Thomas Rowlandson, Rural Sports: Balloon Hunting, 1811, Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson took a less positive view of Severndroog. He included the castle in his Rural Sports series of etchings, which criticised the indulgent lifestyles of the middle and upper classes. In Rural Sports: Balloon Hunting (1811), Rowlandson mocks Severndroog’s reputation as a popular spot for viewing hot air balloons. Britain’s first hot-air balloon ascent had taken place in 1784, the same year that Severndroog was built, and the immediate obsession with ballooning amongst Britain’s wealthier citizens became known as ‘balloon madness’. Though Rowlandson spared Severndroog the scandalous activities that can be seen taking place in most of his other Rural Sports prints, his illustration of a man with a telescope using the castle’s turret as a platform for viewing balloons is clearly intended to draw an association between the perceived silliness of 'balloon madness’ and the similar perception of building follies as a frivolous obsession of the wealthy. You may notice that the tower in Rowlandson’s picture looks nothing like Severndroog. We know that Rowlandson intended it to represent the castle because of an earlier drawing held in a private collection, which he titled ‘Balloon Hunting near Lady James’s Folly’. He may have removed Severndroog's name and appearance from the published print to avoid offending its owners.

Thomas Rowlandson, Rural Sports: Balloon Hunting ​(1811)