Historical places, airship, Bedfordshire local history, airships, national heritage sites, historic preservation, attractions in the UK, heritage sites in the UK, historical monuments, historical landmarks, tourist attractions in the UK, places in UK to visit, tourist in England, historical tourism, R101 and R100 airships.

Shortstown Heritage

The Gasbag Magazine

The next time any current resident receives their free GASBAG magazine delivered to their door take a closer look at it. Did you know the very first Gasbag was produced way back in April 1918 for Shorts employees?
If you look closely at the picture of this first issue you can see that it cost 6d and carries an illustration of the smiling airship still used 90 years later. We do not know the editors name and it is interesting to note that the forward was written by E H Mitchell the man in overall charge of the airship programme at the tIme. We have been very fortunate that the first six editions of the magazine have survived and can be found in the Bedford Museum and Bedford & Luton Archives Services. These magazines give an insight into the lives of the workers at the time with much talk of the sporting facilities available - there is even a suggestion of a ladies beauty contest to take place (open to all female employees). It is notable as well that Shortstown is referred to as the 'garden village' which is how it was perceived at the time.

It is a great disappointment that no other copies seem to have survived for the years between 1918 to around 1990 and it is by no means certain if the GASBAG has been in continuous circulation since 1918. Certainly the early copies were numbered and produced monthly but our current magazine does not carry any such issue numbers. If anyone can shed any light on this please make contact - any information at all would be gratefully received as any back copies may provide us with vital clues about the workers lives and events which happened in these years.

New Gasbag small
Shortstown Gasbag Magazine Cover 1918
Shortstown Gasbag Magazine 2010

Above on the left the first ever GASBAG magazine dated April 1918. Centre above a GASBAG magazine in Spring 2010 and the new Spring 2012 version on the right.

Some recent Gasbag Shortstown history articles.

Airship Heroes No 1 – Sgt Walter Potter - The Gasbag Nov 2011

Of all the R101 crew who lived in Shortstown during the airship years there is one man who had very special links to the area.

Walter Potter was born in Blything, Suffolk in 1897. He worked in the brass shop at Crittal’s in Braintree and then joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915. In 1921 he survived the R38 airship crash which claimed 44 lives. Electoral registers which began in 1925 show that Assistant Coxswain Sgt Walter Potter lived in Shortstown from 1925 until 1930 when he was killed in the R101 crash in France.

However there is strong evidence to suggest that Walter was in Shortstown prior to 1925. Walter married an Ampthill girl Ida Evans, her great niece Christine Moore takes up the story “Ida Evans was born in Bedford in 1899, the 7th child of Joseph Evans of Marston Moretaine and Harriet Phillips of Ampthill. Joseph Evans was a butcher and had shops in

Sporting times in Shortstown & RAF Cardington - The Gasbag Aug 2012

With the wonderful GB Olympic sporting achievements still fresh in our minds it is a fitting time to reflect on the array of sports facilities available to residents of Shortstown and personnel serving at RAF Cardington in years gone by. People here would certainly have followed the games with a keen interest as sport played a big part in their everyday lives. As for the range of sports available in these years – read on and be surprised – very surprised!

As we know our village has a very unique history and certainly when the Shorts Brothers arrived in Bedford to construct the early airships not only did they build houses for their employees here but they also made sure there were many social and sports events for their workers to take part in. It is known that inter- departmental football and cricket matches were organised for Shorts workers and that they had their own athletic club in 1919-20. In 1925 the minutes and financial records of the RAW Sports & Social Club in Shortstown show a vast array of sports that members could take part in. The ledgers show bills for a groundsman for tennis courts (believed to be at this time on the Harrowden Lane side of the camp), bills for cutting grass on a hockey pitch, bills for preparation of a bowling green, bills for preparation of a cricket pitch and also lists officials for football and rugby teams and astonishingly that £6 was paid for cutting the grass on a golf fairway! What an array of sports for the Shortstown and RAW (Royal Airship Works) workers! Old maps suggest that the football pitch was situated behind the houses in Greycote but we cannot be sure of the exact location of the pitches and greens. Children did not miss out in these times, in1927 a children’s sports day was held and deemed to be very successful and was to be repeated annually for many years after.

In 1936 the camp became RAF Cardington and in the wake of World War Two thousands of young men passed through the camp for their initial RAF training. All were encouraged and expected to take part in the many sports available to RAF personnel. To add to the existing facilities already in place over the next decades the camp would regularly hold inter-service boxing competitions, gymnastic displays, shooting practice, and road and cross country races to name but a few. Sport was a regular occurrence on Wednesday afternoons and recruits could be sent off site to take lessons in sailing, gliding, and rowing. Indeed RAF Cardington had a very strong rowing presence in Bedford and helped establish the Star Rowing club in 1960. It is recorded that in 1940 the RAF Cardington cricket team included seven ex county cricketers.

In the 1950s a road race was held each year between men from RAF Cardington and RAF Henlow and was later expanded to include other RAF stations. In 1955 the camp staged the National AAA Cross Country Championships won by Englishman Gordon Pirie who already held two long distance world records and an Olympic silver medal. The race attracted hundreds of entrants and was watched by many people who had come out to see such a well-known athlete run. Moving on to the 1970’s the children of Shortstown were lucky when the school acquired a swimming pool which must have been very exciting at the time and a welcome addition to the village.

So all in all on reflection it seems to me that on the sports front (and on many other levels I am sure) that Shortstown truly benefitted from its attachment to the camp opposite. Certainly it appears there were more opportunities to participate in sport back then.

Jane Harvey
Aug 2012

A Wonderful Wartime Christmas Party at RAF Cardington - The Gasbag December 2012

Below are extracts from a Bedford newspaper report dated 9th January 1945 describing a Christmas party held at RAF Cardington for orphaned war time children in the previous week. This heartwarming article gives us an insight into life during WWII and shows us the community spirit that was prevalent in these years with staff giving up their food rations for the party and making toys for the children.

“Whether they’re dropping bombs on the enemy or giving parties the RAF like things to “go down big” and one of the best children’s parties that could be given took place at Cardington RAF Station on Wednesday, when over 140 children from Bedford and district who had lost their fathers in the war, or whose fathers were prisoners, were entertained at the Station. £100 for the party was collected in the Sergeants Mess No 89 Air Stores Park, RAF Ceylon and the sergeants of this mess would have felt amply repaid for their generosity had they seen the splendid show which had been put up by their Air Force colleagues at Cardington, and the great joy and appreciation of the children.

The Mayor and Mayoress ( Mr & Mrs J A Canvin) were present with several RAF and WAAF officers and staff, and another very welcome guest was Mrs Harte, wife of Wing Commander C S W Harte, O C of the RAF Station in Ceylon where the idea of the party originated. Sgt Barnett from this mess, who is on his way home, had hoped to make an appearance but unfortunately did not arrive home in time.

Invitations were sent out by the Mayor, and the entertainment and catering were done by Flt-Lieut T C G Rosby. The delicious cakes and pastries for which all the Cardington personnel had given up a portion of their rations were made on the Station. The programme consisted of an hour’s cinema show, in which several most enjoyable films of the Walt Disney variety were shown; a tea of pre-war party dimensions was given in a large hall decorated with Christmas trees and evergreens and lit by fairy lights. RAF and WAAF officers and personnel waited at table, and the soft lights of the hall were enhanced by the sweet music which was played by a full dance band belonging to the Station.

After tea there were games, and a conjuring show by Lieut Jones, and dancing by June Butler and Bronwen Jones who also gave a show of ventriloquism. Father Christmas (Sgt Duff) arrived at the end of the party and presented each child with a really good present, many of which having been made in the Cardington workshops. The MC was W/O Tilbury.
A short speech was made by the Mayor, who led cheers for the Sergeants Mess in Cyprus, for Group Captain A R Arnold D SC, D F C and his staff at Cardington, for the MC and Flt Lieut Rosby and his staff for the splendid tea and show, and for the school teachers who brought the children to the tea. The National Anthem was then played and sung, and the tired but happy children were transported home by the RAF.”

What a wonderful party that must have been – who needs tins of Quality Street or the Internet to have a good time!

Jane Harvey
The Gasbag Dec 2012

Winter 1963 in Shortstown & RAF Cardington – Pass the deodorant folks! The Gasbag March 2013

50 years ago in1963 Britain suffered one of the harshest winters on record – indeed this winter is often referred to as “The Big Freeze.” The whole country was covered in snow from just before Christmas 1962 until early March 1963 with temperatures of -20c recorded. Villages were cut off as roads and railways became blocked, schools were shut down and fuel became in short supply causing further hardship, rivers and even parts of the sea froze. In isolated rural areas farmers were unable to reach their livestock and some animals starved to death. And of course this severe weather had affected Shortstown too.

A Bedford Record newspaper dated January 25th 1963 reports temperatures dropping as low as -17c in Bedford the previous week and reported that engines were frozen to the tracks at Bedford sidings and water tanks frozen solid. Emergency water supplies from the river were also freezing up. This was further compounded by a shortage of coal due to transport difficulties resulting in a very limited train service on the Bedford to London line for several weeks. It was also reported that many buses were out of action as their engines froze and a decision was taken to keep the engines running overnight to prevent them from seizing up entirely. Stan White who worked in the Balloon Unit at RAF Cardington and lived with his wife in married quarters at Greycote at the time recalls that pipes in his house and all along his street were frozen for over six weeks so there was no running water - RAF water bowsers were used to distribute water as standpipes were also frozen. He recalls RAF families returning to Shortstown after the Christmas break to find their carpets covered in four inches of solid ice where pipes had burst.

Across the road at RAF Cardington conditions were even worse as the shortage of coal meant that none of the wooden huts where men were billeted had any heating whatsoever. Any new recruits arriving were sent home as conditions deteriorated and were told to await call up instructions when the cold spell had finished. Alan Thomas who served there at the time recalls that the only heated hut on the camp was the hospital and this resulted in a sudden influx of “sick” men desperate for a little warmth. Alan also recalls that as there was no running water for six weeks no one was able to have a wash! Phew! However the men were kept busy during this time as they helped to distribute drinking water to Bedford villages and joined local Territorials to clear blocked roads in the area.

So 50 years later in 2013 when you are relaxing in a lovely hot bath spare a thought for those poor people back in 1963 who could only dream of such a luxury.
Keep snuggy warm!

Jane Harvey
The Gasbag March 2013

Shortstown and the R100 Airship - The Gasbag June 2013

I am still searching for information of any old copies of The Gasbag. Despite extensive research we are still non the wiser if it has always been produced or simply revived in later years. If you can help with any information please step forward!

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