A piece of aviation history

By - Friday 21st February, 2014

Dennis Goswell shares his memories of Croydon Airport when it was world famous

Image taken by Chris Sampson and used under a Creative Commons licence.

In the early 1930s my family moved from London to rent one of the houses on the very new St. Helier council estate in Carshalton. It was a great place to grow up in and an exciting event was to first hear and then see an aeroplane overhead. Croydon Airport was, at that time, the world’s most famous airport with scheduled flights to the major European cities and further afield. Imperial Airways was the leader with the huge HP42 biplanes with four engines, all having names beginning with H such as Hannibal and Heracles. Cruising speed was around 100mph and navigation partly by following railway lines and rivers.

The history of the airport starts in 1916 with an airfield established in Beddington as a fighter base to defend London from zeppelin airship attacks. Later Beddington was combined with Waddon airfield to form the first Croydon Airport in 1927 and here the early days of commercial aviation developed. In 1928 the new, purpose built, Croydon Airport on the Purley Way opened and the booking hall, control tower and radio room are preserved as the visitor centre. Many record-breaking flights started or ended at Croydon, the most famous being that of Amy Johnson who, in 1930, flew a small biplane solo to Australia. In 1939 the Royal Air Force took over and RAF Croydon’s hurricane and spitfire fighters played a significant part in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Civil aviation resumed in 1944 but there was insufficient space to accommodate the new generation of airliners and the last commercial flight departed from Croydon to Rotterdam in 1959. Heathrow became London’s principal airport.

The Croydon Airport Society, with over 500 members, aims to preserve the history of the airport and operates the visitor centre which is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month from 11am to 4pm. Admission is free – just turn up. You can get there by by 119 or 289 bus or by car. Follow the signs and look for the real aeroplane in front of Airport House. There is plenty of free parking. For more information visit the website www.croydonairport.org.uk or contact Dennis Goswell: 0208 647 6196 or .

Dennis Goswell

Dennis Goswell

I was born in 1931, raised on the St. Helier estate in Carshalton, and started work at 15 at the BOAC engineering workshops at Croydon Airport. After a varied career I retired from being a technical director of a small company. I now keep busy making wooden toys and doing the publicity for the Croydon Airport Society. My wife, Joan and I now live in Wallington.

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    should be a world heritage site and benefit from some heritage funds and become a tourist attraction

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Hi Dennis – this is a great piece and such a very interesting subject. How is the progress towards World Heritage Site status for Croydon Airport? It can only be a matter of time before it’s a major tourist landmark as well as place of serious study for people interested in how civil aviation developed. I have so much respect for you and the other members of the Croydon Airport Society – thanks for all the work you are doing :)