Thursday, December 3, 2009

Renfrew - the airport that disappeared

A little bit off my normal topic (although it is transport in the west of Scotland), but I've always been fascinated by Renfrew Airport - Glasgow's original airport before the present airport at Abbotsinch, a mile and a half to the west, opened in 1966.

Although abandoned, the terminal building and control tower remained standing for many years and I remember seeing it driving past on the M8 motorway (which was built almost along the line of the main runway) in the 1970s. It was finally demolished in 1978, I believe, and the inevitable Tesco now stands on the site. Most of the rest of the airport has been built over by houses.

Flying at what was originally known as Moorpark Aerodrome is believed to have begun as early as 1912 but the site was requisitioned during World War 1 to form an airfield for the testing of aircraft built at nearby factories. Military flying activities were moved to Abbotsinch (the site of the present Glasgow Airport) in 1933 whereupon Renfrew developed as Glasgow's civilian airport. I believe the first scheduled service was to Campbeltown that year.

Note - if you click the following pictures, they should link to the websites where I found them and where there are in most cases further pictures and extra information. Due credit to the respective photographers and thanks for their info.

The first picture below shows a row of Scottish Airways De Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapides outside the original terminal building in the 1930s.

There was military activity at Renfrew again during WW2 but this ceased after the war and, by 1948, it was the UK's third busiest airport and a new terminal building was required. This striking futuristic building designed by Scottish architect, Sir William Kininmonth, with its distinctive parabolic arch, opened in 1954:-

In the picture below of the airport viewed from the west looking east, the terminal building is at the top left:-

Despite its arresting architecture, this building was destined to be Glasgow's air terminal for only 12 years. Air traffic grew massively in the late 50s/early 60s but it was impossible to expand Renfrew as the site was constrained by surrounding developments. Hence Glasgow Airport was moved to Abbotsinch which had been a Fleet Air Arm station (HMS Sanderling) since 1943 but closed in 1963. Apparently the 1954 terminal had been built at Renfrew with the intention of eventually demolishing it and rebuilding it at Abbotsinch. But traffic had grown beyond all expectations so a new terminal was required there and Kininmonth's masterpiece was redundant: the last flight departed on 1 May 1966 with operations beginning at Abbotsinch the following morning.

Renfrew Airport was gradually built over, the M8 motorway along the main runway in 1968. But as the terminal building and control tower were not demolished until 1978, they stood empty for as many years as they had been in use. Here are some pictures in the abandoned/demolition phase.

The picture above shows the terminal from the airside - the concrete on the right is the apron where the planes used to park. In the picture below, you can see the famous parabolic arch lying forlornly on the ground:-

Nowadays, there nothing left to see of the airport at all except that, even into the era of Google Earth, there was a bit of concrete left just east of the High School which was once the north end of the apron:-

But to judge by current GE imagery (see above) even that seems to have gone now and been dug up and laid down to grass (and the trees cut down apparently). One of the few reminders of the airport is that there was once a nearby housing estate where the streets were named after airliners of the time but as a result of later re-development, Viscount Avenue seems to be the only survivor of these now.

And finally, I'll leave you with a really extraordinary picture. Rangers fans greeting their team's return to Renfrew in 1962. But not just thronging the airport viewing terrace (remember them?) - running out over the tarmac to the plane!

And finally finally (!), here's the nearest we'll ever get nowadays to a pilot's eye view of Renfrew Airport. The M8 looking west about a third of the way down the old runway 08, about directly opposite the terminal building (90 degrees over your right shoulder) courtesy of Google Maps street view:-


  1. Very relevant to your normal topics given that Renfrew Airport play a pivotal role in developing scheduled air travel to the Kyles and Western Isles.

    Indeed a DH84 Dragon departed Renfrew in December 1935 to start a twice-weekly service to the Isle of Skye, landing on the beach at Glenbrittle 1.5 hours after take-off. The fare was £3.5.0.

  2. Id just liek to say that in the arkleston housing scheme in renfrew there is more than just viscount way that was named to do with the airport or planes that used the airport. there is streets named after scottish islands that they had flights to like bute, tiree, jura, cumbrae, colonsay, lewis, jura, mull, coll, arran, ailsa, sky, barra, staffa and davvar

  3. Superb article - brings back some very vivid memories

  4. Superb article - bringsI am so happy to see this site.The picture above shows the terminal from the airside - the concrete on the right is the apron where the planes used to parkuperb article - brings back some very vivid memories.Gatwick Meet and Greet

  5. caravelle,dakota,hercules,friendship,stirling,heron,halifax,hampden,york,and more are all there where airport was xx

  6. Thank you for this article. I too am obsessed by Renfrew Airport. At aged seven I moved with my parents to 13 Gleniffer Rd. My bedroom was almost parallel to the wind socket and a bungalow which was on airport property and still lived in my an old couple who rode a tandem. The man had been connected to the airport during the war I believe and they were allowed to live there for a number of years into the 60's. Beyond the bungalow was the runway, and I spent many hours watching planes come and go, or holding on the the fence at Arcleston as a plane revved up sending hot fuel infested wind over my body, as I hung on to the small fence, all that separated me from walking right up to a plane which was about to take off! I would sneak past the door man at the terminal and spend many hours exploring the terminal, imagining all the places I would go to when I grew up. The smell was of cigars and expensive perfume. Air travel was an occasion in those days.

  7. What was the IATA 3-letter code for Renfrew?