Original Cavendish Dock constructional shed
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".
The 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 of Friedrichshafen.
The 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.
During 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.
The 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.
At 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.
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
H.M.A R 1 "Mayfly"
The streamlined R 80
in 1920, one of the last to be constructed before the facility
was closed in 1921.
Barrow 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 chosen
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 ranges.
The site was used extensively
during the second world war, but then like many British
military bases, was eventually mothballed and fell in to
In 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.