The balloon fiesta at Knavesmire at the end of September that we reported on in The Press earlier this week promises to be great fun. But it certainly won't be Yorkshire's first, as the organisers claimed.

Several readers - among them Barbara Pettitt and former TV cameraman Keith Massey - still remember the 1971 balloon gala centred on York's Bootham Park Hospital.

And long before that hot air balloons were a regular feature of the 'Grand York Gala' (sometimes also referred to as the 'Grand Yorkshire Gala') which was held annually at Bootham Park from the mid 1850s right through to the 1920s.

York Press:

Balloon the City of York at the Grand York Gala at Bootham Park in 1901. Photo: Imagine York

The first balloon flight above York happened much longer ago even than the 1850s, however. It appears to have been in 1785 - just two years after the Montgolfier brothers made their first manned balloon flight in France in 1783.

There's a great description of it in Balloons to Buccaneers, Brian Catchpole's book about the Yorkshire aviation pioneer Sir George Cayley jointly published by the Yorkshire Air Museum.

The balloon, belonging to the pioneer balloonist James Deeker but on this occasion piloted by a Mr Weller, ascended in 'somewhat imperfect weather conditions' from Kettlewell's Orchard behind York Minster.

Catchpole quotes an eyewitness account of the flight from a scrapbook kept by the Rev Robert William Bilton Hornby - and it was clearly an exciting, and rather dangerous, affair.

"The process of filling the balloon (by oil and vitriol) began at 11am and occupied two hours," the account begins. "After Mr Weller had got into the car the Balloon was liberated and seemed to ascend with majestic grandeur but a sudden gust of wind caused the Balloon and Car to strike against a high wall and a tree by which they were both much injured.

"Mr Weller threw out sand and the balloon was disengaged. It however was thrown by the violence of the wind against the Riding House. On quitting this it struck the top of Alderman Bacon's house and chimney by which the netting was rent from top to bottom and the Balloon was turned upside down.

"The silk near the top gave way and the valve which fastened the netting was left with it on the chimney by which means the Car was supported against the roof of the house and Mr Weller was miraculously preserved.

"The Balloon escaped but being instantly deprived of inflammable air was taken up in Blake Street about 150 yards from the roof of the house where it had left Weller, the shattered Car and the netting."

Is this, we wonder, the only time in which a hot air balloon - or what remains of it? - has ever crash-landed in Blake Street?

Despite the obvious hazards, balloon flights generated enormous excitement - and it wasn't long before they were becoming the highlights of galas and fairs across Yorkshire. Balloonists such as William Sadler, who in 1823 flew his red and white balloon from Leeds to South Cliffe near Market Weighton, were heroes of their day.

York Press:

The Grand York Gala: this great photo from the Yorkshire SAir Museum shows an early balloon flight over Bootham Park

By the time of the ballooning events at the Grand York Gala from the 1850s onwards, ballooning was firmly entrenched as the adventure sport of its day.

We shouldn't be surprised by that, says Ian Richardson of the Yorkshire Air Museum.

"Most people still travelled on foot or in early steam trains, so the sight of people flying overhead in balloons and other aircraft must have been incredibly exciting," he says.

The museum has two great postcards, donated by one of its volunteers, Bob Emmett, which show balloon flights at the Grand York Gala in what may well have been the late 1800s. "The balloons gave passenger flights to brave members of the public which will have given an aerial view of York that had never been seen by anyone except the few that had made balloon flights," Mr Richardson says.

Ging up in a balloon was still clearly a risky affair. One photograph - which we reproduce courtesy of Explore York's wonderful Imagine York website - shows a man clinging precariously to wires from a balloon hanging high above the city. We believe the photograph was taken at a York gala sometime in the 1910s.

York Press:

A man clings to wires beneath a balloon high above York, in this Imagine York photograph from the 1910s

But the galas - and the balloon flights which were often the highlights of them - were hugely popular nonetheless. You get a real sense of the excitement they engendered from other photographs in our gallery above, many of them from Imagine York. In addition to balloon flights, the galas featured a whole host of other activities - including, in one wonderful postcard sent to The Press a few years ago by reader Bryan Thornton, a helter skelter.

York Press:

Reader Bryan Thornton's postcard of the Grand Yorkshire Gala, complete with watching crowds - and a helter skelter

So rather than being the first, the balloon fiesta being held at Knavesmire at the end of next month will be reviving a grand old Yorkshire tradition that dates back 150 years or so.

Let's just hope none of the balloons crash land in Blake Street...