home of the first rigid airship, R1 - "Mayfly",
and home to the Vickers company construction facility.
Barrow in Furness in the county of Cumbria, and especially,
Walney Island, was home to the Vickers Company, made famous
for their history of shipbuilding and submarines. Vickers
had won the contract for the construction of the first rigid
airship, the R1 or what became commonly known as the "Mayfly".
original construction in 1908 followed the line of the Zeppelin
company technique, at Lake Constance. In 1901, The Zeppelin
Company had constructed a wooden construction shed, which
floated on Lake Constance, but moored opposite the town
principal for a floating shed, would be that it would allow
easy entrance and exit by the ship, as the shed would float,
in to the wind, and thus easier for the ship to be removed.
The fist Vickers constructional shed was built along the
side of the site at Cavendish dock at Walney island.
the time of construction and testing of the R1, Mayfly,
the shed was affixed on pilings along the dock wall, and
was not free floating as had been the Zeppelin design The
R1 "Mayfly" was unfortunately destroyed during
some mishandling during the mooring process, and broke her
back, whilst Naval crews were trying to put the ship back
in to the shed. Even though she was not successful flow,
a lot of expedience and testing data was gathered, and used
on future airships.
Barrow Constructional Shed.
original plans for the second rigid Airship had been agreed
between the Admiralty and Government. However, this was
a time of turmoil in that the political situation in Europe
had darkened and also there were quarrels within the Government
as to whether a replacement for HMA No. 1 would be required.
The non-rigid programme was proving to be more successful
that the rigid at this stage. With the Dardanelle fiasco
already making the situation in Europe more uncertain, a
conference was called with the Admiralty on June 19th 1912
to consider the programme again.
this meeting it was not only agreed to expand the non-rigid
programme, but also to recommence Airship HMA No. 9. It
was agreed that Vickers should be asked to design an improved
class of ship incorporating all that was then known about
the Zeppelins. There was only one restriction with this
order, which was that the proposed classes would have to
be built in existing facilities. This meant that the ship
would have to be limited to the size of the Zeppelins on
their cradles in Germany.
The reason behind this decision was that the technology
was being based on the German Army Zeppelin Z IV, which
accidentally landed in France on 3rd April 1913. Her design
was already 3 years old, but there was little else to go
on except the information on what the designers in Germany
had planned. It must not be forgotten that some of the refinements
made were better than that of contemporary Zeppelins.
of the original "floating shed" can be clearly
seen today from above
Vickers had disbanded its airship department after the failure
of the Government to keep it supplied with work following
the Mayfly project. A new department was therefore constituted
in April 1913. They reassembled its original design team
including H. B. Pratt and the young Barnes Wallis. Design
work started on the No. 9 in April 1913. Work proceeded
slowly at first as specifications were required to follow
the Zeppelin lines.
As the existing shed had been over water, the idea of constructional
sites was changed and a new nearby location was sourced.
A second constructional shed was later commissioned on the
site of what is now the private airfield of Walney Airport.
The new shed had internal clearances of 450 feet long, 150
feet wide and 98 feet high. It also incorporated an innovation
having a 6-inch concrete floor with handling rails embedded
in to it that extended some 450 feet out into the adjacent
field. Also new were the eight fire extinguishing jets linked
to a special reservoir to deal with the possibility of fire.
A gasbag factory with 100 employees was set up beside the
streamlined R 80 in 1920, one of the last to be constructed
before the facility was closed in 1921.
Borough Council investigated the possibility of developing
a civil flying site for the town in 1935. In 1937 officials
visited a number of potential sites that were suitable for
the construction of an aerodrome. These were areas of Hawcoat,
Rampside and Walney Island. Land between Gleaston and Leece
was also considered but Walney Island was considered the
best place to situate the new airfield. 600 acres of land
was purchased on the northern area of Walney Island for
£8,050. Before the airfield was constructed, the second
World War began and an RAF airfield was constructed at the
Away from the more operational air space above the eastern
part of the country, the western side of England was a more
suitable location for flying training stations. The West
Coast in particular was favoured for the siting of air gunnery
schools and their attendant air to air gunnery practice
site was used extensively during the second world war, but
then like many British military bases, was eventually mothballed
and fell in to disrepair.
the 1980's airlines began to utilise the airfield for scheduled
passenger services, the first commencing flights in March
1982. Scottish airline Air Ecosse operated services between
Liverpool, Blackpool, Barrow, Carlisle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen,
using De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft. This airline ceased
services into Walney after around a year of operations.
The next was a new venture named Air Furness which was based
at Walney and had a fleet of Britten Norman Islanders as
well as a number of other aircraft. In April 1984 the company
began flying into Manchester and other major UK airports,
linking south Cumbria with the worlds airline schedules.
Operations continued for four years and ceased in July 1988.
The final air service from Barrow was begun in late 1991
by Telair, again using Islanders, and only lasted for a
few months before this too ceased in March '92.