182 km (113 miles) divide the city of Bristol and Marlborough, in Southern England. It is a distance that, nowadays, can be covered in a short time by car or train. In the early 800’s though, it was an actual trip even for those ones who could make use of a horse-drawn coach.
On the 8th of January 1822, George Pocock started that very trip, carrying along wife and 2 children, on a self-made coach called “Charvolant”
It was dragged by two massive kites
George Pocock was a teacher, but his real passion was the kite, since his earliest age.Even as a boy, he was experimenting to determine the ability of traction and lifting of the kites by using stones and wooden boards.
The experiment were carried on even in adulthood, often with his own students, but even more so with his children, and especially with little Martha, who was the very first person, at least as far as we know, to be lifted in the air by a kite in 1824. It can seem extravagant, if not reckless, that a father would place a 12 years old daughter to a wicker chair and the secure her to a 10 m long kite (32 ft). But that’s what happened, the girl flew above the countryside and the Avon Gorge river, getting to the incredible height of 91.44 m (300 ft). Martha, far from being scared, declared to have had a wonderful time and that she liked the view.
By the way, despite her father was an inventor, Martha had a quiet life: she got married at the age of 19 with one of the many young men in Bristol who got passionate about the traction through kites, and she became the proud mother of a future cricket champion.
Pocock did not mind at all to use another one of his children, Alfred, as an animal test for his experiments. Still in 1824, he lifted the guy in the air all the way to let him lay on a cliff 60 m high for then going back down, still by flying with the kite.
Two years afterwards, in 1926, Pocock patented his Charvolant: two enormous kites, joined together, could drag a coach with 4 passengers and reaching a speed of beyond 30 km/h (98 miles/h). During a series of demonstrations, still within the route Bristol – Marlborough, a Charvolant passed the mail coach, which at the time was the fastest means available, and in another occasion it overtook the one of the Duke of Gloucester: an unforgivable violation of the etiquette, fixed by stopping and letting the Duke to go forward once again.
The kites, or floating sails, as Pocock would call them, had the upper side arch shaped and they were foldable in order to be kept and used when the necessity was arising. To handle them there were4 ropes wrapped around some bobbins which would control the lateral movement, while it was necessary the right length , according to the wind. The driver was supposed to be very capable, not only to move the kites, but also to use the t shaped steering wheel which was controlling the direction of the great back side wheels. There is also to keep in mind how the roads must have been back then.
After a some time from the patent to the Charvolant, Pocock published the book “The Aeropleustic Art”, where he was explaining how it was beautiful to travel with his coach:
“This mode of travelling is of all others the most pleasant: (…) while beholders, snatching a glance at the rapid but noiseless expedition, are led to regard the novel scene rather as a vision than a reality”.
Pocock suggested the convenience of his own means, which did not pay for any toll on the streets, depending of the number of horses for the other means.
Despite the advantages shown by Pocock, the Charvolant never turned into a means of transportation probably for its control difficulty. Only the inventor and his family used it, at least until the 1843, year in which George Pocock died.
Pocock had suggested other possible uses of his invention, in particular for ships, but no one used such suggestions.
Unfortunately there is no example of Charvolant survived to this day, only one of Pocock’s kites is kept at Bristol Museum. Today, the thrill of moving due to kites can be felt only by the kite-buggy lovers, who are thankful to the eccentric inventor.