The 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,
Barrow 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".
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.
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.
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 golf course and West Shore Road
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
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.