When you think of airports in London, you probably think of Heathrow or Gatwick, but before these airports, there was… Croydon. Based in South London, it was the main airport for London before it was replaced by Northolt Aerodrome, London Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport. Croydon Airport was Britain’s first major international airport, coming into being during World War I and closing in 1959.
The Historic Croydon Airport Trust, also known as the Croydon Airport Society, was founded in 1978 and became a registered charity in 1983. It aims to conserve the history and heritage of London Croydon Airport for the community. The Croydon Airport Visitor Centre is a ‘micro museum’ run by the charity, and is open to the public once a month. I headed down one Sunday to find out more.
London Croydon Airport was once Britain’s major and only international gateway airport. It played a significant part in early twentieth century British history and helping to shape global air travel. The airport was the birthplace of Air Traffic Control – the control tower here was the world’s first. It also played an important part as the site of many world record-breaking flights, including those undertaken by Amy Johnson. The international distress call ‘Mayday’ was coined here.
Airport House, as the terminal building and control tower are now known, are Grade 2* listed.
I joined a tour pretty much as soon as I arrived. My guide was very informative and took us around the building, showing us where visitors used to arrive and depart, taking us to the control tower at the back before heading up the stairs to view the displays. He regaled us with interesting historical info that complemented the exhibition.
There are some flight simulator games at the top of the control tower to keep kids happy, but the whole site should be interesting for adults. There are some original aeroplane seats which seemed much more comfortable and luxurious than the ones we get nowadays, and displays about the history of the site. It made me think of Agatha Christie for some reason, and made me feel nostalgic for the good old days when you could turn up at the airport with a bag and hop on a plane without all the queuing and security checks we have to go through now.
A visit to Croydon Airport is definitely worth it. Keep an eye on the website for details of open days.
Address: Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon, CR0 0XZ
Opening Hours: First Sunday of the month, 11am-4pm.