35 Balloons inflated and flown at West Woodhay

British Balloon Museum & Library balloons were brought out of storage and puffed up for the public, alongside many privately owned balloons which had been brought along. They were all to act as a backdrop for the West Woodhay House Garden Show. The weather forecast looked great. 2-3 knots all weekend, but it was not to be.

This year marks 100 years of the Royal County of Berkshire Show, organised by the Newbury & District Agricultural Society. The Garden Show, part of the NDAS has been held at West Woodhay House three times now, thanks to the generosity of Harry and Sarah Henderson whose home it is..

The Show committee approached the British Balloon Museum & Library last year to ask if they could provide an unusual backdrop during the two day show. They wanted as many vintage museum balloons as possible inflating all day and each day. Plus free flying for the modern balloons.

To inflate old balloon envelopes, there needed to be a lot of pilots willing to bring the basket and burners of their own balloons. The local pilots rallied round and as trailers arrived stuffed full of old envelopes from the museum collection, so did the pilots and their crews.

The co-ordination of such an event is not easy. James Dobson, the co-ordinator between the show and the Museum, BBM&L’s Chairman Richard d’Alton, and Tim Turner, the Museum Secretary who organises the BBM&L’s Inflation Days, worked tirelessly to make the project gel. James was also working hard to get local pilots to sign up for spending Father’s Day puffing up some old envelopes.

The met forecast couldn’t have been better. It was all go, and then the vagaries of the British weather set in. No clear skies and light winds, but gusty squalls, and winds which kept both balloons and some hairstyles pretty horizontal.

Never say never to a balloon pilot though. All Saturday, pilots successfully struggled to inflate complicated shaped old balloons, some of which required crews of up to 11 people. Balloons which hadn’t seen the light of day for years puffed out their creases and stood swaying violently in the launch field to the delight of the crowds.

Sunday promised better things, but again, the met was wrong. It was calm enough for four balloons to free fly on Sunday morning, but it was very fast. Then it got faster!

During the day more balloons came out in between showers, and were inflated with a back drop of black clouds. The public loved it. Some people had travelled long distances just to see the special shaped balloons, some crew had driven many hundreds of miles too, just to be part of it.

The BBM&L will never be able to thank enough, all the pilots and crew who gave up their weekend to help this happen. It was the greatest number of special shapes ever inflated in one place in the UK.

We are very grateful to Steve Jones, Mark Neal, and Dave Salisbury for allowing us to put their photographs here for you all to see. They don’t show all of the 35 balloons, but nearly all of them.

The BBM&L would also like to thank the show organisers for their donation to the museum.