George Pocock and his kite-propelled transport
The fascinating tale of George Pocock and his kite-propelled transport.
Years before cars were invented, a Clifton schoolmaster was travelling at 25mph in his amazing Charvolant and terrorising local villages.
George Pocock ran his own academy in the city and also went around as an itinerant evangelical preacher, barnstorming the local mining community from a tent mission he pitched in their midst and waging a private war with the official Methodist authorities.
He had a passion for building box-kites and kite-propelled carriages, a subject on which he wrote a book, The Aeropleustic Art, and raced them between Bristol and Marlborough at speeds of up to 20 mph, sometimes with his daughters aboard.
George Pocock was a schoolmaster at a school for boys in Bristol called Prospect Place Academy. He has been described as the father of kite traction since his main extra curricular interest was inventions and kites. For example, Pocock invented and patented the 'charvolant', a carriage that would be pulled by two kites rather than horses.
He is reputed to have overtaken the Duke of York’s coach on one of these excursions, which prompted the Duke to invite him to Ascot to display his various forms of kite-propelled transport.
George Pocock was one of Bristol’s great eccentrics.
Legend has it that he once strapped His daughter Martha, the mother-to-be of W.G. Grace, (England's finest cricketer) into a chair attached to a set of kites and then flew her, hazardously but without mishap, over the Avon Gorge.
Kites have been around for at least 2,500 years and probably originated in China.
But the prize for the most original use of a kite has to go to Clifton schoolmaster George Pocock, inventor of the amazing Charvolant or Flying Car.
Pocock was a true Bristol classic whose previous inventions included an automatic caning machine which he used to beat his boys without effort.
The carriage of his Charvolant was a bit like a tricycle but could carry four people. It was powered by two kites, one of 10ft, one of 12ft, and managed 25mph in a good wind incredible speeds by the standards of the day By increasing the size of the kites to 20ft and 12ft, the Charvolant could carry six people at faster speeds than a horse and carriage. Pocock refined the rigging to allow him to tack the yachtsman's manoeuvre to use winds coming from the sides.
In 1828, he took the Charvolant to Ascot races where he demonstrated it to George IV, and the following month he used kites to pull a ferry boat across the Mersey.
Local reaction was enthusiastic this was before the days of steam and the journey from Liverpool to Birkenhead was subject to serious delays. ocock's kites, however, could be used at any state of the tide and passengers ended up more or less where they wanted to be.
Pocock built a number of Charvolants and raced them, but his best public relation stunt was replacing the sails on a yacht with giant kites and taking a party on a three week cruise of the Bristol Channel. In 1836, during a meeting of the British Association in Bristol, Pocock showed off a Charvolant to delegates. Among those who he took for a ride was Prince George of Cumberland
(after whom Cumberland Street is named) who was suitably impressed...
Pocock also recalls an incident when passengers of a char-volant overtook the royal coach of the Duke of Gloucester, an act considered very rude and improper.
Having illustrated the power of the carriage, the group made amends by pulling over and letting the Duke pass by with his horse drawn carriage. This contraption also confused toll keepers. At this time a tax was levied on the number of horses used to pull a carriage, and apparently the keeper was puzzled as to what the charge would be for a carriage without horses.
A book written by George Pocock, published in 1827.
The book details The origin and history of the Invention and Pocock states that when he was a little tiny boy, I learnt that my paper kite would draw along a stone on the ground, tied to the end of its string. Experimenting with kites and stones, Pocock 'wondered' and grew ambitious.
The book continues with accounts of Pocock's experiments with kites, for example using kites to pull boats. Pocock also explains the mechanics, construction and the power of kites.
Pocock propounds several uses for kites. Their application by sea included serving as auxiliary sails to the navy, trading vessels and merchantmen. He also suggests using kites in the case of a shipwreck, using them to drop anchor.
Pocock does, however, acknowledge that portions of the plan are not practicable.
George Pocock's School, Prospect Place, St Michael's
The school was advertised for sale in June 1848 as Prospect Place Academy, lately and for many years past in the occupation of Mr George Pocock and his successors. Situated in Church Lane it was described as 'a commodious house and offices, replete with conveniences, forming a large family residence and well suited for a school or lodging house with an extensive garden or playground'. The advertiser, alert to the possibilities added that the grounds 'may well be converted into building sites, for which it is well adapted having an entrance from two public thoroughfares'.
George Pocock was quite a character. He built enormous kites and attached them to a carriage. With 6 passengers aboard it would travel at 25 miles an hour and was often used on the Downs. It could travel free on the turnpikes. Then he constructed a huge kite which could pull four carriages at once and used another kite to power a yacht in the Bristol Channel.
An early Green but at the mercy of the winds. No wind, no travel.