“Getting an upgrade” is the Holy Grail for many airline passengers in the 21st Century, a stroke of good fortune which can transform a long and sometimes uncomfortable flight into an experience to be enjoyed.
But now an entire airport has just been given an upgrade of its own, which should help to preserve an important piece of Croydon’s 20th century industrial heritage.
Airport House on the Purley Way has had its listing status up-graded, confirming the building’s international importance from the early years of air travel.
The lobbying to achieve the Grade II* listing was funded in part by a grant provided from the local budget of the airport’s Waddon ward councillors.
Waddon and Beddington were sites of pioneering aerodromes in the earliest days of manned flight, with small airfields opening during World War I where aircraft were based to attack the Zeppelin raiders from Germany which were bombing London.
Following the end of the war, the aerodromes were combined to form Croydon Aerodrome, London’s first international airport, which opened on March 29, 1920.
The airport expanded over the next decade, with a complex of permanent buildings built along the Purley Way, including the first purpose-designed air terminal in Britain, the Aerodrome Hotel and hangars. Next to the Art Deco-style terminal building, which retains many original features, is the world’s first control tower, which began operating in January 1928.
Croydon was where regular international passenger services began, with the Croydon-Le Bourget route soon the busiest in the world. Air Traffic Control was first developed at Croydon, as was the “Mayday” distress call. Amy Johnson took off from Croydon for her record-breaking flight to Australia, Charles Lindbergh arrived in Spirit of St Louis, and Winston Churchill took flying lessons.
After serving as a RAF Spitfire airfield during the Battle of Britain, following World War II it was soon realised that in a built-up area it would be impossible to expand Croydon to cope with the larger aircraft of the post-war period.
Croydon’s last commercial passenger flight took off on September 30, 1959.
The airport terminal building, control tower and hotel remain on Purley Way, in some part still in use. But the upgrading of the Airport House’s status will assist in safeguarding it and developing the visitor centre.
Historic England made the recommendation to upgrade Airport House to Garde II* to the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
There are 400,000 listed buildings in the country, but fewer than 24,000 of them are rated as Grade II*.
As with Kenley airfield nearby (the only complete, surviving Battle of Britain airfield), Airport House represents a piece of important 20th century history and development which has been overlooked and unrecorded until now.
The higher listing reflects the internationally important architectural significance of the building, with a greater level of conservation required.
The trust which maintains Croydon Airport’s history worked with Historic England on a detailed investigative process that sought to record the history of the building, and put it in its proper international context. The enhanced grading will also help Croydon Council to make appropriate provision for the buildings in the Local Plan.
Some of that work was paid for with a £5,000 grant provided from the ward councillors’ budget.
“Waddon councillors granted £5,000 out of our community ward budget to gain greater recognition for this key heritage asset in the ward,” said Andrew Pelling, a Labour councillor for Waddon.
“Visitor numbers continue to grow strongly. Supporting this volunteer effort meets our aim of making our local community stronger.”
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