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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 fascinating article on the West London Air Terminal tells you the history of this building, which some HfP readers 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.  It’s worth taking ten minutes to learn more about these two fascinating pieces of London aviation history.

Comments (11)

  • Paul Benscher says:

    Do you remember the Clarkson/Court Line terminal at Swiss Cottage for flights from Luton Airport. Long weekend in Majorca for £18.00

    • Yorkieflyer says:

      My first flight was on a Clarksons package tour to Majorca on an orange Court Line BAC 1-11, it was great, even had lunch in the bag of the seat

  • Dev says:

    Nothing beats the convenience of checking in at Hong Kong station … especially if you check-out of your hotel in the morning, drop your bags off and attend a day of meetings before heading straight to the Airport and through security/immigration and into the lounge within 40 mins of leaving Hong Kong Island!

    • John says:

      That’s gone and won’t be back for a long time

      • Yorkieflyer says:

        Can’t see the appeal of Hong Kong coming back full stop given the forced integration into greater China

        • John says:

          Plenty of westerners go to Beijing and Shanghai so those people shouldn’t have any qualms about HK

  • Gavin says:

    My maternal grandmother was on one of the final flying boats to Hong Kong, she was a nurse and was flown out there in some style, the boat called at various British outposts on the way, Karachi and Colombo are the two I seem to recall. Have fond memories of her relating the story to me when I was a little boy.

  • ADS says:

    You know it’s a slow Sunday when Sainsbury’s Cromwell Road gets another mention !

    btw, the Victoria terminal often takes part in London Open House in September. It’s not listed this year, but it might get added later.

    • Rob says:

      We’re using WeWork Victoria a couple of days per week at the moment so I pass that terminal on a regular basis. If you look from the back across the railway bridge it is an exceptionally dull building, interestingly – all the money went on the front, unsurprisingly.

    • Alex Sm says:

      My partner and I (both civil aviation enthusiasts) got to former Croydon airport open during the 2014 Open House weekend. Worth visiting if it’s still there

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