Mass air transport has been one of mankind's significant achievements of the 20th Century. A whole new industry has been developed in less than a hundred years that has re-shaped the global economy and shrank the world. We now live in a global village where we can fly anyway in a matter of hours with 3.2 billion passengers flying every year. Air transport has developed beyond all recognition from the first regular scheduled airline flight commenced between London and Paris on the 25th August 1919.
London Croydon Airport was Britain's major airport during the interwar period and greatly influenced the development of commercial air transport. Operational as London Airport from 29th March 1920 until 30th September 1959, it began life using the former 1915 World War I buildings and airfield. Britain's first airport expansion Act of Parliament in 1925 led to the 1926 redevelopment of the airport. Significantly, the new airport introduced the world to two new types of specialised building- the intergrated Airport Terminal and the 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.
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 Lady Heath, Jean Batten, the Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce and most noteably, Amy Johnson become household names around the world. The Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce was the first women to fly solo around the world and had only began flying four months before her record-breaking flight.
Britain's first and only international airline at the time, Imperial Airways, was established here in 1924 with London Croydon Airport as their base of operation until the outbreak of the Second World War. Imperial Airways was the Government's "chosen instrument" to establish all the international air routes out of the UK to all of Britain's overseas interests. Routes were gradually built throughout Europe, onto Africa and the Middle East, India and the Far East and eventually onto Australia. These air routes established from Croydon are now some of the world's oldest air routes.
The magnificent terminal building (originally known as the Administration Building) was part of the 1926 airport redevelopment. It set a new standard for air travel and was the world’s biggest, most advanced airport and designed around the two key airport functions- 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.