worker from a family of bakers fighting 18th century snobbery.
When he tries to join the upper class ballooning fraternity, she said: “He threatens the strict social divide, garnering opposition from aristocrats, senior church officials and members of the Royal Society.”
Ms Richards’ colleague at Inspiration Works, Dan Vichente, is now working on radio and screen versions of The Oxford Aeronaut.
- The book is available in paperback or as an ebook download from amazon.co.uk