Airport - A Brief History
Croydon Airport was the world's very first airport to adopt air traffic control
and it was the world's busiest and first international airport, with the world's very first purpose built air
terminal. Now it seams to be forgotten by everyone and driving by on Purley Way it is barely noticeable, if it
wasn't for the old aeroplane sitting raised in the car park.
The forerunner of Croydon Air Port was Beddington Aerodrome, a
small military airfield, established during the First World War, to counter the threats of bombing attacks by
German airships and aeroplanes. Operated by the Royal Flying Corps from January
1915 to 31st March 1918 and by the Royal Air Force from 1st April 1918 until March 1920, in the latter
part of this period, Beddington Aerodrome was used as a flying training establishment.
From January 1918, Waddon Aerodrome, a test flying ground for aircraft built at
National Aircraft Factory No. 1, was set up adjacent to Beddington
Following the end of the First World War, the two airfields (bisected by a public
road), were combined to establish the Air Port of London; the official customs airport for all
Croydon Air Port (initially known as Croydon Aerodrome)
officially opened on 29th March 1920. Regular scheduled passenger flight by British and foreign airlines begun,
carrying passengers, mail and freight to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Berlin. British private
enterprise airline companies operating from Croydon included Aircraft Transport & Travel Ltd,
Instone Air Line, Daimler Airway and Handley Page Transport.
Early British airlines found it difficult to operate profitably, without government subsidies. Such
were given to foreign airlines and in 1924 the British government agreed to subsidise a British national
airline known as Imperial Airways, formed by an amalgamation of the British private enterprise
The early layout of Croydon Air Port proved to be unsatisfactory, so the public road which ran
across the airfield was closed, the original airport buildings were demolished and a modern airport terminal,
hangars and the Aerodrome Hotel, were constructed on the eastern edge of the airfield. The “new” Croydon
Air Port officially opened on 2nd May 1928.
Croydon Air Port remained the main civil airport in Great Britain until the outbreak of the
Second World War in 1939, when it was take over as Royal Air Force Croydon. After active
involvement in the Battle of Britain, RAF Croydon later became a base for aircraft of Royal Air Force
Transport Command and BOAC until it reverted to civil use as Croydon Airport in 1946.
By that time it had been decided that Heathrow should become London’s major airport.
Technological advances in the speed, size and weight of aircraft during the War had effectively rendered
Croydon Airport unsuitable for major airline operations, because of its limited size and lack of paved
During 1946 and 1947 some major British and foreign airlines resumed operations at Croydon
Airport, but later relocated to Northolt and Heathrow.
Croydon continued to be used by some small independent airlines for limited short-haul
operations, mainly to the Channel Islands and the near Continent and by private flying clubs.
However, its limited use, proximity to the air traffic control zone of London Heathrow and
Gatwick Airports, other than safety concerns about its situation in an urban area, led to a decision to close
Croydon Airport on 30th September 1959.
Croydon Airport Society
Croydon Airport Society is an organisation with some
600+ member throughout the United Kingdom and from as far afield as continental Europe, Africa, Asia,
Australasia and the USA and Canada.
The aim of Croydon Airport Society is to celebrate and perpetuate the history of Croydon Airport,
the companies, organisations and aircraft which were active at the airport and the people who worked and flew
from there from 1916 to its closure in 1959, in time of peace and war.
A regular monthly series of evenings lectures on aviation related subjects is
organised and held in Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon, usually on the third Tuesday of every month and the
society publishes the CAS Newsletter, the CAS Journal and From the Archives, throughout the year.
The society also maintains an extensive archive at Airport House, which is
accessible to members, researching aspects of British Aviation. Anyone with an interest in aviation is welcome to
become a member of the Croydon Airport Society.
Croydon Airport Visitor Centre
Croydon Airport Society also operates the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre, in Airport
House, the 1928 airport terminal building. Society member serve as voluntary guides, telling the story of
Croydon Airport to visitors both young and old.
Many of these volunteers are people that actually worked or flew in and out of this
airport and they all have a multitude of tales to tell. They all have different personalities and different stories
to tell, so you can be sure that visiting only once will not be enough for the real enthusiast.
The Visitor Centre is open to the general public the first Sunday of every month, from 11:00 am
to 4:00 pm. The last entry is a t 03:30 pm. Special evenings and weekend guided tours can
be arranged for groups. You can contact the Society on 020-86691196.
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