Kite History

I was visiting the British Library recently and saw a picture of a kite in a book in a display case. It turned out to be the oldest English picture of a kite, and one of the oldest in Europe. The book was John Bate's The Mysteryes of Nature and Art, dated 1634. It shows a kite being used as a Fire Drake (a fire drake in Germanic mythology is a fiery dragon and drachen is German for kite). Some of you will recognise the main image, as it is shown in Pelham's Kites, but I have reproduced the article in full in the original English.

How to make fire Drakes

You must take a peece of linnen cloth of a yard or more in length; it must bee cut after the forme of a pane of glasse; fasten two light stickes crosse the same, to make it stand at breadth; then smeare it over with linseed oyle, and liquid varnish tempered together, or else

Kite as Fire Drake

wet it with oyle of peter, and unto the longest corner fasten a match prepared with salpeter water (as I have taught before) upon which you may fasten divers crackers, or Saucissons; betwixt every of which, binde a knot of paper shavings, which will make it flye the better; within a quarter of a yard of the cloth, let there bee bound a

Flying a Fire Drake

peece of prepared stoupell*, the one end whereof, let touch the cloth, and the other enter into the end of a Saucisson: then tie a small rope of length sufficient to rayse it unto what heighth you shall desire, and to guide it withall: then fire the match, and rayse it against the winde in an open field; and as the match burneth, it will fire the crackers, and saucissons, which will give blowes in the ayre; and when the fire is once come unto the stoupell, that will fire the cloth, which will shew very strangely and fearefully.

It's interesting to note the use of the word saucissons for fireworks. Saucisson is French for sausages and in English slang, sausages are bangers (fireworks).

* Stoupell (also stouple, stopple) - a quick-match, a fuse. A quick-burning match used for firing cannon, igniting fire-works, shells, etc., consisting of cotton-wick soaked in a composition of gum, spirits, water and gunpowder.

Reproduction rights remain with the British Library. To contact them for use of the text or images you will need to quote the following:

John Bate
The Mysteryes of Nature and Art