‘Shortly after midnight on 3rd October 1730, a series of brilliant 'fire balls' or hand-made grenades were seen arching through the air on St Augustine's Back, Bristol, and over the back wall of George Packer's large and opulent mansion house. There was 'a noise like the report of several guns', followed by quickly spreading flames. Within minutes, the merchant's home was ablaze, his household in full flight, and it was only a favourable wind that prevented the flames spreading to nearby warehouses and the dense flotilla of wooden ships crowding the adjacent quay.’ In this article, Steve Poole uncovers a story of organised extortion by arson at Bristol, and the ethnic and religious prejudices which it exposed.
This article tells the extraordinary story of Robert Cadman and his renowned steeple-flying performances throughout the South-West of England. Remarkably, Cadman hadn’t been the only one. John Penny follows the stories of the original ‘daredevils’ who gathered huge crowds at their dangerous performances and even appeared in the work of William Hogarth. These shocking spectacles were studded with moments of both calamity and ingenious choreography.