From the Archives: Professor Baldwin's Villa Park balloon ride
Paul Lambert will be looking to shoot up the Barclays Premier League table next season - but there was a different kind of climbing happening at Villa Park 120 years ago.
Simon Inglis tells a wonderful tale in his "Villa Park - 100 Years" book about a daredevil Professor who took to the skies in the final days of the historic ground's Meadow.
It was a sad moment when the magnificent green space was lost to urbanisation but what a way for it to go out!
The balloon went up - and there to see it happen was probably the largest crowd to assemble in Aston since the visit of Queen Victoria thirty years earlier.
The object of such intense interest was an intrepid American, a showman who went under the name of Professor T.S Baldwin.
Baldwin's speciality was to ascend rapidly into the air by balloon and then drop from a harness and parachute back to earth.
Ballooning was then a huge attraction, particularly as it was still a risk-laden business.
The Wright Brothers first powered flight, of course, was still 15 years away.
But parachuting was even more of a novelty and, despite the Professor having already made 10 successful jumps in London, the most recent of which had been at Alexandra Park a few days earlier, the people of Birmingham had never witnessed such a feat.
Accordingly, around 10,000 people paid a shilling entrance fee to the Meadow to watch Baldwin and his assistants prepare for the jump, while much to the chagrin of promoter George Reeves-Smith, another 50,000 or so crowded on to the slopes of Aston Park and into the surrounding streets to gain a free view.
Bevington Road and Trinity Road, reported the Birmingham Daily Gazette, were "literally alive with human beings."
Eventually, the balloon was ready. Baldwin kissed his wife, put on his harness, gave the signal and, seemingly in an instant, the balloon shot up to a height of 1,000 feet at which point a cruel wind directed the Professor right over Aston Park, thus providing those who had not paid with a perfect view.
And then, as thousands of eyes peered upwards into the rapidly darkening skies, Baldwin was seen to release himself from the harness.
For three agonising seconds the daredevil American plummeted downwards, head first, towards the horrified hordes, dropping at least 300 feet before - to gasps of relief and wild cheers - his parachute unfurled.
But where would he land? On the roof of Aston Hall? In the ornamental lake? In the graveyard of Aston Church?
Unfortunately for Baldwin it was none of these. As his balloon fluttered down on to the railway embankment on the other side of Witton Lane, he landed slap-bang in the middle of the throng in Aston Park, some yards from Trinity Road, where he was immediately set uponby hundreds of admirers, all eager to shake his hand, slap his back or grab a piece of his parachute.
It was, he remarked later after making a tortuous escape back to the awaiting guests in the Great Hall, "a rude kind of hero worship" made worse by the fact that his assailants had not even paid for the privilege and had torn his parachute into the bargain.
Nevertheless, as a finale for the Magnificent Meadow there could hardly have been a more tumultuous end to 24 years of highs and lows.
Within months the Meadow had all but disappeared under the bricks, mortar and cobbled stones of three new streets - Nelson, Jardine and Endicott Roads.
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