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Places > Shortstown

1916: The site was chosen by the Admiralty for airship construction. The site contract was awarded to the Short Brothers who began work on the buildings and equipment in 1917, this included a factory, airship shed, hydrogen plant, foundry and rolling mill. The site was selected for building airships because it lay in a broad flat east-west valley without obstructions.  The site was also within easy reach of London by train and beyond the range of German bombers then known to be based in Belgium. Short Brothers, after numerous difficulties with the Admiralty, terminated their association with them on the 1st April 1919. Shortstown had already been constructed by them in 1917 to house workers at the factory. The designs were in the then new 'Garden City' style and 151 houses had been built by June 1919. The original plan made provision for shops, church, cinema and hall in the centre but all that was built was a social club. Further houses were built some years later with little regard to the original style and layout. By 1917 the original Hanger No.1 had been constructed.

1919: The Air Ministry took over the site.

1926-27: Following the authorisation by the government to build the R101 Airship at Cardington the existing hanger was enlarged to house the airship.

1928: Hanger No.2 intended for the R100 Airship was brought from Pelham, Norfolk and re-erected in enlarged form. Each hanger covers about six acres and each has doors weighing about 500 tons.

1930: The R101 Airship crashes near Beauvais, France on its maiden flight to India with the loss of 46 lives on the 5th October. Following this disaster airship construction ceased. 

1938: The RAF take over Cardington Airfield and it became a major training and recruitment centre, later becoming a demob centre.

1939-45: During the war the site was used in the development and manufacture of barrage balloons used as part of the air defences.

1943: The last piece of the airship mooring mast, originally intended as the centrepiece of 'Britain's Imperial Air Route Terminus' is cut down.

1957: Shortstown Primary School opens in December at a cost of 24,000 with accommodation for 160 children.

1974: The Building Research Establishment takes over the site and the hangers are used by the Fire Research Station, their enormous size making them ideal for the testing of alarm systems and fire spread in mocked up buildings.

1990: Shortown's only shop the NAAFI in South Drive closes.

1999:The RAF announces that RAF Cardington is to close with the base shutting down in April 2000.

2000: The Ministry of Defence to move off the 70 acre site at RAF Cardington that it has owned for 83 years. (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 26th March)

2001: The former RAF Camp to become a housing estate. (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 15th July)

2004: Developers Bellway plan to build 1,000 new homes on the former RAF Cardington site. (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 6th August)

2007: On the 3rd September new 250,000 Health Care Centre opened. (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 26th August)


  • The newspapers cuttings collection at Bedford Central Library.
  • WOOD, J. Cardington and Eastcotts.  1985.

Page last updated: 4th February 2014