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Visiting the former airport at Croydon, England: remembering aviation heritage

Updated on May 5, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
A De Havilland Heron, displayed outside Airport House, the former terminal building of Croydon Airport
A De Havilland Heron, displayed outside Airport House, the former terminal building of Croydon Airport | Source
Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon
Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon | Source
Map location of Croydon Borough, London
Map location of Croydon Borough, London | Source

Memories of the early days of flying

Visitors to Croydon, England, may first catch sight of an old airliner, a De Havilland Heron, mounted on a stand. Looking more closely, they may see a building set back from the road, which looks like an old airport building, even though there is no functioning airport there now. Well, this is exactly what it once was, in fact. Opened in 1928, Croydon's former terminal building is claimed as first in the world to be designed and built as such. For a period, this facility was regarded as London's main airport.

Croydon Airport, in the south of London, was created as a civilian facility in 1920, and the need for a suitable building was soon apparent. Previously, in World War One, there had been two military airfields in the vicinity. During the 1920s, flights to Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Berlin were regularly operated. Imperial Airways used the airport extensively in the inter-war period.

In 1959 the airport closed, with other London airports having a much greater potential for development. The piston engined De Halliland Heron airliner on display is in the colours of Morton Air Services, the last airline to use Croydon Airport. Interestingly, the airline's founder, Captain 'Sammy' Morton, had repeatedly flown from Croydon with aviation pioneer Amy Johnson in the 1930s.

The former terminal building, together with the adjacent Aerodrome Hotel, are both in Art Deco style. The Aerodrome Hotel continues to function as a quality facility, and the former terminal building, which may be visited, contains a well-appointed restaurant and other office facilities used by local businesses.

In its heyday, a number of prominent figures came to Croydon airport. These included:

Charles Lindbergh flew into Croydon, shortly after his historic Transatlantic, solo flight to Paris in 1927.

Amy Johnson , flew solo in 1930 from Croydon to Australia, the first woman to do so, and returned to Croydon to a rapturous reception.

Winston ( later Sir Winston) Churchill took flying lessons at Croydon, surviving an air crash there in 1919.

Croydon airport saw a number of serious air crashes in the interwar period. On December 9, 1936 a KLM Douglas DC2 crashed on take-off to Amsterdam, with the deaths resulting of 15 on board, with 2 survivors.

Near the former airport is a memorial to Royal Air Force aviators.

Also worth seeing

Central London has numerous sights for the visitor, but major landmarks in close proximity are Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, and the National Gallery, facing the Square. Canadians may be interested to visit Canada House, also facing the Square. Admiralty Arch, close to Trafalgar Square, is an entrance to The Mall and St James's Park. Whitehall, which leads off the Square, has the entrance to Downing Street, where the office and residence of the British Prime Minister are situated. Other sights within fairly easy walking distance include Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton were married here in 2011), Horse Guards' Parade; various local Underground station provide services. A little further from Trafalgar Square is Oxford Street, famed by shoppers, and St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's most famous ecclesiastical building (Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married here in 1981).

Newhaven (distance: 87 kilometres) has a Canadian memorial to the casualties of the tragic Dieppe Raid of 1942. The port maintains ferry links to Dieppe, in France's Normandy.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. East Croydon railroad station is served by trains from London Victoria railroad station. Croydon is 18 kilometers from central London. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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