The small market town of Howden grew up close to the rivers Ouse and Derwent. Walter Skirlaw, who flourished about 1390, built a very great and large steeple to the church that if there happened by chance any inundation it might serve the inhabitants for a place of refuge to save themselves in.
In the years between the two World Wars the idea of inter-continental travel by great airship was both exciting and a real possibility.
The rigid airship, R.100 and its ill-fated sister ship the R. 101, were an experimental competition between private industry and the Government of the time, in 1924. Two large airships for commercial use were to be designed and constructed, one by the Airship Guarantee Co. Ltd., an offshoot of Vickers Ltd., the armaments and engineering giant, the other, the R.101 was to be built by the Air Ministry. The government was to decide which was the more suitable product and award contracts to build a fleet of such craft.
Two, now famous names, were connected with the Airship Guarantee Co’s project at Howden – the aeronautical engineer and inventor, Barnes Wallis, who designed the airship, and the chief calculator, Nevil Shute Norway, who later became a novelist under the name of Nevil Shute.
To get some idea of the scale of this project a few facts and figures are necessary. The airships were to be in length 709 feet with a diameter of 133 feet. The engine power was to be 4,200 h.p. with a maximum speed of 80 m.p.h. They were to be designed to carry 100 passengers, and a small amount of freight. With visits to different parts of the Empire in mind, they had to carry fuel for 3,500miles in still air at cruising speed. Here was a vehicle that could bring India within four days of England, Canada within three and Australia within eight.
Let’s take a look at the interior of the R. 100, which was being built at Howden. At the bow of the airship were fittings for attachment to the mooring mast, and observation windows for the use of the crew.
From here you moved down the ship by an enclosed corridor, designed for the use of passengers and lit by electricity. This led into the passenger coach, which was about 180 feet from the bow.
The passenger coach was strung inside the hull of the airship and consisted of three floors, of which the bottom was allocated to the crew, and the two upper floors to passengers. This coach was surrounded entirely by a double wall, through which air was circulated to obviate the danger of any inflamable gas or vapour penetrating to the living quarters. Cooking was carried out there in an electric kitchen.
The passengers were quartered there in two and four berth cabins very similar to sea going ships.
Below the crew’s quarters of the passenger coach was slung the control car. Aft of the passenger coach the corridor was narrowed and became working class,being designed for the use of crew only.
A hundred and thirty feet after the coach you came to two engine cars, suspended outside the hull. Each car contained two Rolls-Royce engines of 700 horse-power and one A.C. motor car engine, whose function was to drive a dynamo to provide electric current necessary for lighting, heating, cooking and wireless.
Ninety feet aft of these engine cars, a third car, similar to the other two was situated. Aft again you came to the fins and rudders of the ship, which served the same purpose as the feathers on an arrow, to ensure stability to her flight.
Work on the R.100 at Howden, continued confidently under the supervision of Barnes Wallis and the race to build an airship developed into a needle match. The government –sponsored R.101 project at Cardington had the luxury of no expenses spared, whereas at Howden, the airship was being built as economically as possible.
On 29th July, the R.100 set out on her 3,300 mile journey to Canada, returning to England on the 16th August. The Canadian trip was a great success, minor problems aside. It was a noteable achievement for the British aviation industry, which had evolved from the project at Howden.
All eyes were on her sister ship as she set out for India on 4th October, 1930. The ill-fated R.101 got no further than France, where she crashed, killing 48 people, there being just six survivors. The disaster also sealed the fate of the successful R.100, which languished never to fly again, being eventually sold for scrap.
Howden church tower can still be seen from afar but the only reminder of the R.100 seems to be the Barnes Wallis Inn, which at one time was named the Station Hotel.