For many miles around Tadley people refer to this village, with a knowing smile, as ‘Tadley God Help Us’, Why?
Many years ago a balloon made an unplanned descent in a clearing in Pamber Forest. The occupants of the balloon asked of a small group of forest workers, ‘Where are we?’ The workers, considerably frightened by what they thought was a visitation from the heavens replied, ‘Tadley’, adding the supplication, ‘God Help Us!’ The balloonists assumed they were in a place called ‘Tadley God Help Us’.
How much truth is there in this story? There is little hope of proof one way or another, but the following extract from an account of adventures of balloonists in the 19th century written by one Frank Mundell tells a story which may help readers to make up their own minds.
The book records that the well known balloonist Coxwell set out in his balloon on the 16 October 1853 but his plans were ruined by the sudden arrival of a very strong wind and the sticking of a valve which would have helped him to land quickly. Instead he drifted until ‘shortly after eight o’clock the balloon descended in a field north of Basingstoke. It was by then quite dark … He shouted until he was hoarse and so he reluctantly decided to spend the night in the car …’
A glimmer of light in the distance guided him to a farm house but a great fierce Newfoundland dog chased him away. He returned to the balloon and later heard voices and shouted, ‘Here I am, and the balloon all safe’ After a brief hush there followed the sound of hurried departing footsteps. Coxwell now realised that there must be houses nearby and set off again … ‘He found himself face to face with a workman on his way home. Coxwell made known his condition but his story excited suspicion instead of sympathy and the only help he could get was a recommendation to make known his wants at the village inn’. He was directed to the inn and on his way he met a policeman. Again he was met with distrust and in reply to his question, ‘What county am I in?’ the constable said, ‘You don’t know what county you’re in, don’t you? Well, if you don’t clear out of this you’ll know that you’re in the county gaol soon enough’.
He set off for the inn again but he found it surprisingly locked and in darkness, so he returned to his balloon. The next day it was explained that the landlord had heard of a mysterious stranger being about. However, the next day he received help from a farmer who expressed regret for the unfriendly reception the aeronaut had had and on parting was told, ‘Another thing, you must not forget that you have come among the Hampshire hogs, and that a grunt or two is all in character’.
Postscript: At a time when police constables were not a common sight, the 1851 Census shows that a local police constable did exist at the time: George Francis, of Baughurst Road in Baughurst. An account of the sighting in Tadley is recorded in the Women’s Institute Scrapbook that is available in TADS archive.
It should be said that it was possible to “spend the night in a car” in 1853, even though 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car when Karl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen. John Wise the father of american ballooning and the wider ballooning community repeatedly used the term “car” for the basket of a balloon from at least 1831 onwards.
The “Tadley God Help Us” story keeps being repeated widely across the press, for example in the Framlingham Weekly News – Saturday 25 September 1926, Reading Evening Post – Wednesday 02 February 1972, even the New York Times Archive contains an article dated by Harriot Stanton Blatch entitled “The Truth On Tadley-God-Help -Us”. The event has even been recorded on a modern horse brass…