The Aeronauts: How new film about historic Shropshire accident blurs lines of history to make way for heroine

It is a fantastic true story and is being tipped to be the big cinematic release of the autumn.

Reality – Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher
Reality – Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher

But, like many big screen adaptations, The Aeronauts isn't all as it seems.

While Henry Coxwell is portrayed as a pioneering Victorian adventurer, his is only half the story.

In reality his sidekick was a man called James Glaisher, a meteorologist who joined Coxwell in the basket and promptly passed out.

The new film of the1862 balloon trip from Wolverhampton replaces Glaisher with the infinitely more glamorous Felicity Jones.

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The true story of the trip to 29,000 feet , from the Stafford Road gas works, as every bit as dramatic however.

Coxwell and Glaisher were breaking new frontiers when they set off for the skies in their balloon, the Mammoth.

They wanted to find out what happened to the water vapour as it rose into the atmosphere. Their work helped the Victorians’ understanding of rain.

By the time they reached 29,000 feet, Glaisher was unconscious and pilot Coxwell had lost the use of his hands to the cold.

With growing dizziness, he managed to a gas release cord in his teeth and release it, taking the balloon thundering to the ground at 2,000 feet a minute.

Eventually, the craft slowed and came under control and they landed in a field near Brown Clee Hill in Shropshire – some 25 miles away from their starting point.

Legend has it they headed straight to the pub for a pint and from thereon in their names became part of ballooning history.

Wolverhampton have roads named after both men – Glaisher Drive and Coxwell Avenue at Wolverhampton Science Park, close to where they took off.

Coxwell died in Sussex in 1900, aged 80. Glaisher died aged 93 in 1903.

Keith Moore of scientific academy the Royal Society, said: “It’s a great shame Henry isn’t portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist. It was exceptionally brave climbing up into the shrouds.

“There were so many deserving female scientists of that period who haven’t had films made about them. Why not do that instead?”

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