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Steeple Flying

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The desire to fly has always been with us. History has plenty of anecdotes of men attempting to emulate birds.


Mankind, not satisfied with travelling on the elements of earth and water, have attempted to invade the air, from the days of Daedalus downwards. Pennis non hominis datis ("With wings not given to Man") they have essayed, unsuccesfully, the Art of Flying

Anonymous - From a letter recorded in 1854


"The time will come when a man setting out on his journey, would ring for his wings, as heretofore his boots"

John Wilkins (Bishop of Chester, 1668)


Whilst researching archaeological finds in Wiltshire, I came across a mention from 1854 of this sort of activity (at a time when Henson and Stringfellow were lobbying Parliament for the creation of the worlds first airline, the Aerial Transit Company, whilst their steam powered aeroplane was little more than a designers dream).


It seems in the 1730's there was a fad for 'Steeple Flying'. A rope was attached to a church steeple then extended out on the ground, and an intrepid person would rapidly descend in much the same way as you get in todays adventure parks. London was a popular venue and Old St Pauls Church in particular staged these events. In 1731 it's noted that a sailor descended from Hackney steeple with streamers in each hand.


One adventurer started making a living from this, giving demonstrations at any church willing to give permission. At Bromham, the rope was pulled too tight by the others at the bottom, and the steeple broke off in mid-event, leaving the lucky adventurer to fall into a tree. Shaken and permanently put off it seems, as the fad died out afterward.


There you have it. Extreme sports are nothing new.


Edited by caldrail

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I have never heard of this before, but am so glad you brought this topic forward! I am an x-treme sports junkie and do a lot of things like this....I have wondered where it has gotten its big start from. I could tell this was not a new "Fad". It always reminded me of one of those things that had a history behind it.

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