Gatwick Airport

A scheme to transform Gatwick Aerodrome into an airport proper was announced in January 1934, when an enterprising gentlemen purchased the site with the aim of developing it for commercial traffic:

By Air Taxi To Anywhere

New Airport

“Reynold’s” Correspondent

An airport that will rival that at Croydon is the ambition of a young man of thirty who has purchased Gatwick aerodrome for a small syndicate, consisting of members of his family.

He is Mr A. C. M. Jackaman of Slough, Bucks. “Work has already begun,” he told me yesterday.

“I plan to make Gatwick Airport one of the most up-to-date in the world.

“There will be special floodlighting to cover the entire boundary of the grounds – which have been enlarged by a quarter of a mile in every direction – and a beacon which will be visible from several thousand feet.

“I have approached the Air Ministry with a view to obtaining their cooperation in installing the first wireless landing beacon in the country. They are now considering the proposal. This beacon will enable ‘planes to be safely landed in fog or storms.

“A fleet of air taxis, manned by a number of well-known pilots, will be ready to fly passengers to any part of the world at short notice.

“There will be no flying club nor any facilities for private flyers. Passenger and merchandise transport will constitute the greater part of the traffic.

“One great advantage to air passengers may prove the railway line that runs along one side of the aerodrome, with Gatwick Racecourse as its centre point,” said Mr Jackaman. “In the event of a forced landing through fog or bad weather, passengers could reach Victoria Station in half-an-hour by electric train.” [Reynolds’s Illustrated News, 21st January 1934]

Progress of airport development at Gatwick was reported in the Surrey Mirror and County Post edition from Friday, 8th March 1935. By this time, the proprietors of the premises went by the name of “Airports Ltd”. A central booking hall within a “Martello type” structure was planned, which would have radial passages to other parts of the building (later known as the “Beehive”). The aerodrome would be capable of handling the arrival or departure of six of the largest aircraft, and the estimated cost of the infrastructure was £12,000. The Air Ministry had by this stage formally approved the aerodrome for full public use and, so impressed they were by it that they agreed to make an annual grant for the next fifteen years for its use by the Royal Air Force when necessary. The Air Ministry also had the option to purchase the aerodrome should the operation go into liquidation, and a curious stipulation of the premises' liquor licence was that only individuals specifically invited by Airports Ltd — i.e. airline passengers — could buy alcohol. The latter prevented the airport’s use as a general bar by the public, as a result of opposition from existing licensed premises in Tinsley Green, Lowfield Heath, and Horley. The same newspaper piece also made remarks about links between the aerodrome and adjacent railway:

He [Airport Ltd’s Chairman’s assistant] added that the Company was negotiating with the Southern Railway concerning travel facilities.

Answering Mr Pringle [the magistrate representing the interests of local licensees] he [assistant to Airport Ltd’s Chairman] said the tentative arrangements were for the aerodrome to be used for the London to Paris and certain internal services. They hoped when it was in full swing that it would handle between 100,000 and 150,000 passengers per year. In the event of the railway company erecting a special station – the race course station was of no use for their purposes – there would be no licensed premises on the station.

Replying to a magistrate, Mr. Hirsh [assistant to Airport Ltd’s Chairman] said that if such a station was erected it would be in the nature of a better-type halt.

In the Surrey Mirror and County Post on Friday, 10th May 1935, it was announced that Airports Ltd. had purchased an additional 40 acres of land for extension of the aerodrome, and that the Southern Railway was in the process of erecting a new station at Tinsley Green to cope with the development of the area and connect with the airliners serving Gatwick. In September of the same year, the SR’s station was brought into use:

“Tinsley Green (For Gatwick Airport).”

It is announced by the Southern Railway that the new station which has been constructed between Three Bridges and Horley, and which will be known as “Tinsley Green (for Gatwick Airport),” will be opened for general passenger traffic on 30th September. It will have a service of 39 trains up and 36 down on weekdays, and 30 up and 33 down on Sundays. [The Mid-Sussex Times, Tuesday 3rd September 1935]

Four platform faces, all constructed from prefabricated concrete components from the SR’s works at Exmouth Junction, came into use; two of these faces formed an island of which double-tracks passed on either side. The platforms were linked by a roofed prefabricated concrete footbridge built to the same design as that which the SR brought into use at Sevenoaks Tubs Hill in the same year. Upon the island platform, immediately north of the footbridge, was installed a W-shaped canopy with plain timber valance; this was a standard SR design, examples of which can still be seen in use at Swanley and Tonbridge stations. The side platforms were fitted with upward-sloping canopies sporting plain timber valances, identical to those which are shown on the Durrington-on-Sea page. To accommodate the platforms, a “kink” in the western pair of tracks — the local lines — was required. The main building was located on the western side of the station, immediately adjacent to the airport, and was not a structure of architectural beauty; it was a plain single-storey affair of brown brick construction, best described as a larger version of the SR’s building still in evidence at Albany Park.

Whilst the station had opened on 30th September 1935, the airport had not, given the latter was still in the throes of construction. It was not until May of the following year that the then new Gatwick Airport came into use for commercial flights.

Gatwick Airport Opening.

New Station At Tinsley Green.

On and after Sunday, British Airways, Ltd., announce that services to Paris and Scandinavia will operate to and from Gatwick Airport instead of Heston [Middlesex], from May 25th.

The company is transferring its machines and equipment in preparation for the change-over, and the first service to use Gatwick will be the Paris machine due at 1.30 p.m. on Sunday. The daily service to Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, and Malmo (Sweden) will start from Gatwick next Monday.

Passengers will be taken by train from Victoria to Gatwick Airport Station (the new station at Tinsley Green) an augmented train service to which comes into force on Sunday. Couriers will travel on the trains with passengers to Gatwick to deal with passports and other documents.

On arrival at Gatwick Airport Station after a journey of about 40 minutes, passengers will have only to walk through the tunnel, which the Southern Railway have specially built, to the administrative buildings at the departure points where the waiting air liners will be standing.

The airport will be officially opened by the Secretary of State for Air (Lord Swinton) on Saturday, June 6th, when there will be a flying display, which will include a demonstration of human flight by Mr. Clem Sohn.

The new Tinsley Green Station brings into being a new time-table which the Southern Railway have issued with facilities for those who have associations with that and other neighbourhoods in the district. Cheap return tickets from Tinsley Green to London, Croydon, Redhill, Horley, and Brighton, are announced, and a season ticket facility between Tinsley Green and Redhill is available at 5s. 9d for a week. Workmen’s tickets between Tinsley Green and Horley are at a rate of 3d., and between Tinsley Green and Redhill at the rate of 7½d. [Surrey Mirror and County Post, Friday, 15th May 1936]

To coincide with the first flights departing from the then new airport (which commenced earlier than mentioned in the above article), the adjacent station was renamed from “Tinsley Green” to “Gatwick Airport”:

Gatwick Airport’s Own Station

Officially Renamed

Gatwick Airport Station, formerly known as Tinsley Green, after the neighbouring village, has officially come into existence.

Platform signs and names on the seats were removed and “Gatwick Airport” substituted. Porters had some difficulty in accommodating themselves to the new name and frequently had to correct themselves.

Since May 17, British Airways Limited have run their full services to France, Scandinavia, and the Isle of Wight. There are something like 27 departures and arrivals each day.

Viscount Swinton, Secretary of State for Air, will open the aerodrome officially on June 6. [The Sunderland Echo & Shipping Gazette, Friday, 29th May 1936]

Your author suspects that this is when plain "Gatwick" station became "Gatwick Racecourse".


24th November 1984

Gatwick Luggage Van Nos. 9107 and 9105 are seen at platform Nos. 2 and 1 respectively, in the first year of operation of the branded "Gatwick Express" service. Beyond the tracks, on the right, can be seen the construction of the station for the rapid transit system linking South and North Terminals. © David Glasspool Collection


25th July 1987

The terminal building and enclosed footbridge of 1958 form the backdrop of this photograph, depicting Electro-Diesel No. 73129 "City of Winchester" at platform 2 preparing to propel the return working of the "Gatwick Express" to Victoria. This service, a dedicated non-stop shuttle between the capital and airport, commenced on 14th May 1984 using refurbished air-conditioned BR Mk 2 coaching stock cascaded from the London Midland Region. Class 73 locomotives typically powered the train from the Gatwick side of the formation, whilst a baggage car — converted from a driving motor carriage of a redundant 2-HAP electric multiple unit — was situated at the opposite end. During the day, the service frequency was every fifteen minutes, the duration of the journey being timed for half an hour. © David Glasspool Collection


August 1987

By the time of this photograph, looking northwards from platform 2, the station was crossed by a sea of bridges. That seen above Electro-Diesel No. 73126 was one of two enclosed windowless footbridges installed across the station in the late 1970s to link a pair of multi-storey car parks with the airport terminal. © David Glasspool Collection


16th December 1988

Bulleid-designed 4-EPB No. 5414 is seen approaching platform 5 on the "down" through line from the London direction, leading a a second unit of the same type. The road bridge in the background carries "Airport Way", a dual-carriageway road linking the M23 with the airport's North Terminal, whilst beyond is a bridge carrying a public footpath over the tracks. John Vaughan / © David Glasspool Collection