In the summer of 1859, French daredevil Charles Blondin made history and became the first person to tightrope walk across the famous Niagara Falls. And it might not have been possible without Welwyn's River Mimram.

"He was more like a fantastic sprite than a human being,” wrote Blondin's manager, Harry Colcord.

"Had he lived a century or two earlier he would have been treated as one possessed of a devil. He could walk the rope as a bird cleaves to air."

Colcord was not far wrong, as the feats his client would attempt and ultimately achieve over the world's most famous waterfall bordered on insane.

Blondin would tightrope across the gorge downstream from the falls, crossing the divide which stretched more than 1,000ft between Canada and America on a rope just two inches in diameter.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Charles Blondin.Charles Blondin. (Image:

He also worked with no net, believing that preparing for disaster only made one more likely to happen, meaning certain death if he fell from the wire.

In order to practise for his stunt, the Frenchman travelled to Welwyn. He was friendly with eccentric inventor George Dering, who had inherited the nearby estate of Lockeleys, with the pair making repeated crossing of the River Mimram.

On the morning of June 30, 1859, 25,000 gathered on both sides of the gorge to watch with morbid curiosity as Blondin attempted his crossing.

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Gamblers began to take bets on whether he would plunge to a watery death below, and the smart odds seemed to suggest he would.

"There were hundreds of people examining the rope," one witness recalled.

"And, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of Blondin to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate fool-hardiness."

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Blondin hanging upside down from the rope during one his many Niagara Falls performances.Blondin hanging upside down from the rope during one his many Niagara Falls performances. (Image: Flickr)

But his Mimram practice served him well, as shortly after 5pm the daredevil performer, dressed in pink tights and fine leather shoes, began his walk from the American side.

Onlookers began to turn away and some even fainted as Blondin made his way across the gorge.

Ever the showman and to everyone's shock, about a third of the way across he sat down on the rope, hailed the famed tourist vessel Maid of the Mist, cast down a line and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again.

As he reached the other side, a man pulled him ashore and exclaimed: "I wouldn’t look at anything like that again for a million dollars."

He would have to look again however as Blondin wasn't done, beginning his walk back, this time with a camera which he used to snap pictures of the crowd while he stood on the wire.

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His bank to bank and back again journey took him just 23 minutes and he immediately announced another performance on July 4.

Renowned writer Mark Twain later dismissed Blondin as "that adventurous ass", but nevertheless, on Independence Day, he did the walk again, with some of the journey done backwards and blindfolded.

Weeks later on July 15, and in front of President Millard Fillmore, Blondin walked backward to Canada and returned to the US pushing a wheelbarrow.

Later performances would see him backflip, somersault, dangle one-handed from the cable and even carry his manager on his back.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Blondin carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back during one performance.Blondin carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back during one performance. (Image: Picryl)

"Look up, Harry. You are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin," he told him. 

"Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul.

"If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death."

He would even go at night, and carry a stove to cook an omelette, which he lowered to the passengers on the deck of the Maid of the Mist.

By the time Blodin's Niagara escapades ended, it was estimated that he had made 300 crossings. By the time he hung up his tightrope in 1896, he had walked more than 10,000 miles on it.

He would die in London in 1897, aged 72, but he lives on in the pages of history as one of the world's great daredevils.