© Clive Jones
CARDINGTON NUMBER 1 SHED AT RAF CARDINGTON, HIGH ROAD
CARDINGTON, BEDFORD, BEDFORDSHIRE
14 January 2001
29 January 1982
Date of last amendment:
29 January 1982
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TL 04 NE EASTCOTTS HIGH ROAD
179/3/58 Cardington No.1
shed at RAF Cardington
Airship hangar. 1916-17. Designed and built by A J Main and Co of Glasgow for the Admiralty, under supervision by their Directorate of Works. Enlarged in 1926-7 by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Co of Darlington. Dimensions 812' x 275' x 18L'. Enlarged for the purpose of constructing and housing the Rl0l airship by the Royal Airship Works. 29 bays of steel framing, with side aisles and huge central nave: the 1926-7 alterations included the addition of 4 bays, the insertion of new raking struts and increasing the size of the vertical columns to heighten the roof. Six stairways lead up to 3 roof catwalks or gantries used in the construction of the R101. Clad in corrugated steel sheeting. Enormous doors moved by electric motors at the W end, opening to the full height and width of the nave.
HISTORY: This is one of only three airship hangars in Britain to have survived from the period up to 1918. It is the only in situ example of an airship hangar to have survived from the period up to 1918, adjacent to No 2 Shed - their vast size and form provide a uniquely important testimony to airship technology in Europe. As a consequence of the dismantling of airship sheds in Germany - the acknowledged leader in rigid airship technology in its formative phases - after 1919, and the demolition of other examples, Number One Shed is the only in situ example of an airship hangar to have survived in Europe from the period up to 1918, enlarged for the Vickers-designed R100 airship in 1928. With Number Two Shed, a First World War hangar transported and enlarged on this site for the R101 airship - its vast size and form provides a uniquely important testimony to airship technology in Europe. Airship sheds of the period up to the late 1930s are very rare survivals in Europe, there being only one example, for example, in France (on the Cotentin peninsula near Cherbourg) of this period.
Despite the use of balloons as aerial observation platforms during the Napoleonic Wars and especially the American Civil War, it was not until 1879 that the Royal Engineers formed a Balloon Equipment Store at Woolwich Arsenal, which was subsequently moved to Chatham (1882) and then Aldershot (1890). Its operational and training units were combined as the Balloon School in April 1906, the same year witnessing the construction of the army's first airship shed at the Balloon School's new factory at Farnborough (demolished 1965) and in 1910-11 the erection of two more airship sheds (moved to Kingsnorth and demolished c1930) adjacent to a new Portable Airship Shed. The latter, a canvas-covered shed comprising in section a parabolic arch made up of rivetted box-section lattice units, was dismantled and now survives in two halves, the bottom half in a fabric shop and the upper half in a forge and foundry building: both of these buildings, erected in 1916-17 for the Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, are now listed grade II (as Buildings Q27 and Q25). Despite the fact that the country's total of 6 airship sheds had increased to 61 by November 1918 (a reflection of the strategic importance that the Admiralty in particular accorded to airships as a deterrent to the U-boat menace in Home Waters), only the examples at Farnborough (split in half as two factory buildings in 1916) and at Cardington (No 1 Shed) - which include the resited hangar from Pulham in Norfolk incorporated into No 2 Shed - have survived. The resited elements of the shed from Mullion in Cornwall, now resited and functioning as a bus garage in Padstow, is not listable. East Fortune, south of Edinburgh, has the most significant survival in Britain of technical buildings associated with an airship station.
Number One Shed is the only in situ example of an airship shed to have survived from the period up to 1918. It was constructed for the Admiralty as a 700ft hangar for the accommodation of the airships R31 and R32. Ramsey McDonald's government, which first came to office in early 1924, envisaged the production of airships for imperial commerce as a mix of both public and private enterprise: the decision was consequently made to build two airships of 5,000,000 cubic foot capacity. This was a project which seized the popular imagination, R100, built under contract with Vickers (who had been formerly involved in airship construction in Britain), being popularly known as 'the capitalist ship' and R101, built by the Royal Airship Works, as 'the socialist ship'. After 1926 the works on this site resulted from the Government authorisation of the projects for the R100 and R101 airships, which were to be used for an Empire-wide travel service. This shed was enlarged to a length of 812ft and heightened by 35ft to take the R101 in 1926/7, Number Two Shed comprising a shed brought to the site from Pulham in Norfolk and then extended to its required length. The sheds are both 180ft high.
After the R101 disaster of October 1930, when the airship crashed on its maiden flight en route to India ( its 48 dead including Sir Sefton Branker, the then Secretary of State for Air) the British government - under considerable economic pressure - terminated its support for the airship programme. The R100 was broken up inside the No 1 Shed and sold for scrap in 1931. Cardington's fortunes revived after the formation of Balloon Command in November 1938, when it became the RAF's principal (barrage) balloon operations training centre.