AIRSHIP SHEDS - Walney Island

An artists impression of the proposed Walney airship shed

Commencement of work on the Walney Airship Sheds at 'Airship Shed Road' off Mill Lane was in late 1913 and initially built to erect two of the largest air-ships that could be built side by side, from parts made elsewhere. Some of the airships being built at the time were portable and could be taken apart and loaded into ships or road transport for dispatch to other airship bases. Airships constructed within these sheds consisted of, amongst others R9, R23, R26 and R34.

The Walney shed had an arched roof and sloping sides that were specially designed to withstand the strongest Irish Sea gale. In addition the site for the shed was situated where there was no natural or man made obstructions that could be a hazard to arriving or departing airships. The shed was placed on a base of concrete blocks. Something of an innovation of the time was the 6-inch (150mm) concrete floor, which had handling rails embedded in to it that extended out in to the next field, along with fire extinguishing jets linked to a reservoir to deal with the possibility of fire.

The inside measurements of the shed was a staggering 540 feet (165m) long, 150 feet (46m) wide, and 98 feet (30m) high. At each end of the roof were turrets, access to each by a staircase from the ground and a catwalk running the full length of the roof.  The purpose of these turrets was to provide an advantage point to enable safe guidance of ships in and out of the shed.  The two massive doors at each end of the shed were hinged and ran on wheels on a metal railway.  They were opened and closed by hand-operated gears that engaged with notches on the metal rails.

At the side of the huge shed was a series of huts which were provided to accommodate up to 200 men who were required for numerous jobs but mainly for handling the huge ships in and out of the shed and thus avoiding a repetition the fate of HMA No 1 at the Cavendish Dock shed a few year earlier. Adjacent to the construction shed was another extensive factory building which was used for the production of hydrogen gas. 

In 1917, in order to meet contractual obligations to build the R37, a ship too large to be built in the Walney sheds, Vickers decided to build larger sheds at Flookborough near Cark.  Work on the sheds began but in 1917 the work was halted due to a nationwide shortage of steel.  The work on the site was then abandoned and Vickers was unable to honour their contract which was transferred to another company.

Work continued at Walney and apart from a small non-rigid reconnaissance airship made for Japan , the R80 was the last airship to be built at Walney, and probably itself more famous for the fact that Barnes Wallis of dam-buster fame was employed at the sheds during it's construction. Erection began in April 1918 but the Air Ministry stopped the work in the summer of 1919 as it was considered that the ship was no longer of military or commercial value.  Vickers however continued to fit out the ship with commercial objectives in mind but the scheme unfortunately fell through and on the 24 February 1921 she flew off to Howden in Yorkshire (the eventual home of the R100) where she was finally dismantled in 1925 having flown for a total of less than 73 hours.

There was a possibility that the huge redundant shed on Mill Lane could be used as a film studio but this did not materialise and after a few years it was eventually sold for scrap and was pulled down by the popular theatrical impresario and  local Marine Merchant Jimmy Brennan.

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This picture (above left) shows one of the 'exposed' foundation stones to the Airship Shed/s upright support member as it remains visible to this day. When viewed from above (above right) West shore estates' layout clearly defines where the buildings used to once frequent. during the construction of West Shore Estate the foundation to each of the two buildings were simply covered with turf as the cost of removing the concrete was perceived to be to great. The pictures below show the same site at the launch of the airship R80.

See also: Airshipsonline

 

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These pictures below were donated by and are in memory of the late Robert Benson of North Scale:

 

The Picture above is of HMA No. 9 and was a rigid airship designed and built by Vickers Ltd at Walney Island and took to the air for the first time on 27 November 1916, she was the first successful British 'rigid' design, and went on to provided many hours of valuable training and experimental data for British airship crews and designers.

 

 

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