The Royal Airship Works
The Royal Airship Works was formed in 1920 after the Air Ministry cancelled their contract with Shorts. Ivor Campbell was appointed Superintendent and continued the work already started on the R38 airship which was to be sold to the US. (For more details of this ship see the separate R38 section of this website.) Although several of Shorts staff were retained at the site it is not known how many left the area.
There are really three distinct phases in the time that the RAW was operating. The first was defined by the R38. It was hoped that this airship would lead to further overseas orders thereby keeping UK airship production alive. However the ship crashed in Aug 1921 killing 44 key US and UK crew and officials. All production was immediately halted although the site was not shut down.
Known RAW Officials 1920
Left: Thomas Stanley Davis Collins was part of the investigative team sent to France after the R101 crash. In Harold Roxbee Cox’s memoirs (later Lord Kings Norton) he is referred to as a naval architect who had been involved with the design of the R38.
Left: Draughtsman Stanley James Durston – a Bedford newspaper obituary mentions that Stanley worked alongside and had great admiration for Mr Campbell the head of the ill-fated R38 team. For more information about Stanley Durston see the Notable People section.
The second phase in the RAW story begins around 1924. The airship programme was revived with plans for two new airships - the R100 to be built by the Airship Guarantee Company at Howden and the R101 to be built by the Royal Airships Works at Cardington.
Known Royal Airship Works officials and staff 1924-1930
Lt Commander H.W. Watt joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 1914. From 1914 to 1916 he took part in naval patrols then transferred to the R.N.A.S. (Airship Section) becoming Captain of Non Rigids and became captain of the R26 in 1918.
He then moved to Pulham taking part in airship mooring experiments and retired in 1920 to New Zealand. However in 1929 he joined the RAW to be trained to take charge of Karachi Airport an anticipated stop off point for the proposed new commercial airship service.
Navigator Ernest Johnston was born in 1891 in Sunderland. He progressed through Marine School and was a qualified Master Mariner. He served in the Royal Navy Reserves before transferring to the
RNAS (airship section) and took part in airship patrols along the coast to guard against German submarines in WW1. He later became C.O. of Luce Bay airship station. After WW1 he joined the Air Ministry (the navigation section) and in 1924 joined the RAW. He became an Examiner for Navigators and formed The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. Ernest Johnston lost his life in the R101 crash.
Hilda Lyons was educated at Cambridge. She joined the RAW as a Technical Assistamt working alongside such people as Roxbee Cox.and Arthur Pugsley. She was interested in stress analysis and was highly regarded by her colleagues. In 1929 she won the prestigious R38 Memorial Prize for her paper “The Strength of Traverse Frame Rigid Airships” which was a rare honour for a woman. She left Cardington in 1930 and had a highly successful career in aeronautical design.
Maurice Steff was born in Luton in 1896 and joined the Royal Navy in 1914 later moving to the RNAS where he began a career in kite balloon testing. From 1920 - 1924 he worked as an Instructor at The School of Balloon Training before moving to the RAW in 1925. He was killed in the R101 crash.
Frederick McWade was born at GIasgow in 1872. He attended the School of Military Engineering and in 1895 joined the School of Ballooning, Royal Engineers. He was involved with the early army airships "Nulli Secundus" "Beta", "Gamma", "Delta" and "Eta". During WW1 he worked at Kingsnorth Airship Station on the construction of non-rigids and from 1920 to 1924 was an A.I.D. Officer at the experimental stations at Isle of Grain and Felixstowe. Since 1924 he was resident inspector at the Royal Airship Works and lived in Shortstown until 1931. It is known that he had several misgivings with the R101 but his reports were overlooked. If anyone has any details of what he did after the R101 crash please get in touch.
First Officer of the R101 was born in 1894 at St Petersburg, Russia. He joined the Royal Navy in 1913 and served on ships until 1917 then moved to airships becoming a pilot in the same year. In 1918 he was awarded an AFC and became First Officer of the R29. In 1920 he retired to Australia but joined the RAW in 1927. He was killed in the R101 crash.
Shown above Harold Butler Wyn Evans. In 1916 he was Admiralty Overseer for H.M. Rigid Airships and worked on airship R9. In 1917 he became Chief Admiralty Overseer and was attached to airships R23 and R26. He later worked on airships R29, R33 and R38. From 1924 to 1926 he was Officer in Charge of Design, Research & Construction of H.M. Airships at Cardington. (With grateful thanks to Christine Dalton the grand-daughter of Harold Wyn Evans for providing this information. For more details about Harold see his biography written by Christine in the Notable People Section of this website).
Left is a photo of Daisy Exley (nee Bird) a long term resident of Shortstown who first arrived in our village with her family in 1925 when her father began work at the Royal Airship Works. It is not known what her father did at the RAW but as the family lived on The Highway where most of the senior staff were posted we can assume he had quite a responsible position. Daisy was 14 when she arrived in Shortstown and in 1928 at the age of 17 she herself began work on the airships joining her mother and siblings across the road from where she lived. During the R101 years Daisy was employed in the Fabric Shop working on the outer cover of the airship. According to an interview she gave to the Bedford Record in 1976 she thoroughly enjoyed her time working there and got to know all of the crew. Understandably she is quoted as saying that she “cried her heart out” on hearing the news of the crash in 1930. After the crash she along with hundreds of employees was made redundant when the airship programme was halted.
However she was not quite finished with the station yet and from 1936 to 1945 again worked in the Fabric Shop rising to become an inspector. During these years Cardington was the main centre for the production of balloons/ parachutes, dummy decoy vehicles, and dinghies and Daisy inspected all of these. At this time according to electoral records Daisy was still in Shortstown but had moved to East Square where she was still living at the time of her newspaper interview (in November 1976). After the war ended Daisy again found herself redundant as the work at Cardington changed but 4 years later in 1949 she was back this time working in the Royal Aircraft Establishment researching and testing the new hovercrafts. Daisy remained working at Cardington until Oct 1976 when she retired and in later years moved to Elstow. A true Cardington veteran.
The photograph left is of Harry Ernest Manton and was sent in by Colin Manton his grandson. In Colin's words:
“My grandfather Harry Ernest Manton was born in 1894 and originally lived in Pilcroft Street and then Kelvin Avenue in Bedford. He was a sheet metal worker and helped fashion the nose cone of the R101 and had learned his trade with W H Allen. He was part of a well-known family in Bedford and it is said that his Uncle Henry gave his name to Manton Lane in Bedford. About 12 years ago I had a phone call from a Mr King nearing 100 years old. He told me that he knew my grandfather "everyone knew Harry."
Who was George Joyce? These two images are of a clock presented to George on his retirement. The inscription reads “Presented by the colleagues of George Joyce. With best wishes for a happy retirement after 36 years’ service at Cardington on aircraft, airships and balloons." Registers show that George and Nellie Joyce lived in Shortstown from 1927 to at least 1950. It is most likely that George worked on the R101 in some capacity.
The picture shown left was sent from Mel Sharples who now lives in Australia. Mel's grandfather Alfred Clifford Sharples & his wife Alice (nee Gambriel from Old Warden) are seen in their garden in North Drive. These are very few photographs of early residents of Shortstown so it is a pleasure to show it here.
The electoral registers show that this family lived in North Drive from at least 1925 until 1950.
As Mel explains "both my grandfather (Alfred Sharples above) & father (Frederick Alfred Sharples) worked for the Air Ministry at Cardington. My grandfather worked as a civilian storeman." Early records from the RAW Sports & Social Club show that Alfred was a committee member in 1943 and 1944 and was Treasurer between 1946 & 1949.
Other known RAW staff. All these individuals lived at Shortstown.
RAW Canteen Manager.
Deputy Accountant at RAW.
Secretary RAW Sports & Social Club
Chairman RAW Club - took part in R101 funeral.
Foreman Shed Karachi
Foreman mooring tower Ismalia
Clerk of RAW.
Drawing Office RAW.
RAW Sports & Social Club
Foreman mooring tower Karachi
RAW Sports & Social Club -secretary hockey.
Gas Plant Ismalia.
Drawing Office RAW - Senior.
RAW Sports & Social Club - hon secretary golf.
Gas Plant Ismalia
Gas Plant Karachi
RAW Design Office.
Founder member RAW Social Club.
Foreman Gas Plant Ismalia
RAW Sports & Social Club - ass secretary.
Mooring tower Ismalia
Founder member RAW Social Club.
RAW Sports & Social Club - secretary tennis.
The third phase of the RAW story is relatively mundane. The heady days of the airship days were long gone. After the crash in 1930 most of the families moved away. However the Gas Plant was still operating and staff were still required to maintain the site. Jobs then became available when the site was turned over to the RAF. In 1936 RAF Cardington was created but the RAW workers remained until Feb 1939 when the RAW came to an end. Shown right is a photo of a farewell party held at the RAW Sports and Social Club in Feb 1939. Although everyone is smiling no doubt many were sad to leave.