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The story of the forgotten West London and Imperial Airways Empire air terminals

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We like to run slightly eclectic pieces on weekends, so I thought it was worth taking another look at the two long-forgotten but still standing air terminals which used to exist in Central London.

The West London Air Terminal on Cromwell Road

This truly fascinating article on the West London Air Terminal tells you the history of this building, which some HFP may still be old enough to have used.

If you have ever driven from Central London to Heathrow via Cromwell Road, you will have passed a huge Sainsburys supermarket on your right, close to the large Marriott hotel on your left.  There is a large block of flats built over it and an odd ramp leading up to them.

This used to be the West London Air Terminal.

west-london-air-terminal

To quote:

In the period after the war Heathrow was in the ascendant so the search was on for a site in West London. The airport authorities settled on an area in Kensington already occupied by another form of transport: the Cromwell Curve where the District and Circle lines came together and tube trains from Gloucester Road, High Street Kensington and Earls Court passed each other. It was decided to build a concrete raft over the train lines and construct the new terminal above them.

west-london-air-terminal-2

and:

The idea …… was that you checked in for your flight here and then you and your luggage were transported to Heathrow in special airline buses. ….  The Cromwell Road location, a short convenient distance up the road from Gloucester Road Station meant that when the time came to fly you could put on your sheepskin coat, walk down some stairs, put your case in the coach and be on your way.

I strongly recommend reading the full piece here. This is what the building looks like today.  It is hard to imagine it was once an airport terminal.

point-west

The Imperial Airways Empire Air Terminal at Victoria

In a similar vein, I recommend this article on the history of the Empire Air Terminal.

Imperial Airways Empire Air Terminal, Victoria

Down by Victoria, in what is now the headquarters of the National Audit Office (opposite Hertz, near the bottom of Pimlico Road), Imperial Airways – one of the British Airways predecessor companies, it became BOAC in 1940 – built a similarly impressive structure in 1939.

Imperial Airways Empire Air Terminal, Victoria

At that time, Imperial Airways operated from Croydon Airport but also ran flying boats from Southampton Docks.  Your luggage would be checked in, or delivered there on your return, and you would take a direct train from Victoria Station next door to the airport or the docks.

flying-boat

The flying boat service ended in 1950 and Croydon Airport closed in 1959.  The terminal lived on, however, as a check-in facility for Gatwick Airport and as a coach arrival and departure point to other airports.

You can read the full story in this article here.  Take a break today and learn more about these two fascinating pieces of aviation history.

Comments (26)

  • Publius says:

    I’m trying to get my head around how this west London terminal worked.

    Was it just a free bus to heathrow, or would passengers ‘board’ their specific flight by getting on a certain bus taking them directly to their aircraft?

  • LakerDC10 says:

    Two years ago the The Imperial Airways Empire Air Terminal at Victoria was open to tours during the Heritage Open Days. They did a guided tour of the old check-in area, the baggage transfer door (it’s literally a door that opens up to Platform 19. They also took us up to the wood panelled board room. It was fascinating and worth doing.

  • mutley says:

    I remember the West London air terminal as a young kid in the early seventies, and those double deck buses. Another relic from the 60’s and 70s nearby, is Kensington Olympia station which used to be the Motorail terminus. You could drive your car onto a transporter tacked onto the back of a train and then be whisked up to Scotland etc overnight. The original waiting room was still there about five years ago.

    • Rob says:

      Never knew that. Was at Olympia last week, and always thought it was an odd layout. This would explain it.

      • mutley says:

        Some good shots of Kensington Olympia from 70s on you tube, check out “1972 May 27th Motorail to Devon” .

  • William R B says:

    The buses just went to the appropriate terminal carrying passengers who left on flights within a certain time frame.