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Folk Art R101 Airship


Wonderful naive folk art model of the British airship R101. Constructed from a First World War shell and two shaped British pennies for the tail fins, it dates from around 1930. The propellers move freely on the suspended engine cars and the whole is mounted on a stained wooden base with small engraved brass plaque for ‘R101’. It’s a charming, tactile and very attractive piece.

The R101 was one of two identical airships commissioned by the British government in the 1920s and construction began in 1926 of the steel and linen structure. Once completed it was the largest flying vessel ever created at 735 feet long and took 400 people to drag it out of its shed in Cardington, Bedfordshire. When it emerged from its shed and took its first tentative flights, onlookers were in awe of its sheer size.

Onboard, the passenger quarters with their promenades, bedrooms, a large dining room and a smoking room were rather grand, decked out in quintessentially 1920’s decor and as such, it was seen as a lavish floating hotel.

Originally intended to fly to India, the programme was beset with problems and several redesigns were carried out. It flew several flights before it’s fateful final flight on Saturday 4th October 1930. The R101 cruised over the English Channel and headed into French airspace. At 2:00am it encountered a storm and a small piece of the airships exterior was damaged but this went undetected initially. In less than 5 minutes, the R101 nosedived to the ground, the initial impact being very gentle but tragically a fire broke out which swept through the airship, killing 48 of the 54 people onboard. The accident effectively ended the British airship programme.

Whether this model was made as an enthusiastic representation of the airship by someone who looked on in awe at its majesty or as a tribute to the loss of life after that fateful night, we will never know. Some artefacts have even been made from metal recovered from the wreckage, again, we will never know if this one was.

All in all, it’s a charming piece of British military, social, aviation and transport history.

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H: 11cm W: 31cm D: 6cm

Additional photos courtesy of Also see this very informative website for lots more information about the R101 and airships in general.

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