Howden owes its place in the story of air travel to its choice in 1915 as one of the sites for a Royal Naval Airship Station. Spaced along the east coast, these stations were bases for groups of inflatable airships that patrolled the coastal shipping lanes to deter enemy submarines. Large hangers were built to shelter the inflated airships, together with a hydrogen generation plant, and the Howden site was served by a short branch line from the Selby-Hull line of the then North Eastern Railway.
At the end of hostilities in 1918 the station received a succession of the larger rigid airships which were then being built. The station closed in 1921 and most of its assets were sold off, leaving the large No. 2 shed and the branch railway.
Howden was chosen by Vickers, in the guise of the Airship Guarantee Company, as the location to build the prototype of an intended new generation of very large airships which would provide higher speed travel over very long distances.
The Airship History Trail and an accompanying booklet have their origin in the fact that the giant R100 airship, designed by Barnes Wallis, was built in Howden with a largely local labour force. Launched in December 1929 it completed its flight trials and successfully flew to Canada and back in 1930. Its fate was sealed, however, when its competitor, R101, designed by a different team, crashed in France when on its way to India. R100 was never flown again.
The trail of 24 pavement plaques commemorates the airship and the people who built it and the fact that, for a short period, Howden was at the forefront of airship design and construction.
If we go to the Co-operative store on the corner of Market Place and Bridgegate we will find in the pavement outside the entrance the first inset bronze plaque of the R100 Airship History Trail. Thanks to a grant from People’s Millions section of the Big Lottery Fund the Civic Society was able to create a sequence of pavement plaques marking the 700 feet length of the airship. The trail extends the full length of the Market Place and along the path into the Ashes Park finishing just beyond the Bishops’ Manor.
Five of the plaques show close-ups of important details of the airship – The Nose, the Gondola, the Engine Cars, and the Fins and Rudders. A more detailed Information Plaque is alongside the drive into the Ashes Park near the Bishops Manor House. It provides a concise summary of the history of the airship and its principal dimensions, acknowledging the parts played by Howden Civic Society and the Big Lottery Fund in creating the trail.
The booklet describing the Howden Airship Station and the R100 is available, free of charge, from the Shire Hall or Chapplelows the newsagents or direct from Howden Civic Society.