Illustration of Alban & Vallet’s Comte d-Artois

VALLET, Mathieu   [1734 - 1823]

On 19th September 1785 Mathieu Vallet descended in his balloon into the French Royal Courtyard at St Cloud to be received by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Fate subsequently brought the pioneering balloonist Vallet to the shores of the Mersey where he would end his days in one of Liverpool’s most notable houses.

He was born in January 1734 in the small town of Pont de Veyle in the Ain department in western France. His father, Jean, was a master bleacher and dyer and Mathieu followed in his footsteps becoming director of a chemical factory at Javel near Paris in 1778. The main products of the factory, sulphuric and hydrochloric acid, had many industrial applications but were also to play a part in the newly established world of ballooning.

The Montgolfier brothers invented the hot air balloon in 1782, and it was soon proposed that as an alternative hydrogen could be used to inflate balloons. Production of hydrogen involved sulphuric acid and the factory at Javel was the only source in Paris. Accordingly the first hydrogen ballon to fly, on 27th August 1783, was filled with gas produced by Vallet’s factory. His involvement with ballooning developed and he built an apparatus to fill balloons in less than two hours rather than a matter of days. Vallet and his associate Léonard Alban, began constructing their own balloons and made many flights during 1785 to 1786. During this time, Alban and Vallet made three improvements to their balloon. One was their use for the first time of a double rope mesh over the top of the balloon to constrain it against over-expansion due to temperature. The second was the use of paddles to steer the balloon, proving to be more effectual in horizontal flight than in ascents or descents. The third was the use of an anemometer, designed by Vallet, to enable the wind speed or speed of movement through the air to be gauged.

Around 1786-87 Mathieu Vallet moved to England and with two colleagues formed a company in Liverpool, Messrs Boneuil & Vallet to produce bleaching fluid. The cotton industry had for many years used lengthy processes to bleach cloth but by the end of the 18th century there was growing interest in chemical bleaches. Vallet subsequently moved to Bolton working for the Halliwell’s bleaching factory.

In 1801 Mathieu’s daughter Clotilde married Robert Grace, whose family were tenant farmers residing at Speke Hall. In 1823 the Liverpool Mercury carried an obituary for Mathieu Vallet recording that he had died at Speke Hall on 16th August aged 91. His fame was such that an obituary appeared in the Rhode Island American and General Advertiser. To this day there is a commemoration of his name in Vallets Lane in Bolton near to the site of the factory in which he and his son Victor worked.

Speke Hall L24

The house where Mathieu Vallet died in 1823


I first came across a mention of Vallet's Liverpool connection in Derek Whale's short book Lost Villages of Liverpool:Part Two [Stephenson & Son 1984]. Most of the information in the article comes from a website about the Vallet family genealogy.