The Norfolk adventurer who is honoured at village pub

Major Money, Norfolk hero, fighting for his life in the North Sea. Picture: Smithsonian Institution

Major Money, Norfolk hero, fighting for his life in the North Sea. Picture: Smithsonian Institution - Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Crown Point Tavern at Trowse. It has been selling beer for 165 years, is named after a famous fort in America and honours a tough, high-flying soldier who became a celebrity. Derek James tells the story of a remarkable Norfolk man.

The historic Crown Point Tavern at Trowse where the sign honours a remarkable man. Picture: Roger Hi

The historic Crown Point Tavern at Trowse where the sign honours a remarkable man. Picture: Roger Higgins - Credit: Roger Higgins

There are some people from history who we often wished we had met and one such man was the son of a farmer from Trowse Newton, on the outskirts of Norwich, called John Money and what a life he led making a name for himself in this country, across the world and in (on) the North Sea!

He was the first British airborne soldier and one of our greatest aerial pioneers.

Today a popular public house in this picturesque village, run for almost 35 years by Carol and Roger Higgins, is called the Crown Point Tavern and its unique sign portrays the English and American flags.

And people ask...why?

Crown Point was a mansion and estate built and developed by John Money on the site of what is now Whitlingham Hall. It was named after the British fort at New York State where Colonel, later General, John Money had served.

To say our John was an adventurer and early aeronaut is something of an understatement...and I will try to explain why by recalling just some of his astonishing exploits

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Born in 1739 he yearned for adventure and he joined the 9th Norfolk Regiment of Foot and set out to explore the world as a professional soldier. In America he was involved in the war of independence and spent three years in captivity.

Crown Point was at the centre of the action from time to time and today the ruins are a National Historic Landmark. Not so in Trowse where the pub sits so proudly.

Returning to England in 1781 as a Colonel he retired from army life, returned to Trowse and built his Crown Point hall and developed a large estate. He was described as a larger-than-life character and a leading light in society circles across the city and county.

John was not the sort to sit in an armchair with a drink and a cigar and become a chubby country squire enjoying the good life on his estate.

He was a man of action...and it was soon to make a name for himself in the exciting, spectacular, and at times dangerous, world of hot-air ballooning.

Only a handful of men were involved in this at the time and John joined their ranks, listening and learning. One was George Biggin, whose claim to fame was, believe it or not, inventing the coffee percolator.

John had a few flights and then returned to his much-loved Norwich where he planned to rise from Quantrell Gardens (Ranelagh Gardens) and raise money at the same time for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

As for his balloon, well it was advertised in the summer of 1785 as the finest in the land and thousands of people flocked to the gardens, which later became the site of Victoria Station off Queen's Road and is now home to Marsh and Sainsbury's.

Reports say John had discovered the adverts didn't quite tell the truth. He found some faults and decided to fly solo rather than risk the lives of others.

The huge crowd cheered, waved and clapped as John and his balloon rose into the air above Norwich.

He saluted and waved a flag. All was well for 10 minutes or so and then a strong wind blew him off course. He found the gas valve wouldn't open....he lost control and was heading for the North Sea where he crashed into the choppy waters.

As dusk fell the rescue boats from Lowestoft and Southwold gave up their search for him and returned to dry land fearing the worst.

But the man in the basket was John Money - a tough man, a survivor.

He saw boats but they didn't see him - in fact one Dutch vessel was said to have sailed by thinking his sagging balloon was a sea monster.

As waters rose, lapping his chin, Money continued to fight for his life and was spotted, in the nick of time, by a Harwich-based revenue cutter and rescued.

He was reported as saying: "I was so weak that I was obliged to be lifted out of the car (basket) into the ship. I was put to bed and having drunk two or three glasses of grog, which was by far more delicious than champagne, I fell asleep."

John landed at Lowestoft and sent a message to the people of Norwich proving he was indeed alive while most thought they would never see him again.

He was, as we say today, a true celebrity.

A hero and how the people of all ages and all walks of life loved him. Artists turned out prints of John fighting for his life in the North Sea. They were snapped up and his friend, the 1st Marquess Townshend, wrote a poem about his exploits.

As aviation author Peter Gunn said the flight was a classic story of survival against the odds and evidence of Norfolk's importance in the history of pioneering air travel.

John also served as a general with the French Army and fought the Austrians in Belgium. He later resigned his commission fearing that war between Britain and France was on the horizon.

Today his memory lives on at the Crown Point Tavern where mine hosts Carol and Roger Higgins run a fine inn. The perfect place to toast the memory of General Money.

Oh, and did you know Carol is the daughter of another great Norfolk hero who has recently celebrated his 90th birthday - the one and only Mighty Atom himself, Yarmouth and Norwich speedway ace Billy Bales.

I suspect Mr Bales and Mr Money would have got on well together.