Friday, 12 August 2022

Wargrave Local History Society

A PRESENTATION on the history of airships was given by Peter Trout, chairman of the Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group, at the society’s May meeting.

Mr Trout said his mother, who grew up near Hull during the First World War, first saw a Zeppelin when she was 15 and later witnessed a British airship R38 crash into the Humber.

His grandfather’s diary mentioned Zeppelin raids over the city which resulted in riots.

Mr Trout began to trace the history of airships, the first of which was made by Frenchman Henry Giffard in Paris in 1852.

It used a steam engine and could be steered in any direction, unlike hot air balloons.

In 1883 his countryman Gaston Tissandier built an airship with an electric source of power, while designers in Italy, Spain and elsewhere began to develop their own ships.

The first British version was made by the army balloon factory in 1907 and called the Nulli Secundus.

A second model, called Baby due to its small size, flew around St Paul’s Cathedral and Crystal Palace where it crashed and was destroyed.

America built an airship in 1907 to try to cross the North Pole, while Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont won £4,000 after being the first to fly from a French chateau to the Eiffel Tower and back.

In Germany, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin founded a company in his own name to make the famous brand of airships, while the Vickers Company in Britain built ships to the Zeppelin pattern.

Airships began to be used in the military and German Zeppelins advanced to the stage where they could fly above the clouds.

After the war, a British airship, the R34, was the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and back.

Vickers later built the government-sponsored R101, which was intended to fly to India and back but crashed off the English Channel, killing all but five passengers and marking the end of the British airship programme.

Commercial airships were used across the world and many operators began to use helium instead of the highly flammable hydrogen as the gas could also give the airship lift.

However, the Americans had a monopoly on the supply of helium and were not prepared to allow Nazi Germany to use it, leading to the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 where an airship caught fire and was destroyed as it attempted to dock to a mooring mast in New Jersey.

The disaster, which killed 36 people, was the end of the use of airships as a means of transport.

Mr Trout also showed film of various Zeppelin-style airships as well as a display of antique postcards and airships-related items for the audience to look at.

In June the society will hold a series of events as part of the Wargrave Village Festival.

There will be a guided historic walk of the village on Sunday, June 11 while on Thursday, June 15 antiques expert Thomas Plant will give a talk on antiques. For tickets, send an email to secretary

On Wednesday, July 19, members will visit Kingston Bagpuize House in Abingdon.

For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit www.wargrave

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