This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 31/05/2017.
Historic England awards Croydon airport Grade II* listed heritage status
On May 5th 2017, Historic England announced that protected listed building status of Croydon historic airport at Airport House, Purley Way, has been upgraded to Grade II*. Grade II* is the second highest statutory listing achievable. It is awarded to only 5.8% of the 400,000 important historic places listed in the UK.
This is an important step in recognising the national historic significance of the magnificent building as the world’s first modern airport terminal and air traffic control tower, and acknowledging the importance the site played in shaping Britain’s early twentieth century history. Historic England’s announcement also coincides with the anniversary of Amy Johnson’s epic solo record-breaking flight from London Airport (as Croydon Airport then was) to Australia.
Croydon’s Airport House is in good company and sits alongside other notable Grade II* buildings such as the BBC’s Broadcasting House, Covent Garden and the Tate Gallery. The listing was upgraded to Grade II* for a multitude of reasons. Historic England’s detailed assessment highlighted the historic, architectural and technological interest amongst others, and can be seen in detail here.
The building, completed in 1928, is the earliest internationally surviving example of an airport terminal and the world’s earliest air traffic control tower. The airport was also a place of innovation in the development of air traffic control and of Britain’s first international air routes and the launch point for significant record-breaking flights, most notably by Amy Johnson. We can also thank Croydon’s senior radio officer, Stanley Mockford, for inventing the ‘Mayday’ international distress call there. This was Britain’s first large scale airport and, for more than a decade, the only point of departure for international air routes. It remained Britain’s major international airport until Heathrow took over in 1946.
To understand why Airport House (the historic Croydon Airport) is significant, we need to look back to when commercial international air travel began, at the end of World War One. 1919 saw the coming together of the world’s governments to forge the international agreements, laws and regulations that would make international air travel possible. There were very few airports around the world and the airport as we know it today was an unknown concept. Virtually all of the very few early airports scattered around were ex-military World War One aerodromes adapted for commercial use. London Croydon Airport was no different when it became Britain’s airport in 1920.
The game changer came with the re-development of the airport off the back of the Croydon Aerodrome Extension Act 1925. This paved the way for the Air Ministry to construct the world’s biggest airport. In 1926, the Air Ministry Department of Buildings and Works set about to design and construct what would be the world’s biggest and most advanced airport, with the world’s first airport terminal and air traffic control tower.
For the first time in history, a building was built symmetrically around the functions of flight departures and arrivals. It was designed around the key processes that needed to be performed to handle large volumes of passengers: freight, bullion and mail. For the first time, each part of the building was zoned so passengers could progress seamlessly through each step of the process from check-in, security and customs to aircraft boarding. The building defined the key processes and functions of an airport and encapsulate the base principles of airport design.
Historic England is the public body that looks after Britain’s historic environment on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Listing is the term given to the practice of recording buildings, monuments, parks, gardens, battlefields, and wreck sites so that they are protected by law. Listing allows Historic England to highlight what is significant about a building or site, and helps to make sure that any future changes to it do not result in the loss of its significance. All listed sites are recorded in the National Heritage List for England.
Heritage plays an important part in shaping the nation’s identity. It is something that is truly unique about a place, and can’t be replicated or transported. Britain’s most popular tourist attractions are key parts of Britain’s heritage. Places like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral attract millions of visitors a year. The Grade II* listed Horniman Museum in London welcomes over 750,000 visitors a year. In the future, thanks to our historic airport, Croydon could and should play a part in Britain’s tourism industry.
Croydon Airport is open to visitors from 11am to 4pm on the first Sunday of every month throughout the year. Admission is free. For details, click here.
Croydon-based actor Jenny Lockyer is once again putting on her play about the life of Amy Johnson, Amy Johnson Last Flight Out, during the Heritage Festival. Its first showings earlier this year were a sell-out, so be sure to book your tickets.