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The Airship Heritage Trust (AHT) has always worked to ensure that one of its primary objectives of "presenting lighter than air history to the public" is fulfilled, whether on its own or working with other organisations. To this end, the Trust has been working in partnership with Bedford Museum to develop a new, permanent display about Cardington and its airships in the refurbished Museum which is due to open in 2012. There will also be a three-month special exhibition opening in early October this year in the recently restored Bedford Gallery, telling the story of the airships R-100 and R101.
The Bedford Museum


In 2008, the Trust assisted in providing airship-related items for a display forming part of the Museum's very successful 'Ouse Town' exhibition - the centrepiece of the display being a model of the R101. This model was built by the late Alan Morton, a long term AHT member, who bequeathed the model to the Trust when he died in 2008. Lit by spotlights in a darkened recess with a DVD (produced by AHT) about the airship playing alongside the model, this eye-catching display attracted much attention and favourable comment from the press and public alike. (Children in particular were captivated by the audio-visual presentation produced by the Trust.) Mounted on adjacent walls were AHT display boards illustrating Cardington's contribution to airship history.

Having worked successfully with AHT on this project, Bedford Museum invited the Trust to become involved in the planning process for the Museum's forthcoming major refurbishment to help ensure that Cardington and its airships are well represented in the new Museum's displays. The airship display in the new permanent gallery will tell the story of Bedford's airship heritage from the arrival of Short Brothers through the period of the Royal Airship Works, right up to present-day airship activities.

The Bedford Gallery entrance
The Bedford Gallery during the"Treasures" exhibition

Special Exhibition

The R-100 and R101 Exhibition previously mentioned is expected to open to the public on Saturday, 2nd October 2010 and will run until the end of the year. The opening in early October will mark the 80th anniversary of the loss of the R101 on 5th October 1930 but will also commemorate the R-100's successful flight to Canada and back in the same year.

The Trust has been closely involved in developing both the exhibition's themes and identifying artefacts that should be displayed. Following the transfer of the AHT Collection to the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) at Yeovilton, the Trust saw one of its principal roles as that of 'facilitator' between the two museums. The Trust therefore drew up an inventory of items at the FAAM for possible use in the displays at Bedford. Bedford Museum has now developed a good relationship with the FAAM and it is expected that a number of airship artefacts will be loaned for display at Bedford. The Museum is also very keen to include personal stories in the exhibition and will be happy to accept small items of memorabilia for display and a suitable appeal will appear in our members' magazine Dirigible in due course.

It was agreed at an early stage that - in addition to dealing with the story of the R101 - the exhibition should cover the R-100, Cardington and its airship heritage, the personalities involved in both designing and flying the airships and the technical innovations and aviation achievements that resulted from the rigid airship programme. The exhibition will also show what has been achieved at Cardington since the end of the rigid airship era. It is hoped that this wide-ranging scope will give the exhibition a more balanced view of the famous Cardington site and its airship history instead of concentrating solely on the R101 disaster.

New Gallery

The existing museum will close in October 2010 and will re-open in 2012. There will be public consultation on the plans and designs for the refurbished Museum and the Trust will be closely involved in this process. The airship section in the new Trade and Industry Gallery will probably consist of two or three display cases with other items being hung from the ceiling. Bedford Museum has already secured a substantial proportion of the necessary funding for the refurbishment scheme and will be organising various events to raise the balance. You can help by becoming a Patron of Bedford Museum. See the Museum's website at and click on 'News' for full details.

The Future

The Bedford Museum project is proving to be very interesting and constructive and promises to be a most exciting time in the history of both Bedford Museum and the Airship Heritage Trust. More information about progress at the museum will follow as our joint plans develop.



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