Historic Croydon Airport- Why it matters?
London Croydon Airport was once Britain's major and only international gateway airport. As global air travel developed after World War One it played a significant part in early twentieth century British history and shaping global air travel.
Some of the significant historic events and achievements at London Croydon Airport include:-
- Amy Johnson's record-breaking flights
- birthplace of Air Traffic Control
- innovation of "Mayday" international distress call
- world's first integral airport terminal
- world's first Air Traffic Control Tower
- establishment of Britain's national airline, Imperial Airways
- Britain's first international air routes across Europe, Asia and Australia
- site of multiple world record- breaking flights
Significantly, the new airport introduced the world to two new types of specialised building:-
- Airport Terminal
- Air Traffic Control Tower.
These two types of new building were the first built in Britain, Europe or across the world and are instantly recognisable features of all modern airports. The buildings were of importance as they identified the key functions and processes needed in these transport buildings and were designed around those functions.
With the March 1920 closure of the temporary aerodrome at Hounslow Heath, it became operational as London Terminal Aerodrome from 29th March 1920 until 30th September 1959. It began life using the former 1915 World War One airfield with commercial operations commencing when the RAF vacated the aerodrome in March 1920. Britain's first airport expansion Act of Parliament in 1925 led to the 1926 redevelopment of the airport with the completion of the new buildings in 1928.
It was a place of momentous historic events, recording breaking flights, innovations and the creation of Britain's international airline- Imperial Airways. Imperial Airways went on to become British Airways. The first innovations in Air Traffic Control were developed here- the international distress call "Mayday" was created by London Croydon Airport Radio Officer F.S. "Stanley" Mockford in 1923.
The 1920's and 30's saw a host of record breaking flights from London Croydon Airport that made the aviators and aviatrixes global celebrities. Women such as Amy Johnson became household names with extraordinary daring flights. Alongside the avaitrixes of the day were their male couterparts, competing with them to make record-flights, such as Jim Mollision, Charles Kingsford-Smith and Sir Alan Cobham.
The magnificent terminal building (originally known as the Administration Building) was part of the 1926 airport redevelopment. When opened it was a world first. The world's first airport terminal and the biggest and most advanced airport. It set new standrads for air travel and was designed around the two key airport processes- Departure and Arrival.
Designed, constructed and operated by the Air Ministry the architects produced a wholly new type of airport building. There was no other airport terminals for the Air Ministry architects to study (none had been built at that time) but they produced a truly exceptional design. For the first time they brougt together all key airport functions and processes in one super efficent building, sequencing each step of the airport process through designated zones.
The buildings were styled, as many international government buildings were during the interwar period, in a "restrained classical" palladian style. The London Croydon Airport Administration Building was the "first of the first" wave of airport buildings built around the world. It is exceptionally rare as it's contemporaries of the time have now either been demolished, destroyed or replaced. In 1978, the Terminal Building and Gate Lodge were Grade II listed and today are an active Business Centre and micro museum.
London Croydon Airport remains a place of great historical significance and interest. We have taken part in television programmes for the BBC and National Geographic. Our extensive archive is also a treasure trove of fascinating information and a real snapshot of the growth of the formative years of commercial air travel. To find out more about our archive, read our new blog Croydon Airport Calling.