Up and away

In 1881, Walter Powell, the MP for Malmesbury since 1868, was lost when piloting the army balloon "Saladin" with a Captain Templer and a Mr Gardner. His companions jumped out when it became clear that they were heading out to sea near Bridport, but Powell remained and was never seen again.

Gardner was the brother of the long-serving Cheltenham MP James Agg-Gardner, whose 1927 memoir Some Parliamentary Recollections records the details of the unfortunate incident. Despite being in the House of Commons for nearly 40 years on and off, Gardner is said to have spoken
on only two occasions.

Christopher Thomson served in the Boer war, in which the British army made use of balloons for observation for the first time. He fought Bristol Central (1922) and St Albans (1923) for Labour before being ennobled and serving as air minister in both of Ramsay MacDonald's governments. He was killed in the crash of the R101 airship in 1930.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask