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 R101 Airship

In 1924 the government took the decision to re-launch the airship programme and commissioned two new ‘supersize’ airships to be built - the R100 to be built by the Airship Guarantee Company at Howden and the state backed R101 to be built at the RAW (Royal Airship Works) site once again providing employment for Bedford people.
Overseeing the government operation was Christopher Thomson (Lord Thomson Secretary of State for Air). The RAW team was led by DAD (Director of Airship Development) Wing Commander R B Colmore who was supported by three assistants, Major Scott (Assistant Director of Flying) who was a true airship veteran, Lieutenant-Colonel V C Richmond (Assistant Director Technical) and Alexander Bushfield (Aeronautical Inspection Directorate). Richmonds technical design team included amongst others the much respected Squadron Leader Michael Rope and the young Harold Roxbee Cox both of whom lived in Shortstown for a while.


The moored R101 airship in 1930

(Image shown with kind permission from The Airship Heritage Trust)

Unlike earlier designs both airships were being built for commercial reasons (as opposed to military) to transport passengers over long distances and so would have to carry heavier loads. The increased load demands meant larger ships so work began to lengthen the original Shorts shed to allow work on the R101 to begin. After almost five years in 1929 tests began in earnest when the R101 was walked out of its shed for the first time - following trial flights the bold decision was taken to further lengthen the ship to allow greater lift and it was taken back into the shed to have an extra section placed in the middle.

It is fair to say that the R101 was at this time still undertaking trials and was very much an experimental ship. Certainly it appears that the growing public interest and the success of the R100 Atlantic crossing to Montreal put huge pressure on the team to deliver. The insistence by Lord Thomson that the ship would be ready for a state visit to India in Oct 1930 only increased this pressure which would be totally unacceptable in our world today. Local newspaper reports as early as 1929 tell of huge numbers of people arriving on The Highway at Shortstown to view the ship whilst it was moored and this sense of great public expectation could only have highlighted the need for the whole project to succeed.

R101 flight cover Nov 1929

Shown right is a rare Flight Cover envelope of a letter posted on board the R101 date stamped 23rd November 1929.

R101 members Potter and HuntSM
Shortstown R101 Daily Mirror Oct 61
R101 Crash News Daily Express

On Saturday October 4th 1930 thousands of people gathered to see the ship set off on its journey to India. On board were 6 high ranking passengers and 48 RAW officials and crew members. At 2.15 on Sunday morning the ship came down in Beauvais in France with the loss of 48 lives - this early newspaper report suggests 46 fatalities but two of the survivors sadly died days later. See the R101 Gallery for the names of those people killed.

All those who lost their lives that day are buried in St Mary's Church, in Cardington Village.

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