Stuntman Santa gets lucky as jump lands him in Chelmsford field
ONE-hundred years ago Santa survived a daring parachute jump into Chelmsford, where he dished out free chocolate bars to children, while his hot air balloon crash-landed in Hatfield Peverel.
Freak winds meant the chocolate, destined for children in Hyde Park, London, as part of a Christmas publicity stunt, literally landed in Chelmsford instead.
It happened in a remote part of Sandon in 1912, the same year that the Titanic sank, Marconi opened his New Street factory in Chelmsford, explorer Scott was lost in the Antarctic and lots of heroes and eccentrics were pulling off all types of hair-raising stunts and experiments.
One such daredevil was Australian ballooning aeronaut Captain Taylor Penfold, who volunteered to jump out of a hot air balloon dressed as Santa.
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The aim was a short flight from Battersea to distribute chocolate bars in Hyde Park on December 23, 1912, but the English winter weather had other ideas.
High winds blew the balloon across mid Essex until it reached Chelmsford, when Captain Penfold decided to take a leap of faith, landing in Grace's Walk where he was greeted by a handful of delighted children.
Penfold said at the time: "We were driven along at about 1,200ft at the rate of 45 miles an hour.
"I sat on the edge of the basket dressed as Santa Claus, and I watched for a chance to get away with the parachute.
"But there was no hope of doing so, as I would have been dashed against the buildings, while the other occupants of the balloon would have hardly had the chance of saving themselves.
"At 1,500ft we entered the clouds, and ballast was thrown out, and we jumped into the sunlight at about 2,000ft.
"Time after time we tried to get down. But as there was no lessening of the balloon's velocity we had to keep on. At Chelmsford, a distance of between 30 and 35 miles from our starting point, we got into the clear country, and this was the first chance we had of seeing earth after leaving Westminster.
"Still sitting on the edge of the basket, I was, at my own request, violently pushed off at a height of about 3,000ft.
"I dropped between 400 and 500 feet before the parachute opened. I then felt my speed slackening, and I managed to get my breath.
"When I left the basket the balloon, with decreased weight, bounded up to 10,000ft.
"I landed on the back of my head in a field at Little Baddow. I heard some voices, and two farmers came running across to my assistance."
Penfold's son Augustus said in 1913: "Undaunted, he distributed his chocolates among the children who, with their parents, came rushing to his assistance."
The occupants of the balloon continued and landed at Hatfield Peverel. They were dashed violently against a tree, which lacerated the pilot Frank Spencer's hand, while the other occupant, Sir Hubert Wilkins, a cinematographer, had one of his fingers almost torn off. The men were pulled along in the basket for about 200 yards.