Saturday 16 December 2023

An eye witness account of the launch of the R100

 Ninety four years ago today on a still winter's day, like today,  the airship R100 was launched from Howden. Strictly speaking it was North Howden where it had been built in a giant hangar. 

Ernest Butler was then a young reporter on the Goole Times and seventy years later years later he wrote this account of that morning.

I was only a trainee reporter, with little more than a year’s experience in journalism, when I was present at the launch of the R100 airship from North Howden.

From Goole I travelled in the Goole Times van - there were no company cars in those days - with the van driven by one Charlie Ayre, and with the then chief reporter, Stuart Gunnill, squeezed in with me to oversee what I did and wrote.

I remember we - the Press, and there seemed to be hundreds of reporters and photographers swarming around - had to present ourselves at some ungodly hour in the pitch darkness of a December morning, and I remember, after we had crossed over Boothferry Bridge - that itself was a novelty because the bridge itself had been opened only a few months    earlier in 1929 - that the roads leading to Spaldington were literally alive with people -   people walking, people running, people on bicycles, people on motorcycles, people in cars. Cars in those days were few and far between but on that December morning in 1929 it seemed that every car in the country was heading for the airfield. I remember seeing people camped out on the grass verges and even dancing to the music of portable gramophones. I think we had to be in the cordoned off press enclosure outside the hangar by 6.30 am. It wasn’t cold, I remember, just dark and a little eerie.

And then, eventually, the huge hangar doors were slowly opened, the sky began to lighten with the approach of dawn and slowly, just before 8.00, out of the hangar the great airship slowly emerged, hauled by seemingly hundreds of pygmies beneath her, each of them holding her steady by ropes. They were soldiers and they marched steadily in step out of the hangar and onto the airfield with the great mass of the R100 a few feet above them. It was, to me, and I think to everybody who saw it, an awesome sight. In fact I remember being rather frightened to watch this huge gleaming monster passing slowly and silently a few yards above where I was standing, with lights shining from the gondolas beneath the mass of her body. And then I remember faintly hearing a word of command, the soldiers released their hold on the ropes, the airship rose slowly up, the propellers began to revolve and hundreds of gallons of water ballast were released, soaking the soldiers underneath. The R100 rose higher and higher, turned slowly to dip seemingly in farewell salute over Howden, and in a few more moments she was lost to view.

70 years on, and it is still - almost all of it - a vivid memory. The launch of the R100 was my first real story; and when I turned in my copy, the great god Gunnill (and to me he was a god in those days) read it through, made some corrections, grunted ‘Good. Now go home and get some sleep.’ So I did. And the following Friday, when I presented my weekly expenses claim form to the cashier for payment, there was the item ‘Breakfast - 1s 6d’. Gunnill had told me to enter it - in those days we received 2s 6d for lunch expenses, and 1s 6d for tea or supper. So 1s 6d for breakfast was fair enough, even though I didn’t have any breakfast. Gunnill thought I deserved it, for I’d been on Goole Times duty from 4.30am to 9am out in God’s cold air, and then from 9am to 11am writing the story.

Many local people worked on the airship and were out of work after it departed for Cardington. It could not return to Howden as there was no mast there for it. And despite a successful flight to Canada it was dismantled after the crash of the government built R101. Much has been written about the R100 since that day and of course anyone interested in its story can walk the airship trail in Howden, enabling the visitor to realise exactly how vast it was.

R100 at Howden having been walked out of its hangar. There was a

 9 foot clearance on each side and 5 feet on top.  It came out stern first

 R100 in flight. If you look carefully you can see how small the figures are on the ground.

Saturday 2 December 2023

Smith family of Goole Grange

It is the second of December and it has snowed and is now foggy!! Not sure whether we are heading for a white Christmas. But I shall go outside when I have written this and gather some sticks to light the woodburner. It is cheaper than burning the oil.

The last fortnight has been busy. A week ago I went to an event in Howden Minster which  celebrated in words and music the 650th anniversary of the Anglo Portuguese alliance. Pianists Amy Butler and Graziana Presicce played a specially commissioned piece; David Blackmore appeared in military costume  and told us about the Portuguese role in the Napoleonic war and tenor Steven Goulden sang some evocative the songs of the period. We ate delicious Portuguese inspired canapes and a good time was had by a capacity audience. 

 I also recently took a visitor from New York around the local area so that she could see where her ancestors lived before they emigrated to Canada in 1829. The Bishop family had lived in Laxton  since at least 1675 but remained well below the radar as far as family history went. This is true for so many families - they were hard-working farm labourers, committed no crimes, owned no property and when they were buried could not afford gravestones.

I had spent a lot of time researching them for my visitor and could only take her to the churches where the Bishops had married - ie Howden and Eastrington,  to Balkholme where they had lived prior to emigrating and to Laxton churchyard where most were buried. She spent the night at Saltmarshe Hall - which was strangely appropriate given that her ancestors probably worked for the Saltmarshe family whose home it was before it was recently made into a wedding venue and hotel.

.I am writing here however about a Goole family that I have known about for a long time and who played a large part in the history of the town in the nineteenth century.

William Smith of Turnham Hall [near Hemingbrough] married Ann Clark of Woodhall in 1790 and they had at least two sons. Samuel was born in 1791 at Turnham and their son William was born in 1800 at Airmyn.

But at that time Airmyn included a much wider area than today, in particular the farms known as New Potter Grange and Goole Grange.

Samuel married Betsy Chantry at Snaith in 1811- both were then minors. They eventually had eight children, one of whom,  Sarah, married Joseph Spilman, a young miller. They lived at the Goole mill, the tower of which is preserved in Morrisons' supermarket.

William married Betsy's sister Harriet in 1823. They too had eight children and confusingly some of these cousins had the same names!

So in 1860s for example there were two George Smiths in the news. One, the son of Samuel and Betsy of Goole Grange was charged with murdering his servant but was found not guilty. He was subsequently charged with breach of promise a few months later after promising to marry his housekeeper.

His cousin George was a witness in the case and was then running the mill as Joseph Spilman had died.

William Smith, son of William and Harriet was born at Potter Grange in 1825. He farmed for a time at Goole Grange, part of the Airmyn estate but is believed to have been the builder of New Potter Grange in 1881. He was living there in 1891 and died there in 1904. His son, another William, was born in 1861 and played a large part in the life of Goole. He took on the Goole Grange farm after his father.

 Goole Grange from the 1919 sale catalogue

He bought the farm in 1919 when the Airmyn estate was sold but retired and passed it to his son Leslie. He built himself a new house - Vernon House nearby. Another branch of the family was at New Potter Grange. Goole Grange was eventually sold to the Jacklin family.

His funeral took place in Old Goole and these are extracts from the The Goole Times report. 

The funeral of the late Mr. William Smith, J.P., chairman of the Goole Board of Guardians, and one of the town’s foremost public men, was the occasion of a wonderfully spontaneous tribute on Saturday afternoon, great numbers attending a service held in the Wesley Chapel, Old Goole, with which the deceased gentlemen had been associated since boyhood, and also at the interment which took place in the Armyn churchyard, which is the resting-place of the forebears of the present family…

Old Goole, indeed, was in mourning and blinds were drawn all along the route of the cortege. Four ministers took part in the obsequies, the Rev. D. Williams, of Worksop, a relative of the deceased, the Rev. W. H. Lowther, superintendent Wesleyan minister at Goole, the Rev. Bramwell Evens, a former minister at Goole and personal friend of the deceased, and the Rev. G. A. East, a second minister in the Goole Circuit. 

The accommodation of the little Wesley chapel was taxed to the utmost. Every available seat was occupied and many public mourners stood throughout the service, which was of particularly impressive nature…  

The psalm “The Lord is our refuge” was read by the Rev. D. Williams, and a further scriptural passage from the burial service by Rev. G. A. East. Three hymns were sung, Whittier’s beautiful “Who Fathoms the External Thought,” “Immortal Love for Ever Full,” and “Peace Perfect Peace,” and as the plain oak coffin, covered with floral tributes, was borne from the church, the organist, Mrs. Wilson, played the Mendelssohn’s “O rest in the Lord

The Rev. W. H. Lowther,  said everybody esteemed and respected Mr. William Smith, and those who knew his public work admired his gracious influences. His passing had left a gap which they could not fill. In all his public offices, as magistrate, as chairman of the Goole Board of Guardians and in other capacities, Mr. Smith showed ability of a high order. One of his greatest thoughts was to perform the best possible service he could on behalf of his fellow men. His devotion to the church he loved was beyond praise. He gave generously at all times, but more than that he worked and prayed. Everything he did was done in the most beautiful manner, graciously and unobtrusively, self-effacing.

The Rev. Bramwell Evens said he would speak of the late gentleman as a personal friend of fifteen years standing. Mr. Lowther had said that Mr. Smith was a Christian gentleman but he would be content with stating simply that he was a gentleman, for no man could be a gentleman who was not a Christian. He had never heard of Mr. Smith speak ill of a single soul and if he heard people speaking ill of others he would decline to listen to them. His motives were of the highest. 

Old Goole Coop and Wesleyan chapel


As a note Rev Bramwell Evens  later became well-known as a BBC radio broadcaster as Romany. His series was called Out with Romany and he always mentioned his dog Raq, a Cocker Spaniel. His mother was a Romany and his father a member of the Salvation Army.

Additional information

Since sharing this blog onto the Goole facebook page I have a bit more information to add. Someone commented on the name of Vernon House and as I am in touch with Sue, a descendant of William Smith, I asked her if she knew why it was so named.

William Smith's wife Emily Florence Hart [known as Flossie!] was born and brought up at Vernon House in Newland near Hull.

William Smith