Croydon Airport
Croydon Airport (ICAO: EGCR) was an airport in South London which straddled the boundary between what are now the London boroughs of Croydon and Sutton. Croydon was the first airport in the world to introduce air traffic control, in 1921. It was the main airport for London before it was replaced by Northolt Aerodrome, London Heathrow Airport and London Gatwick Airport. Both the terminal building and entrance lodge are Grade II listed buildings. It originated 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 in about May 1915, and Waddon Aerodrome of 1918, a test-flight aerodrome adjoining National Aircraft Factory No 1. Croydon Airport's Aerodrome Hotel is part of Croydon Vision 2020 regeneration plan.

In the 1920s
At the end of World War I, the two airfields were combined into London's official airport as the gateway for all international flights to and from the capital. Croydon Aerodrome opened on 29 March 1920. Penshurst Airfield was an alternative destination for airliners when Croydon was closed due to fog. One such diversion occurring on 24 September 1921, when a de Havilland DH.18 aircraft diverted to Penshurst. This situation lasted until Penshurst closed on 28 July 1936. It stimulated a growth in regular scheduled flights carrying passengers, mail and freight, the first destinations being Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In 1923 Berlin flights were added. It was the operating base for Imperial Airways, remembered in the road name Imperial Way on the site today. In the mid 1920s the airfield was extended, partly as a result of an accident in December 1924 and criticism of conditions at Croydon in the subsequent Public Inquiry into the accident. Some adjacent roads such as Plough Lane being closed to allow heavier airliners to land and depart safely. A new complex of buildings was constructed adjoining Purley Way, including the first purpose-designed air terminal in the world, the Aerodrome Hotel and extensive hangars, at a cost of £267,000 (£11.9 million in today's prices). Although the first day of operation using the new building and layout was 30 January, the official opening was not until 2 May 1928.

On the morning of 11 July 1936 Major Hugh Pollard, and fellow Special Operations Executive officer Cecil Bebb left Croydon Airport for the Canary Islands in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft, where they picked up General Francisco Franco, taking him to Spanish Morocco and thereby helping to trigger the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

The buildings
The terminal building, the booking hall within it with its gallery balustraded in the geometrical design typical of the period, and the Aerodrome Hotel 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.

Aviators, pioneers and aircraft
The aerodrome was known the world over, its fame being spread by the many aviators and pioneers who touched down at Croydon, such as
  • 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.
  • Winston Churchill, who took extensive flying lessons at Croydon and was nearly killed during a crash at take-off in 1919.
  • Tom Campbell Black, who with C. W. A. Scott won the MacRobertson London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934;
  • Juan de la Cierva, the Spanish inventor of the autogyro, who died in an aviation accident on 9 December 1936.
The major aircraft used by Imperial Airways were the Handley Page HP42/HP45 four-engined bi-planes. The first monoplane airliners used by Imperial Airways were the Armstrong Whitworth Atlantas, intended for use on the African routes. In 1938 larger four-engined monoplanes, Armstrong Whitworth Ensign series (G-ADSR) came into service.

World War II
In November 1938 the Chamberlain government decided that Imperial Airways, which served Empire routes, should be merged with British Airways Ltd, which served European routes. The new company was known as British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). British Airways Ltd operated from Croydon only from March 1937 to May 1938, when it moved to Heston Airport. When war was declared in September 1939, Croydon Airport was closed to civil aviation. It played a vital role as a fighter station during the Battle of Britain and was attacked in the first major raid over the London area. Factories in its immediate vicinity were almost destroyed with the loss of six airmen and over 60 civilians. In 1944 Croydon became the base of RAF Transport Command, and in due course civil aircraft operations began again. In February 1946, the airport returned to civilian control.

Later developments and final closure
Gradually it became clear that with technical advances, post-war airliners were going to be larger and the use of airports serving capital cities would intensify. Croydon had no room for further expansion and would shortly be too small to meet evident travel demands. Heathrow was therefore designated as London's airport and a decision to close Croydon was made in 1952. Blackbushe Airport 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 at 6.15pm. The last aeroplane to leave the aerodrome was a private flight which took off at 7.45pm on that date. The airfield officially closed at 10.30pm that evening. To mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Airport, an 11-plane flypast (including 8 biplanes) took place on Sunday 27 September 2009 (although it had initially been announced that there would be 12 aeroplanes flying). The aeroplanes involved were from the Tiger Club (and other locations) and consisted of 5 Stampe biplanes, 3 de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes, a Jodel S150 and two Druine D.31 Turbulent aircraft. A gold laurel leaf tribute was laid in the control tower to mark the anniversary. Much of the site has been built over, but some of the terminal buildings near Purley Way (the A23) are still visible, clearly identifiable as to their former purpose. The former terminal building is called Airport House, and the former control tower houses a visitor's centre. A De Havilland Heron (a small propeller-driven British airliner of the 1950s), is displayed outside Airport House on struts flanking the entry path (as of November 2009). The Heron is painted as G-AOXL of Morton Air Services, which was the aircraft that flew the last passenger flight from Croydon on 30 September 1959. A Tiger Moth in RAF training scheme livery is suspended within the preserved booking hall, which functions as a dining room when required. A memorial to those lost in the Battle of Britain stands slightly to the south. Although Croydon has long ceased operation, the two ends of Plough Lane have never been reunited, the area having been developed instead into parkland, playing fields and the Roundshaw residential estate with its roads aptly named after aviators and aircraft. All that remains of the runways is a small area of tarmac, which can be viewed using Google Maps, and the area is used primarily by walkers, model aircraft enthusiasts and locals playing football. The church on the Roundshaw estate has a cross on its outside wall that was made from the cut down propeller of a Spitfire based at Croydon during World War II. The area is still known as Croydon Airport for transport purposes and was the location for Croydon Water Palace. In recognition of the historical significance of the aerodrome, two local schools (Waddon Infants School and Duppas Junior School) are due to be merged, and will be called The Aerodrome Primary School from September 2010.

Accidents and Incidents
  • On 15 March 1923, Farman F.60 Goliath F-AEIE of Compagnie des Messageries Aériennes overran the runway on landing and collided with a building. The aircraft was later repaired and returned to service.
  • On 22 January 1924, Goliath F-GEAO of Air Union was destroyed by fire following an accident when landing.
  • On 24 December 1924, Imperial Airways de Havilland DH.34 G-EBBX crashed and caught fire shortly after take-off from Croydon, killing the pilot and all seven passengers.
  • On 19 May 1934, a Wibault 280 of Air France crash-landed on a cricket pitch adjacent to Croydon Airport due to fuel exhaustion. Only one of the ten people on board was injured.
  • On 9 December 1936, A KLM Douglas DC-2 crashed on take off at Croydon Airport on a flight to Amsterdam. The accident killed 15 out of 17 on the DC-2
  • On 25 January 1947 a Spencer Airways Douglas Dakota failed to get airborne on a flight to Rhodesia. The aircraft struck another parked and empty aircraft, killing 11 passengers and the pilot.

Building Activity

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