model of R38/ZR-2 from the collection of Darren Howlett

From Barbara Swanborough2 pieces of material – one from the Airship outer skin (bottom of photo) and one from part of the gas bag (top of photo).
Found by the contributors grandmother who worked at a shipyard on the banks of the Humber at the time.
They were found in an envelope when her grandmother died.
Rob Woods inherited this from his grandfather, William Woods, who lived in the Hessle Road area at the time of the crash. Rob always understood his grandfather witnessed the crash.
From Ron Keogh who has collected many pieces of R38 memorabilia including these two pieces of metal from the structure — pictured above and below, — a Hull Brewery ashtray, a cribbage board and a small replica of the airship, were all made from the metal of the crash.

British Pathé newsreel footage

Salvaging The Wreckage Of R.38 Airship At Hull 1921

Wreck Of The R-38 Airship 1921

Wreckage artefacts

The images above show a 250mm fragment of ‘goldbeater’s’ skin, used for the gas bag envelopes fitted to the R.38.

Airship R.38 ‘goldbeater’s’ skin fragment

Goldbeater’s skin is the processed outer membrane of the intestine of an animal, typically an ox, valued for its strength against tearing. The term derives from its traditional use as durable layers interleaved between sheets of gold stock during the process of making gold leaf by goldbeating, as a batch process producing many “leaves” at the same time. In the early modern production of airships, application of its high strength-to-weight ratio and reliability were crucial for building at least the largest examples.


To manufacture goldbeater’s skin, the gut of oxen (or other cattle) is soaked in a dilute solution of potassium hydroxide, washed, stretched, beaten flat and thin, and treated chemically to prevent putrefaction. A pack of 1,000 pieces of goldbeater’s skin requires the gut of about 400 oxen and is 1 inch (25 mm) thick.

Up to 120 sheets of gold laminated with goldbeater’s skin can be beaten at the same time, since the skin is thin and elastic and does not tear under heavy goldbeating. The resultant thickness of gold leaf can be as small as 1 μm-thick.

Application areas – Construction of airships

Large quantities of goldbeater’s skin were used to make the gas bags of early balloons created by the Royal Engineers at Chatham, Kent starting in 1881–82 culminating in 1883 with “The Heron”, of 10,000 cu ft capacity. The method of preparing and making gas-tight joins in the skins was known only to a family from Alsatia called Weinling who were employed by the RE for many years. The British had a monopoly on the technique until around 1912 when the Germans adopted the material for the internal gas bags of the “Zeppelin” rigid airships, exhausting the available supply: about 200,000 sheets were used for a typical World War I Zeppelin, while the USS Shenandoah needed 750,000 sheets. The sheets were joined together and folded into impermeable layers. – Wikipedia, Goldbeater’s skin.

Below is a structural section in the possession of Sean Donnelly and are possibly from the internal keel framework, showing the riveted fishplate method for attaching cross-members. Aluminium provides a lightweight material but requires careful design to give good structural strength.

❝ This was passed on to me by my grandad Terrance Donnelly who was a crane driver on the docks when the airship crashed into the River Humber in 1921.❞

The pair of candlesticks belong to C.E. Crawford. They have been in the family for 3 generations.
Joan Coates‘ grandfather (Joseph Harrison) worked for C.A Hill & Co from 1901 to 1941. She believes he had 4 items made for his 4 daughters from the wreckage of the R38 (i.e candlesticks, vases, napkin rings and one other). She has seen the candlesticks owned by her cousin’s wife and underneath them is stamped C.A Hill % Co.

Reprocessed objects

The Carnegie Heritage Centre advertised on social media, on Radio Humberside and various newspapers to ask for any information people may have had about the Airship disaster. Being 100 years ago it was amazing how many people had memorabilia, artifacts and relatives’ memories which they were willing to bring in to the centre or contact by email.

People who were descendants of the crew were so pleased that this terrible event was being recognised and commemorated and we are pleased to be able to do bring this to people’s attention.

This web site can be updated if anyone has more information they would like to add.

These are all pieces which were brought in to the Carnegie Heritage Centre so we could photograph them for the purpose of archiving a digital record of the R.38/ZR-2.

The model of the R.38 was brought in by Kathleen Sexton – Replica of the Airship 2″ high x 6″ long.

Kathleen Sexton brought in 2 replicas to show us. These were bought from a man who worked at Earle’s Shipyard. Earle’s Shipyard had the contract for salvage/disposal and the workers took the metal and made items from it.Her grandfather, Sydney Wood, lived in Bellamy St. and drove shire horses for Ranks. He visited the Red Lion or Oriental pubs so could have purchased them from a customer. He would have been 28 in 1921.

This small model on a wooden plaque belongs to Ron Koegh who collects R.38/ZR-2 artifacts.

Contributors of Artefacts and Repossessed articles

We would like to thank the following for their contributions, whether large or small, which has meant we can document the finding of this project for future generations.

Kathleen Sexton, C.E. Crawforth, Rev. Mick Fryer, Lisa Evans, Mick Brand, Ronald A Russell, David Zuill, Chris Dobbs, Sonia Potts, Andrea Hunter, Ron Keogh, Ina Simpson, Bob Lawe, Lynda Johnson, Marion Wilson, Dave Robinson, Christine Moore, Amy & Barbara Swanborough, David Finch, Tim Barker, Joan Coates, Jackie Hunter, John Piercy, Sheila Coates, Stewart Would, Neil Armstrong Nash, Rob Kitchen, David Walker, Darren Howlett, Kathleen Creek, Gavin Collinson, Rob Wood, David Lane, Mark Howard, Kenneth Martin, Stewart Padget, James Brazier, Sandra Harness, Ann Loss, Dexter Smith, Mrs Shakespeare, Judith Esterley Doremus (USA), Janet Cliffe, Sean Donnelly, Keith Herndon, John William Brown.