Information about Pocock's Charvolants, and an image of a painting showing a romanticised view of travelling by them, can be found in the 'Moving by Alternative Vehicle' display in the Places Gallery.
In the early 1800s the cost of keeping horses rose enormously, so people began to look for other ways of propelling private vehicles.
George Pocock (1774 - 1843), a Bristol schoolmaster and inventor, experimented with using kites to pull carriages. He called his kite-propelled carriages 'charvolants'. He came up with the idea while demonstrating the power of kites to his pupils on Durdham Downs. Two linked kites were strong enough to pull his son on a sledge over the ground, 'On letting go the string, the sledge was instantly hurried away so unexpectedly, and with a velocity so great, that all attempts to overtake it were quite fruitless.'
Pocock then experimented with attaching them to a small vehicle. The first road test was on 8 January 1822 when Pocock and his wife and children travelled from Bristol to Marlborough. He tried hard to interest the public in their benefits, not least that they pass free at turnpike toll gates because there was no existing charge for a kite-pulled car. He even wrote a book about it but although many people asked for a demonstration, few chose to buy one. In 1828 Pocock showed his vehicles at Ascot where George IV inspected them, as a result of which they became briefly popular with sporting young men.
Pocock and his family continued to use a charvolant for day trips until the late 1840s but they never caught on with the public. A likely explanation for this is that although the large wheels allowed the power from the kite to be utilised effectively, they were difficult to control. The driver had to simultaneously control four control lines to the kite, a T bar to steer the front wheels, and the brake, an iron bar which dug into the road.
Pocock can be considered one of Bristol's great eccentrics - in addition to his interest in kite traction, he ran his own city academy in Prospect Place, St. Michaels, and was an itinerant evangelical preacher that waged a private war with the official Methodist authorities for his proselytization to the local mining community.
Legend has it that he once strapped Martha into a chair attached to a set of kites and then flew her, hazardously but without mishap, over the Avon Gorge.