Cardington became one of the major British sites involved in the development of airships when Short Brothers bought land there to build airships for the Admiralty. They constructed a 700-foot-long (210 m) airship hangar (the No. 1 Shed) in 1915 to enable them to build two rigid airships, the R-31 and the R-32. The airships site was nationalised in April 1919, becoming known as the Royal Airship Works.
In preparation for the R101 project the No 1 shed was extended between October 1924 and March 1926; its roof was raised by 35 feet and its length increased to 812 feet. The No. 2 shed (Southern shed), which had originally been located at RNAS Pulham, Norfolk, was dismantled in 1928 and re-erected at Cardington.