On Monday, at the Foresters’ Fete, at Leicester, the populace burnt Coxwell’s balloon, ‘Britannia,’ in which the aeronaut had proposed to make an ascent, and they would, in all probability also have killed himself had he not been escorted off the ground by a strong body of police.
It was announced that the balloon ascent would take place at half-past five o’clock, and as the hour approached there was a great rush to see the air-ship, which was then in process of being inflated.
The police were unable to keep back the ‘roughs,’ and a series of rows was the result, in which serious wounds were inflicted on both sides.
One of the policemen, by a blow of a stake on the forehead, knocked down a woman, who lay on the ground bleeding profusely. This, we trust, accidental outrage, infuriated the mob, who instantly made a most determined attack on the constables.
The scene of riot and confusion was indescribable; and eventually the constabulary were beaten back.
Mr Coxwell was seated in the car of the balloon with thirteen gentlemen, who were desirous to make the ascent along with him. He repeatedly assured the crowd that if they did not desist from violence he would not make the ascent at all.
But the mob was too infuriated to listen to any appeals, and Mr Coxwell ultimately pulled the valve rope and allowed all the gas to escape.
The passions of the mob were raised to the highest pitch by this proceeding. They instantly levelled all the barriers, broke into the reserved space, and the cry having been raised to burn the balloon there were plenty of incendiaries to answer to the appeal.
Mr Coxwell was escorted off the ground by a body of police, leaving his balloon a prey to the victorious mob.
They gathered rapidly around, cutting the oiled calico, of which the body of the balloon was formed, into shreds; and having taken away as many trophies as they pleased, set fire to the remainder. In the process of cutting up the balloon, several of the rioters sustained severe wounds on the hands and fingers.
After the work of destruction was completed the rioters paraded the town in triumph, and Mr Coxwell, to escape the torrent of popular fury, left Leicester by the first available train.
Several accidents occurred on the London Road, which leads to the Race Course, owing to furious driving; and on the whole, Leicester witnessed a series of riots and disorderly tumult, rarely experienced.
The Nottinghamshire Guardian, July 15, 1864.