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The Cult Aloft

A Ffynche History


Aeronautic Adventure

Part II.  A Rising Hope


Credit for the invention of the hot air balloon is vulgarly attributed to the undoubtedly brilliant Montgolfier brothers. But the esteemed Frenchmen are more aptly considered solely the glamorous sales representatives of the true innovators, the 'Cult of Ffynche

Inventors Company' (CoFIC)


The corporation was founded by Tybalt’s grandson Alphonsus in 1759, with the financial backing of long-standing Cult families such as the Worp clan and various of the local Thorp and Lowe clans.


The company’s experimenters, engineers and draftsmen have modestly shunned the limelight over the centuries, despite a record that places the CoFIC workshops at the centre of most major advances in science and technology.

CoFIC Sales reps take flight

The breakthrough in their aviation work came in part through pure accident. As a teenager, Alphonsus was tasked as guardian to his 90-year-old grandfather during the old man’s long winter sojourns in the Lion. The old boy was prone to fall asleep in front of the pub fireplace, but on this occasion he pitched forward from his chair, crashed onto the hearth, and dislodged his periwig.


As local drinkers rushed to rescue the bald Tybalt from an uncomfortable scorching, the periwig hung in mid-air over the embers before ascending the chimney and disappearing.

The wig had defied both weight and gravity, and executed a perfect Indiscernible Levitation. The potential role of fire in bending the fickle bonds of visibility and mass was fully confirmed for Alphonsus when he rushed outdoors and looked up. At exactly the moment he caught sight of the smouldering hairpiece, it descended rapidly to the ground and landed at his feet.


Keen to experiment, Alphonsus went in search of some material both light in weight and finely woven enough to enclose heated air. He climbed the windmill in search of sacking, which he deemed both too heavy and loosely knit. And then, crestfallen, he cast his eye about the village from the high perch.

There, in vicar Haughty’s back garden, filling with breeze on the washing line, were the voluminous silken bloomers of the reverend’s good lady wife. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? The question of their capacity had long been a source of speculation among the older lads. Might they enclose as much as 17 gallons of ale by volume, as he had himself wagered only the previous week?

Scrambling down the mill ladder, he headed to the site, clambered the fence and snatched the delicate underwear. Within a mere two hours, upside-down, tied tight at the knee, and rigged with twin lighted candle-stubs hung beneath, a new triumph of Ffynche ingenuity was born.

Mrs Haughty’s silk bloomers, displayed in correct flight orientation

Necks cricked back, labourers returning from the fields joined a crowd on the green as the bloomers sailed 40 foot above the ground, up the hill towards the church, passing the late afternoon drinkers as they spilled out to applaud. At first glance they had the look of an ethereal rabbit’s head, but their true nature was quickly deduced and greeted with gasps.


The vicar and his wife were eventually pacified by the offer of shares in CoFIC, and there was a highly successful whip-round to replace the lingerie. The couple kindly donated the bloomers to the Cult Museum, where they hang today in the orientation of their first flight.

Alphonsus was barred from the Sunday Service for several years — much to his delight. He also collected on the bet. His 17-gallon estimate was already the highest, so when a fully accurate mathematical calculation demonstrated a 21-gallon capacity, he claimed the prize. In fairness to Mrs Haughty, who was as slender and gracious on the eye as all villagers are, capacious bloomers were all the rage at the time.


Ballooning became a regular activity for Cult enthusiasts — drifting over hedgerows in search of missing compost heaps, or surveilling the roads for early notice of approaching brewers’ drays.

Extreme distance flying was abandoned after blustery weather upturned the long-haul brazier over Maldon in 1877, raining hot coals on the town. Alphonsus and his passengers landed without injury, making their escape while townsfolk marvelled at this terrifying Act of God, and rushed about filling buckets to douse the embers. 

Unfortunately, the success of ballooning led to a serious theoretical lapse that would hold back subsequent powered flight. Alphonsus came to believe that ancient Cult Lore was flawed. Balloons could clearly be seen, and yet did not fall to earth. Had the ancients perhaps meant an 'indescribable levitation', and was the requirement for indiscernibility a red herring? 

Mrs Haughty’s airborne silk bloomers surely met the definition of 'indescribable' -- both by social custom and the absurdity of Georgian underwear. And so Alphonsus came to break with Cult belief, and adopt a heretical pursuit of outrageous lewdness in balloon design. First came the Flying Tyrdy-Byrdy, and then the Condomere.

An Incendiary Incident over Maldon ended long-distance ballooning

The Indescribable Flying Tyrdy-Byrdy

A major reduction in cost was achieved when synthetic rubber replaced fabric in the ground-breaking Condomere design of the 1930s.


CoFIC refused to comment on rumours that experimental veterinary contraceptive devices had been stolen from the Elephant House at London Zoo.

The Condomere’s maiden flight 1933

Alphonsus became ever more certain in his break with Cult aeronautical theory when the cash rolled in. Ballooning remained a money-spinner for CoFIC into the age of industrial hydrogen production. 

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