Nostalgia: Rare pictures of the R100 Airship taking shape near Howden

The flat farmlands to the north of Howden were once peppered with airfields. Some survive to this day but others live on only in pictures like these.

An enthusiastic crowd rushes to meet the R-100, as she approaches her mooring tower at Cardington, Bedfordshire. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Little remains of the aerodrome at Spaldington, where these days waste wood is made into biomass, but in the 1920s it was the site of one of the most remarkable – and even more remarkably, almost forgotten – chapters in British aviation history.

It was there that Barnes Wallis architect of the later Dam Busters raid on Germany, developed the R100 Airship, a craft intended to enter commercial service.

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Built in an unheated shed with a leaky roof, the 720ft craft resembled an ocean liner, with a double staircase to a sumptuous dining room for its 100 passengers. It flew to Canada and back, but two months later the Air Ministry’s rival craft crashed in France on its maiden flight to India, killing 48, and the airship programme was abandoned.

29th November 1929: The first public view of the completed R100 airship in a hangar at Howden, Yorkshire. (Photo by S. R. Gaiger/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Few had seen it coming. Airships could fly vastly greater distances than the conventional aeroplanes of the day, and in the years during and after the First World War, they were considered the future of aviation.

It was no accident that Barnes Wallis found himself installed in the backwater of the East Riding. The Government had requisitioned 100 acres there in 1915 to build an airship station that would protect the shipping convoys out of Grimsby and Goole. It remained open until 1921, when a disastrous crash over Hull killed 44 crew members.

Nevertheless, post-war optimism was high for the airborne liners, and Barnes Wallis was one of two engineers competing for a contract from Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government. As the giant craft took shape, Howden became a hive of industry.

But the dream died with those on board the rival airship, and within five years the old shed had been taken down and sold for scrap.

The dining saloon of the airship R100, before its launch at Howden, Yorkshire. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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The ribbed frame of the Burney British airship R100 under construction in Howden, Yorkshire, by the Airship Guarantee Company. The craft is 709 feet in length, and 130 feet in diameter. (Photo by Brooke/Getty Images)
1929: The British airship R-100 flies through a thick layer of cloud. She was scrapped after the crash of her sistership, the R-101, in 1930. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
November 1929: Passengers on board the lounge promenade of the R-100 Airship at Howden, Yorkshire. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
19th October 1929: A maid prepares a dish in the kitchen of Commander Burne's airship R 100, at Howden, Yorkshire. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
19th October 1929: Passengers playing cards and watching the view over Yorkshire on the verandah aboard Commander Burne's airship R100. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
5th December 1927: Three women varnishing the duralumin girders for the Airship R-100 at Howden. (Photo by Brooke/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
3rd September 1929: The tail view of the R100 airship. (Photo by Edward G. Malindine/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
19th October 1929: Fitters and crew on top of the airship R100, during construction at Howden, Yorkshire. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
29th November 1929: Passengers in the observation car and lounge aboard the airship R-100. The lounge contains Lloyd loom furniture. (Photo by J. Gaiger/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)