Croydon AirportCroydon Airport was once the main airport for London, before it was replaced by London Heathrow Airport and London Gatwick Airport.
It started out as two adjacent World War I airfields. Beddington Aerodrome, one of a number of small airfields around London which had been created for protection against the Zeppelin raids of the time in 1915, and Waddon Aerodrome, attached in 1918 as a test-flight aerodrome to National Aircraft Factory No1.
At the end of the war, the two airfields were combined into London's official airport as the gateway for all international flights to and from the capital. Thus, Croydon Aerodrome, as it was then called, opened on March 29, 1920.
In the mid-1920s, the airfield was extended, roads lying in its path were permanently closed, and a new complex of buildings was constructed adjoining Purley Way, which included the first purpose-designed terminal building in the world, the Aerodrome Hotel and extensive hangars, all opening on May 2, 1928.
The terminal building, the booking hall within it with its gallery balustrated in the geometrical design typical of the period, as well as the Aerodrome hotel, all were built in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. A further item that caught the eye of visitor and traveller alike, was the time zone tower in the booking hall with its dials depicting the times in different parts of the world.
The aerodrome was known the world over, its fame being spread by the many aviators and pioneers who touched down at Croydon.
Here is a list of them:
- Alan Cobham, who flew from Croydon to Cape Town and back in 1925-6;
- Charles Lindbergh, who flew into Croydon in 1927 shortly after completing the first solo trans-Atlantic flight;
- Bert Hinkler, who made the first flight from Croydon to Darwin, Australia in 1928;
- Charles Kingsford-Smith, who beat Hinkler's record
- Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly from Croydon to Australia, later to return to Croydon to a jubilant welcome.
Gradually it became clear that with technical advances, post-war airliners were going to be larger and the use of airports would intensify. Croydon, however, had no room for expansion and would be too small to cope with the additional demand very soon. Therefore Heathrow was designated as London's airport and the decision was made in 1952 that Croydon Airport would close. Blackbushe in Hampshire and Northolt Aerodrome in Middlesex also served airlines operating European scheduled flights during the 1950s. Croydon's last scheduled flight departed on 30 September 1959.
The site may still be seen. Much of it has been built over, but some of the terminal buildings near the main road are still visible (and clearly identifiable as to their former purpose) and a De Havilland Heron, a small (less than 20 seats) airliner of the 1950s, is currently (2002) parked outside. A memorial to the Battle of Britain stands slightly to the south.
Although Croydon Airport has long ceased operation, the two ends of Plough Lane that had been divided, have never been reunited, the area having been developed instead into park land, playing fields and the Roundshaw residential estate with its streets aptly named after aviators.