A Nitrous Oxide fuelled history walk with Mike Jay through Clifton exploring the themes of his new book; Dr Beddoes, the Romantic Poets and laughing Gas.

The blurb from his book, which is out in paperback on 28th September, reads thus:

At the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, England, founded in the closing years of the eighteenth century, dramatic experiments with gases precipitated a revolution not only in scientific medicine but also in the modern mind.

Propelled by the energy of maverick doctor Thomas Beddoes, the Institution was both laboratory and hospital—the first example of a medical research institution. But when its researchers discovered the mind-altering properties of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, their experiments devolved into a pioneering exploration of consciousness, with far-reaching and unforeseen effects.

In this fast-paced and dramatic narrative, Mike Jay tells the story of Dr. Beddoes and the brilliant circle who surrounded him: Erasmus Darwin and the Lunar Society, who supported his experiments; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, who were inspired by his ideas; James Watt, who designed and built his laboratory; Thomas Wedgwood, the visionary heir to the pottery dynasty, who funded it; and Beddoes’ dazzling young chemistry assistant, Humphry Davy, who tested nitrous oxide to its limits with legendary results.

The Atmosphere of Heaven is a riveting account of the chaotic rise and fall of the Institution, and reveals for the first time its crucial influence – on modern drug culture, attitudes toward objective and subjective knowledge, the development of anaesthetic surgery, and the birth of the Romantic movement.

The walk starts at No.3 Rodney Place, off Clifton Down Road, which has a plaque to Beddoes, Davy et.al. Then down the hill, past the Polygon to Hope Square in Hotwells (plaque to Beddoes). Then the short walk down to Dowry Square (plaque to Pneumatic Institute/Davy on No.6). Then up Clifton Vale/Goldney Avenue to Lower Clifton Hill, where the Strangers Burial Ground (with Beddoes’ grave) is down at the end by Bellevue Terrace.

Wear sensible shoes.

A plaque to mark Thomas Beddoes’ gravel was unveiled in March 2o11.

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