A HOT air balloon is to be launched from the town centre of Malmesbury, re-creating an 1881 flight from the very same spot.

The event marks the flight of the Eclipse balloon, with Mr Walter Powell, a former MP for Malmesbury, in the basket.

Wiltshire explorer Sir David Hempleman-Adams, from Box, will be taking to the skies when the balloon sets off on the Eclipse Flight on May 21, raising money for the Friends of Athelstan Museum and the restoration of the Moravian Church.

Event organiser Angela Sykes said: “There is an enormous buzz in the town about this weekend, with all sorts of businesses supporting us.

“This is a weekend not to be missed and is highly unlikely ever to be repeated.

“The day will start at 4.30pm with lots of entertainment for all the family and lift off will be from 6.30pm-7pm, proclaimed by a brass band playing the same music which was played in 1881 when Mr Powell took off in the Eclipse.”

Born into a wealthy family in 1842, Mr Powell and his two brothers and at least two sisters grew up in The Gaer, a large house on the outskirts of Newport which later became Gwent College.

There is evidence that they were a close knit family, with Powell’s father naming his ships Thomas Powell, Anne Powell and Sarah Powell.

In 1867, Powell’s father, a successful mine owner, died of a severe cold, and Powell and his widowed mother rented Dauntsey House in North Wiltshire, where he was later elected as MP for the borough of Malmesbury.

After the sudden death of his father, Powell and his mother completed his business negotiations with George Elliot, another wealthy industrialist, and sold the family business, which became the successful Powell-Duffryn Company of today.

As his interest in politics lessened, Powell took up ballooning.

One of Powell’s most successful flights took off from Cross Hayes in Malmesbury in November 1880.

Originally, Powell was to be accompanied by his ballooning teacher Henry Coxwell. As the day neared Coxwell was not well enough to fly, so another balloonist, Thomas Writ, brought his own vessel for the trip, the Eclipse.

Powell’s last flight was in December 1881 in the Saladin, a balloon belonging to his good friend Captain James Templer, accompanied by Mr A Agg-Gardner.

As they were in full flight they found themselves being blown out to sea and needed to make a rapid descent near Chesil Beach.

The balloon landed heavily and threw out Powell’s two passengers. With Powell still in the basket, the balloon took off once more, and Powell was not seen again.

See www.malmesburyeclipseflight.co.uk for more information on the recreation of the Eclipse flight in Malmesbury.