diamond geezer

 Monday, May 04, 2015

Before Heathrow, London's main international airport was in Croydon. It grew out of one World War and was pretty much snuffed out by the other, but inbetween it was the luxurious gateway to Europe and the Empire, and was also the birthplace of modern air traffic control. No planes fly here today, but the terminal lives on as the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre which opens to the public one day a month. And that's the first Sunday, sorry, so you've a long time to wait.

After World War One the airfields at Waddon and Beddington combined, forming Croydon Aerodrome, which opened as London's international airport in March 1920. Flights were initially restricted to nearby European cities, notably Paris and Amsterdam, with Berlin added as a destination a few years later. Conditions on the ground were fairly primitive and so the airport soon relocated to new buildings on freshly-opened Purley Way. Airport House, which was officially opened on 2nd May 1928, became the first purpose-built air terminal in the UK. Its interior provided relatively luxurious conditions for those able to fly, and the hop to Paris soon became the busiest international route in the world. As aircraft design improved so more far flung destinations were served, peaking just before World War Two, which wrested the aerodrome back under military control. Grass runways meant that Croydon's civil days were numbered once proper passenger facilities at Heathrow were established, and the final flight (to Rotterdam) left on 30th September 1959.

Airport House is still an imposing sight opposite the out-of-town Colonnades shopping centre, accessed (by those on foot) beneath a full-size restored De Havilland Heron. A lot of people work here now, as the remaining buildings have been utilised as serviced offices and meeting room facilities. But the volunteers who run the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre have full run of the old control tower, and a few other bits and pieces in the main entrance hall. Entrance is free, although donations are appreciated, and a minor army of ladies and bejacketed gentlemen have assembled to show you round. I was really impressed by the volunteers, many of who had connections to the aerodrome when it was in operation, and was shown round by a sparkly gentleman who must have been in his eighties and was a fount of anecdotes and knowledge.

Much of the airport's story can be told by the photographs that line the walls and corridors. But it's upstairs in three small galleries that a variety of artefacts reveal more of the flavour of life at Croydon. Amy Johnson departed from here on her record-breaking solo flight to Australia, and returned here afterwards to begin a triumphant parade through the streets of London. Because after-dark flights were nigh impossible to navigate, a series of lighthouses was set up between Croydon and the Channel coast, with one at Tatsfield crucially important to ensure planes flew high enough above the North Downs. Winston Churchill took flying lessons here, and nearly lost his life in a crash. And stewards sourced all the food for in-flight catering from local shops, and prepared it themselves before take-off.

Passenger flights to Africa and Australia often involved ground-based legs by train, and could take a couple of weeks, hence timetables only listed dates rather than times. Overnight stopovers at hotels or even military bases were required, which made intercontinental travel considerably more of an adventure than it is today. Nevertheless Imperial Airways were keen to ensure that its passengers were always well catered for, and in the 1930s issued the following list of acceptable clothing to fill one's 'wardrobe suitcase'.
Imperial Airways Baggage Allowance (40lb)
Ladies: 1 Lightweight Flannel Suit, 2 Afternoon Dresses, 2 Washing Frocks (Silk), 2 Dinner Dresses, 1 Pullover, 1 Cardigan, 1 Jumper, 2 Silk Skirts, 1 Bathing Costume, 1 Bathing Cap, 2 Scarves, 1 Evening Bag, 3 Pairs Gloves (1 for evening), 1 Sunshade, 1 Dressing Gown, 3 Chemise and Knicker Sets, 2 Pairs Cami-Knickers, 2 Slips, 2 Pairs Knickers, 3 Night Dresses, 6 Pairs Stockings, 2 Belts, 4 Hats, 1 Pair Evening Shoes, 1 Pair Sports Shoes, 1 Pair Beach Shoes, 1 Pair Slippers
Men: 1 Dinner Suit, 1 Lightweight Flannel Suit, 1 Pair Black Town Shoes, 1 Pair Tan Town Shoes, 1 Pair Patent Dress Shoes, 6 Shirts (3 Day, 3 Dress), 2 Soft Dress Shirts, 2 Soft Dress Collars, 2 Dress Ties, 2 Pairs Dress Socks, 6 Pairs Day Socks, 1 Pair Braces, 1 Dozen Handkerchiefs, 3 Lightweight Pyjamas, 1 Lightweight Dressing Gown, 6 Day Ties, 1 Pair Suspenders, 1 Set of Toilet Accessories
At the top of the control tower there's a have-a-go flight simulator, and a chance to practice your triangulation skills via a method of radio-based location-finding that originated here at Croydon. There's also the opportunity to look out of the window towards Croydon and central London, with Wembley's arch and the Shard clearly visible beyond the adjacent trading estate. Meanwhile back in the main hall the volunteers will have books and postcards and magazines to sell, plus small flight-based toys for any younger shoppers. And there's a fine cafe, the Cloud 9 Pantry, which on open days feeds the visitors and during the week caters for all the workers stationed down the many corridors. It's proper history, this, but it's the older generation of volunteers who make it special.

And what happened to the Croydon Airport after it closed down? A large part was built on to create the Roundshaw Estate, whose streets all have aviation-based names and where the primary school is named after Amy Johnson. But a large portion was left as meadowy heath, creating a particularly attractive open space called Roundshaw Park, which is split between the boroughs of Croydon and Sutton. Part of the airport's original tarmac can still be seen in the grass close to the war memorial on Purley Way. And of course there's the Spitfire Business Park, including the former terminal at Airport House. If certain politicians get their wish, maybe London's current international airport will one day end up the same way.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24  Apr24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Apr24  Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards