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

A Celebration of The Shorts Building

Shor thing 2

Built in 1917 this wonderful building has been witness to some truly remarkable historical events and has been the workplace of some of the most talented individuals of their generation. It has taken on many guises ranging from an Administration Block in the early airship days to Station HQ in WW2 and in more recent years as a training centre for the Civil Service. However despite its many uses it is still referred to today as The Shorts Building and now over 90 years later has been restored to its former glory as part of the new Bellway development.

Oswald ShortSM

Oswald Short

Eustace Short

Eustace Short

With the advent of the Zeppelin air raids over England in WW1 the government of the day belatedly began building British airships. One of the contracts was awarded to the Shorts Brothers of Rochester who chose land adjacent to Cardington village to base their production. Although there were three Shorts brothers work in Bedford was overseen by just two - Eustace & Oswald. Work began on the first shed in 1915 and by 1917 the Shorts building was opened for the airship design staff.

   1924 - 1930 THE GLORY YEARS


The R101 airship - designed in The Shorts Building

However it was to be five years after the brothers had left Shortstown that the spotlight truly shone on the site. In 1924 work began on the construction of the R101 airship - again commissioned by the government this time for commercial reasons. The airship was to herald the start of luxury world travel and captured the imagination of millions of people at home and abroad. At this time it must be remembered that flight was in its infancy and was driven by very bold individuals at the forefront of science.

Shorts door

Fully restored by Bellway - the original revolving doors still in use today.

Sir Alfred Pugsley  - part of the R101 design team Alfred Grenville Pugsley continued research into safety aspects of structural engineering throughout his career and received a knighthood in 1956.

Sir John Baker - Technical Officer John Fleetwood Baker worked on the structural engineering stress problems of airships and later used his experience to invent Morrison indoor air raid shelters used by thousands in the Second World War.

For Bedford these were truly exciting times - whenever the R101 and R100 airships were brought out of their sheds hundreds of people would arrive to catch a glimpse of them. There are newspaper reports in these years of cars blocking the roads around Bedford in the rush to see the ships. MPs drew lots to be taken on board the R101 and indeed in 1929 even the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited.


After the end of the Airship programme the building once again came into prominence as it played its part in the Second World War. Now known as RAF Cardington* the site had many purposes serving as a Balloon Unit and recruitment and later demob centre handling hundreds of thousands of people passing through the RAF. Many people who worked here at this time still refer to the building as Station Headquarters.

However it is perhaps testament to those families who originally took up residence back in 1917 and remained in Shortstown for many years after that the building is still known as The Shorts Building.

*Very little is known of the function and roles of the people who worked here in these years - if you can help in any way with my research into RAF Cardington please make contact. Thank you.


Shorts stairs 2

And now new life has been breathed into the building ensuring it will survive for many years to come.

20 residential apartments have been created along with a Public Common Hall showing a permanant display of 17 enhanced historic R101 photographs taken from The Airship Heritage Trust collection. There are also additional community rooms and Eastcotts Children's Centre is based here too.

Shown left is another original feature of the building that has been fully restored by Bellway. All the early stairways have been renovated and put back to compliment the original building.


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