FEW people passing the former trolleybus depot in Piccadilly today will give it more than a passing glance.

To be honest, it is not the finest piece of architecture in this city of fine buildings.

But it does have a fascinating history.

This unlovely building was put up in 1921 to house York’s expanding trolleybus fleet. It closed ten years later when the new Fulford bus garage opened, in April 1931.

Then, remarkably, the nondescript building became home to an aircraft factory. And not just any aircraft factory.

Airspeed Ltd, as the company was known, was founded by Nevil Shute Norway – the deputy chief engineer to Barnes Wallis, who worked on the design of the R100 airship at Howden and later went on to achieve literary fame with A Town Like Alice as plain Nevil Shute. Also a partner in the fledgling aircraft company was a young Hull woman by the name of Amy Johnson.

Airspeed rented part of the depot, and began building gliders and aircraft there.

The remarkable pictures we publish today, courtesy of the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, show the factory in its glory days. In all, five gliders were built here, and two aircraft – one a parasol-winged two-seater, and one an Airspeed Courier biplane, the first British aircraft with a retractable undercarriage.

According to Ian Reed, the Yorkshire Air Museum’s director, the Airspeed Courier (though not necessarily the one built in York) went on to become possibly the first aircraft bought for the King’s Flight – Britain’s equivalent of Air Force One.

This was a successful, thriving company in other words. But it’s very success led to York losing out.

In 1933, there was huge controversy when the company wanted to expand. York Corporation couldn’t, in its wisdom, provide any help – and Airspeed Ltd fled to Portsmouth instead. There, it went on to build almost 4,000 Horsa gliders, used during the Second World War in the D-Day landings and at the Battle of Arnhem. York, sadly, had missed out on this glorious piece of history. The former trolleybus depot-turned aircraft factory played home for a time to a hire car firm, and was even briefly pressed into use to house a laser game, before falling into disuse.

But all may not be lost.

“There are ideas being mooted to recreate a 1930s attraction based on its historic past,” Mr Reed said.

Piccadilly’s own little aircraft museum?

It’s a lovely thought, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

• A new exhibition celebrating the pioneers of aviation opens at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington tomorrow. The exhibition features Yorkshire’s own Sir George Cayley, as well as Hull-born Amy Johnson and Nevil Shute Norway, who were partners in Airspeed Ltd.