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Airship Sheds
United Kingdom - Barlow/Selby


Country: United Kingdom Location: Barlow (also known as Selby)

I n 1913, a site had been purchased by Armstrong Whitworth, the forth constructor who, like Beardmore, Shorts, and Vickers, had competed for Government contracts to build rigid airships.
Location
Facilities
Actual
Proposed
1 Double Rigid Airship Shed

Second Constructional Shed

Hydrogen Plant
Workers Houses
 
Airships Built - No.25, R29 and R33
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The site was located near Selby in Yorkshire, and was intended to be set up as a base of all of it’s aviation activities, including the building of aeroplanes. Although the site was seen as remote, being away from main areas of manufacture and shipyards, which were along the densely populated River Tyne, the site chosen was closer to the mainline railway network.

During the First World War, some consideration was given to building and housing airships in dry docks, enclosed with a roof, or even tunnels within hillsides. These approaches were not taken seriously and Armstrong Whitworth planned for housing the airships by conventional means, in a purpose built shed.

A large airship shed was erected on land close to the River Ouse, in 1913. Like all other airship projects at the time, it was partly funded by the Treasury. The main contractor for the building of the shed was awarded to A.J.Main & Co. and a short branch line was constructed from the mainline, Doncaster to Selby line.

During construction, some future planning was undertaken and it was agreed that the shed should already be enlarged, so that it would meet the future requirements of airships. By the end of 1916, a 700ft airship shed was nearing completion.

Barlow Shed under construction 1916 The wood can been seen either side of the shed, the idea being that the trees would act as a windbreak.
 
 


During the Spring of 1917, the first Rigid airship was taking construction, the No. 25. Workers from the Vickers Barrow-in-Furness site were sent to assist with the construction of the ship. Armstrong Whitworth transported the components from their works in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

A railway siding had been placed next to the shed for the ease of transfer of the components. In this time, the hydrogen plant was also completed.

The shed’s location was in the middle of a wood, and although this may sound very curious, as all existing airship sheds had been sited in open flat land. The reason for this siting was that the trees would act as natural windbreaks, however it was later decided to fell the trees around the shed and artificial windbreaks were put in place.

The construction works at Barlow, being a twin shed, could construct two ships at a time. By the time the No.25 had made it’s first flight in the end of 1917, the R29 was taking shape under construction next to it. The R29 took flight not long after on 29th May 1918, and delivered in June 1918 to East Fortune in Scotland.

As soon as the No.25 had vacated the space, the next ship, designated the R33, was commenced in it’s place. As sister ship, the R35, was almost completed by the time the Armistice was signed in November 1918. Armstrong Whitworth had hopes that there would still be a market for airships, and plans were underway to complete a second large shed at Barlow. Work continued on the R33, and in 1919, it was completed and walked out of the shed.

A plan had been proposed that the R33 make a trip to Newfoundland in America, from Barlow, however the Admiralty intervened, as it didn’t want the R33 to return to the Barlow site, as it was not classed as an operational airship station, but a constructional site. It was also a conflict of interest as the R34 was about to embark on it’s flight across the Atlantic. In April 1920, the R33 was flown to Pulham, and carried out it’s long and successful life from the Pulham station.

The R33 was the last airship to be built at Barlow. Despite the successes and speed of construction of airships during the war, there were no follow on orders for a constructional site. In April 1919, the workers received notice of redundancy due to the fact that there were no further orders to fulfil.

The shed was later dismantled later in the 1920’s, and without the extension of the shed, it would not have fitted the plans for the next generation of airship. Despite a few further schemes to use on the site, nothing came to fruition. The site today is part of the Drax Power station site, and part forms a nature reserve.

 

 

 
The Barlow shed and the R33 before being launched
 
The R33 emerging from the Barlow shed, the size of the shed can be seen clearly.
 
 

 

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