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Magical Mystery Tours.

We were on the M6, heading north. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, but Mrs Bygone Boozer and I were supposedly heading from Derbyshire to Somerset to visit the Outlaws. Ma Outlaw has managed to tick off yet another year in her tenth decade and we had the birthday cake in our possession. Malcolm was doing it again, taking us on another of his magical mystery tours.

Things had been going pretty well considering that most of the nation would've been wanting to return home from their Midwinterfest break and that that nice Mr. Lynch's mates had decided that they didn't want to run trains for the day. We were making good progress along the M42 before Malcolm, our trusty satnav, flagged up a massive delay and sent us off on one of his magical mystery tours before eventually dropping us onto the M5 somewhere in the vicinity of Charlemont.

If we thought that was it, we were wrong. It wasn't long before Malcolm took us off the motorway once again and on a tour through some very pleasant villages in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire before dumping us on the M50. It was a bit like flying in a hot air balloon. We knew what our general direction of travel ought to be but couldn't be sure of our exact route. We just hoped that we'd end up where we intended to when the journey began.

Living where we do, in the Peak District National Park, we have become quite familiar on still, summer evenings, with the sound of gas burners turning on as otherwise silent aeronauts attempt to give themselves sufficient altitude to clear the hill behind us.

Last summer one failed and provided us with hours of entertainment watching, from the landing window, the efforts to recover the craft from a field so heavily pockmarked with old mine shafts that it is barely accessible to a large four wheel drive tractor. It wasn't so entertaining a couple of years earlier when the sudden roar of a hastily engaged burner spooked our next door neighbour's collie, who then leapt off a high terrace in the garden, where he'd been soaking up the evening rays, only to fracture his pelvis and femurs upon landing. RIP Moss.

But I digress. Our terrestrial balloon journey finally came to an end with Malcolm managing to safely deliver us to the Outlaws' abode whilst announcing that he'd saved us forty-one minutes of journey time. Once inside, sitting with a coffee and my phone, I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Google, having determined that I'd arrived in sunny Somerset, had filled all my news feeds with vital information about significant world events which had taken place, or were about to take place, in nearby settlements of which I'd never heard. You know the sort. "Grandmother in Gretton's Christmas ruined because Waitrose didn't deliver stuffing." "Youth in Yelverton's Yuletide crime spree." "Mother in Martock finds Holy Grail in barrel of cider." One did catch my eye though. "Air Balloon pub in Birdlip says farewell."

Yes. The Air Balloon. That explains all the waffle above. I don't just throw these literary masterpieces together, you know.

Despite never having set foot in, or even heard of, either Birdlip or the Air Balloon, my interest, just like a balloon's burner, was ignited and I clicked through. That folks is how I came across the subject of this post.

The Air Balloon in April 2019. © Google 2022

Formed from the fusion of a pair of cottages/alehouses, some say that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed here on a visit to Gloucestershire in 1535 and that the inn was named after her. The tale continues that once she'd been replaced in the king's affections by Jane Seymour, and duly dispatched in May of the following year, the innkeeper didn't want to find himself on the wrong side of the king and changed the name to the semi-homophonic, Air Balloon.

An early photograph of the Air Balloon.

That the word balloon wasn't really in use in English until several decades later suggests that this is very much an apocryphal account. Much more believable is that the name comes from the fact that since the late eighteenth century the area has been popular with balloonists, from the early pioneers – who included Edward Jenner of smallpox fame – to those who enjoy the aerial activity today.

A rough chronology of the place is that it opened around 1780 and the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (1973) has it as being named the New Inn in 1782. It had become the Balloon by 1796 and by 1802 had acquired the name by which it is known today.

© Ann Williams

From the mid-1800s the pub was run by three generations of the Tuffly family for well over half a century. Robert Tuffly appears in the county's 1843 register of electors at the Air Balloon. After his death in 1845 his widow Esther took on the reins and when she followed her husband into the churchyard seven years later their son Richard became mine host.

Extract from the 1856 Post Office directory.

When Richard joined the band of Asteraceae-pusher-uppers in 1892 his son, Thomas, became the last generation of Tufflys to run the place.

Extract from Kelly's 1894 directory.

The pub seems to have acquired a royal addition to its name but it didn't stay there long, and neither did Thomas for he departed this world in 1898. He was replaced at the pub by William and Julia Price...

Extract from Kelly's 1902 directory.

...who ran it until Julia died in 1932, William's departure having preceded hers by three years.

The Air Balloon in the early days of the Prices' tenure.

To add to this catalogue of deaths, the Air Balloon is now dead too. Its last pint was pulled on New Year's Eve. It certainly isn't the only one to have done this as, much closer to home, the Eagle in Buxton did too. What makes the Air Balloon's demise a little different is that it hasn't closed on economic grounds, for it was still a successful part of Greene King's Chef and Brewer operation. It has been lost to progress. Let Highways England explain.

What Highways England fail to mention in their video is that the Air Balloon has to be flattened. I expect the locality will still be referred to as the Air Balloon in broadcast traffic bulletins long after the pub's demise, just like the Cat and Fiddle is (although this has sprung back to life) along with the likes of the White Horse roundabout in Gorleston.

Will the loss of the Air Balloon solve congestion and speed up journeys? Hmmmm? New roads are known to be a magnet for traffic. Some may suggest it will, but it takes longer for us to travel to see Ma and Pa Outlaw these days than it did before the M42 was completed. It may solve the problem initially, but in a few years we could well see many more Malcolms and Michaels, Michaelas and Miriams suggesting magical mystery tours of their own to avoid even bigger delays at the Air Balloon. One thing we won't be seeing there will be the Air Balloon itself.

Thanks to Ann Williams for the use of her shot of the inn sign. Mick Lobb's image is reused under this licence.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.

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Unfortunately I never got there despite it not being far from here. Ballooning is also popular in nearby Cheltenham, with an annual balloon fair at the Racecourse; north of which, at Gotherington, is the former Old Farmer's Arms, still bearing the signs of its days as a pub.

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