It’s 1958. Bobby and his plane-spotting friends at Sutton Grammar School (tie blog) are just twenty minutes by bike to Croydon Airport. Long past its glory days (and heading for closure just a year later) there are still plenty of planes for the spotters. And a grapevine.
“Ere Trebor”… “there’s a Beech Bonanza at Croydon! “Coming with us to see it?”
So off they went on their bikes after school to the Purley Way running alongside Croydon Airport. Passed the front entrance and climbing up hill, they turned for the big dash. Rumour had it that the Bonanza was in the big hangar. Gathering speed they shot through the entrance to the airport hotly pursued by a ginger haired copper on a bike. Onto the apron passed the open hangar and there there it was. If only they had cameras. Not one between them. Couldn’t stop but shot out down the side of the hangar.
Those boys, (there were no girl plane spotters) all had their assortment of plane spotting paraphernalia. Rare planes or military aircraft were not in any printed books, so you made your own. Which Bobby still has. Trebor one of many nicknames paying respect to his love of sweets. And Robert spelt backwards!
This story (and others) was related to the excellent guide, who took us on the museum tour of Croydon Airport last summer. A little older than Bobby, he still remembered the policeman’s name! And the Bonanza.
Today, there is little left of the once internationally famous aerodrome. What there is, however, is the control tower and small museum that has a wealth of information and interest from the glory days of early aviation. Open once a month, with a café and tours. We can recommend you go.
Take a look at their website: www.croydonairport.org.uk.
The website gives you everything you need to know about the history of what was once Britain’s gateway to the world. Never forgetting that aviation was just for the rich then, as you will see in the photographs. It wasn’t until Freddie Laker and his contemporaries in the sixties that no frills airlines were introduced and changed air travel forever. Flying from Croydon between the wars, you would be brought by chauffeur driven car from a London Hotel to the airport. The Handley Page HP42, the most famous airliner of its day, (seen above) carried just 24 passengers. The routes were to Europe and the Empire. Not across the Atlantic. For that, the rich went on the great liners, like the Queen Mary. The rest of us went to Bognor… maybe. Or nowhere. Holidays for the working class were often days out by train. The French Riviera had been popular with the rich for a long time. Spain as yet undiscovered.
A Day Out with Anne at Croydon Airport.
Above Croydon Aerodrome. Below Purley Way Lido. This was a very popular and famous lido. Closed in 1979. It became a garden centre. The enormous concrete diving boards were declared a listed building and latterly still there advertising the garden centre. We loved that lido in hot weather.
Bobby’s Childhood Memories
Going back to Bobby’s time, the memories he has are of a very short period. New plane spotter 1957. Croydon closed 1959. He and his friends had plenty of scrapes. One evening they were caught in the main hangar inside an airliner. A DC3. In cherry red school uniform they were marched to the control tower and made to wait until that policeman arrived. They would be reported. “Who would you rather we write to. Your headmaster or your dad?” Time passed and they took no action but they succeeded in ensuring they never needed to catch them again. Croydon still had a few airline services. Once again, Bobby collected their sticky labels.
Looking at the airport site now, it’s hard to believe that Britain’s first international airport was there. Even in Bobby’s time, he saw airliners as big as DC3s coming in low over the Purley Way to land on a grass runway. And then home on his bike for tea.
And here is that historical file that is Bobby’s most prized possession. His home-made book of all the aircraft he saw, civil and military, and where, that were not featured in any printed books. It will have its own blog one week, for what it contains over a period of 4 years is unbelievable. Not just to a plane-spotter. A list of numbers that hides so many stories. But for just a peak, here is that Beech Bonanza. When I write that blog, I will show you what else I have found about this aircraft last seen in 1958.
There follows a number of YouTubes that will give you an insight into the Croydon of long ago. Spot the swastika.
Last flight out.
In the 1930s.
Also, some facts: www.londonist.com/2016/01/croydonairport
Lighting a Candle to Diddley.
No story of Croydon Airport is complete without Amy Johnson.
Diddley did her own “Amy Johnson.” Celebrating her 50th Birthday flying in a 1930s Tiger Moth from Duxford. And making her own Certificate to prove it.
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