Saturday, September 26, 2015

Heathrow in the 1950s & 60s

The clue's in the name that this has nothing whatever to do with Kyles or Western Isles but browsing Google Earth recently, I was surprised to see the impact of the new Terminal 2 on the familiar layout of Heathrow's central area:-

I often find myself looking at old pictures of Heathrow taken in the 1950s and 60s such as the ones below and wondering where exactly amongst the current layout they were taken?

BEA Viscount - photo credit Jerry Hughes

BOAC, Air Canada, Pan Am & Air India - Photo credit Wikipedia
A good reference for Heathrow in the mid 1950s is the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps from 1937-61 which you can see on National Libraries of Scotland's outstanding website here - note the "Change transparency of overlay" slider on the left which allows you to overlay present day satellite imagery over the historic mapping. The result is that the first photo above (the b/w one of the BEA Viscounts) is looking south east over the red wedge on the 1:25k map below while the second one (the colour one with the BOAC VC10 nearest) is looking north west over the green wedge. (I've also annotated the map with the locations of some prominent buildings which appear in old Heathrow pictures to assist locating them.)

This all got me thinking about the chronology of the development of Heathrow generally, especially in the 1940s, 50s & 60s so here is what I have discovered with the aid of the excellent (and free) "Flight" magazine archive.

In the 1920s and 30s, London's principal airport was at Croydon but, during the War, those charged with planning life after the conflict realised that it was in too congested a location for future development and that a new site would be required. A private aerodrome called "Great West Aerodrome" established in 1929 by aircraft manufacturer Fairey Aviation near the hamlet of Heathrow was identified and the government rather cynically decided it would be a lot easier to take control of this under emergency wartime legislation as allegedly required for the war effort than have to endure the interminable planning delays associated with establishing an international airport on a new site in peacetime.

In the picture above from the Flight archive, Great West Aerodrome is partially obscured by the tail planes of the Fairey bomber the photo was taken from in 1934. However, the view is looking north west and I've outlined the NW boundaries of the aerodrome in red. The hangar circled in yellow is the building with the BOAC billboard on it in the photo above of the BEA Viscounts: it survived into the 1960s because it couldn't be demolished until a decades long dispute between the Ministry and Fairey's over compensation for the requisition of their site was finally settled.

Below is Fairey's Great West Aerodrome (red with the hangar circled yellow again) as seen on 1940s OS 1 inch mapping superimposed over current aerial imagery on the NLS website.

Construction began in 1944 of a greatly enlarged airfield with three runways in a triangular pattern as seen in the picture below which was taken from the west in August 1946.

From Flight Archive
The runway on the left in that photo is today's 27R/09L, the northmost of Heathrow's two surviving runways.

The new airport - known in the 1940s and 50s as "London Airport" (or LAP) rather than Heathrow - opened in 1946. The original apron and terminal were off Bath Road to the north of the runways - you can see them off the taxiway to the left (north) of the runway at top left of the photo above.  Due to post-war austerity, the first terminal facilities were just tents surrounding a brick, three storey RAF type control tower (pictures here and here) but the medium term plan was to build three more runways to create a "Star of David" layout with state of the art terminal buildings in the centre accessed by a tunnel under the north runway (27R/09L): this would necessitate shifting the west runway of the original triangle (the one running roughly left to right in the picture above) westwards a bit. Below is a film made in 1949 about the development of "London Airport":-

In the picture below - taken from the east in 1952 - the three new runways have been built (and one realigned) and you can see what appears to be the tunnel to the central area being built under 27R/09L. The original terminal is on the right and the BEA and BOAC maintenance and hangarage complex is taking shape at the bottom of the picture: the old Fairey hangar is circled:-

The new facilities in the central area opened in April 1955. These served domestic and European flights (which had hitherto operated from nearby Northolt Airport) and became known as "Central" in contrast to the original terminal which became known as "North" and continued for the time being to serve intercontinental flights.

"Central" comprised three main buildings - the control tower block, an administration building called the Queens Building and a terminal building (which became the nucleus of the old Terminal 2: it was subdivided as "No 1 Building: Europa" for European operations and "No 2 Building: Britannic" for domestic flights). There were two aprons, north east and south east, but no piers or contact gates and passengers walked or were bussed out to the aircraft:-

Flight Archive
London Airport Central in the mid 1950s - view from north east
Delightfully evocative cartoons from the Flight archive depict the joys of air travel from LAP Central
Despite the pride in the new facilities evident in these images, there had been an interesting alternative (perhaps rather too daring) vision for LAP Central which never came to pass here. And a plan for a further triangle of runways north of Bath Road - see here - was abandoned in the early 1950s.

The conspicuous Southall gasometer in the background identifies this view as looking over the north east apron of LAP Central towards the holding point of runway 28R: Photo credit Ian MacFarlane at
The Hunting Clan Building in the background identifies this view as looking over the south east apron: Photo credit Martin Snelling
With short haul operations now ensconced at LAP Central, attention in the later 1950s switched to bringing long haul operations in to new purpose built facilities in the central area and allow the always temporary ad hoc LAP North to be closed. Work began in 1960 and "Building No 3: Oceanic" on the south west face of the central area (which became the nucleus of Terminal 3) opened in November 1961.

London Airport long haul terminal (later T3) in 1962 - Flight Archive
Before we leave the now redundant LAP North, however, photos of it seem to be rare and the best I could find are the following:-

Aerial view looking north west over LAP North
Looking east at LAP North: photo credit Miocene
The site of LAP North is now occupied by the Renaissance Hotel

LAP North then and now via National Libraries of Scotland (move the transparency of overlay slider)
The next phase of development of LAP, in the mid 1960s, was to add piers to the two central area terminals (short haul, latterly T2 and long haul, latterly T3). I don't know the exact sequence of events in this but the diagram below from Flight Magazine shows the stage reached by 1967:-

Heathrow 1967 - Flight archive
The picture below shows the long haul terminal (T3) at this time:-

Terminal 3 from the north west in 1967: photo credit Steve Williams via
Below is an interesting photo looking west over the long haul terminal (later T3) in the early 60s before piers had been added:-

BOAC Britannia and Qantas and South African 707s; photo credit germany1985
I can tell you that adding piers to T2 (short haul) was underway in June 1965 because the picture below taken that month shows the south west pier almost complete and the north east one not started yet but the planes parked around a row of oil drums in anticipation of it:-

The south east apron in transition to T2: photo credit David Russon
Incidentally, my impression from looking at the various photos is that the T2 piers were not initially built with contact gates (jetways) but that these had been added within a few years: compare this picture taken in 1966 with this one in August 1968. I don't know the transition to contact gates at T3 either but suspect it was after construction of the piers as well.

The other thing to note from the 1967 diagram above is that the triangle of grass enclosed by the north east apron and runways 27R/09L and 23L/5R has been concreted over to provide additional stands. I think this happened quite early in the 60s and this is the area - the site of what was to become Terminal 1 - where you see photos of parked planes seemingly stretching into the distance: compare the picture below taken in 1966 with the one of the Aer Lingus Constellation above taken from roughly the same position on the spectators' gallery on the Queens Building:-

Looking north east over the site of what was to become Terminal: photo credit Ken Fielding 
Terminal 1 (for BEA) was opened in November 1968 and at this time "No 1 Building: Europa" and "No 2 Building: Britannic" were renamed Terminal 2 (for non BEA European flights) and "No 3 Building: Oceanic" became Terminal 3 (all airlines long haul). In the meantime, "London Airport" had been formally renamed "Heathrow" upon its being transferred from the Ministry of Transport to the newly formed British Airports Authority in 1966.

The last big change to the footprint of Heathrow in the 1960s was the addition of the T-shaped pier to the south west of T3  as seen at the bottom of the postcard view below: it was built to accommodate the Boeing 747 "jumbo jet" which entered service in January 1970 (and a factoid I never knew before I googled tonight for the date of the first scheduled 747 flight to LHR  - the aircraft which performed that flight, on 22 January 1970 for Pan Am, was the plane written off in the Tenerife air disaster.)

Having reached the 1970s, that's where I'm going to stop this blog simply because it brings us to Heathrow as I recognise it when I became interested in my childhood. I realise I haven't covered development of the cargo facilities to the south in 1967/68 (see here), for example.

T4 was added to the south of runway 27L/09R in 1986 for British Airways long haul flights, thereafter becoming the Skyteam alliance terminal after BA vacated T1 and T4 upon the opening of T5 (to the west) in 2008. But apart from some relatively minor tweaks (a third, south east "Europier" added to T1 in the mid 1990s for e.g.) that's how the central area of LHR remained from the 1970s until redevelopment of T2 began in 2010. This involved demolition of the distinctive red brick Control Tower Block built in the 1950s in January 2013:-

I passed through Heathrow three days before this picture appeared in the Daily Mail
And it was only while googling this blog that I discovered that T1 had finally closed on 29 June 2015 to allow for continuing redevelopment of T2:-

The south east pier at T1 in 1971: same view as the Air France 707 above - Wikipedia
But because this blog was inspired by trying identify the location within today's Heathrow of photos taken in previous decades, I'm going to leave you with one which tormented me for ages before I cracked it:-

Photo credit R A Scholefield via
The gasometer on the left horizon means this is looking northeast so that's got to be looking north east along the north west face of T1, perhaps before the NW pier had been added, right? But it can't be because work on T1 didn't begin until 1966 and BOAC withdrew its Comets in 1965.

I then discovered that there's another gasometer to the south west of Heathrow at Egham (I think it's been demolished recently). And the church tower visible to the left of the gasometer is the church of St Mary the Virgin at Stanwell. So in fact, it's looking south west along the south east face of T3 (or "Oceanic Building" as it was called when the photo was taken in September 1964) before its piers were added. It's also confusing that the layout of the parking stands appears to have varied during the period between opening T3(OB) and the piers being added: compare with the picture of the BOAC Britannia and QANTAS and SAA 707s six photos up.

Finally, a selected timeline to assist dating of photos:-

31 May 1946 - Heathrow officially opens
13 March 1952 - Entry into service (EIS) of Airspeed Ambassador ("Elizabethan") with BEA (here).
2 May 1952 - EIS De Havilland Comet 1 (BOAC)
April 1953 - EIS Vickers Viscount (BEA)
10 January 1954 - BOAC Comet 1 fleet grounded after loss of "Yoke Peter" at Elba
late 1954 - retiral of Vickers Viking by BEA
17 April 1955 - opening of Heathrow central area
1 February 1957 - EIS Bristol Britannia (BOAC)
30 July 1958 - retiral of Ambassador by BEA (here)
4 October 1958 - EIS Comet 4 (BOAC) (here)
26 October 1958 - EIS Boeing 707 (Pan Am - New York to Paris Le Bourget) (here)
27 July 1959 - EIS Caravelle (Air France) (here)
18 September 1959 - EIS Douglas DC8 (Delta - don't know date of first flight to LHR)
September 1959 - roll out of BEA "Red Square" livery (I assume first applied to Viscounts) (here)
1 April 1960 - EIS Comet 4 by BEA.
27 May 1960 - EIS 707 by BOAC (here)
1 March 1961 - EIS Vickers Vanguard (BEA) (here)
13 November 1961 - opening of Oceanic (longhaul) Building, later T3 (here)
Spring 1962 - LAP North closed (here)
19 May 1962 - retiral of DC3 by BEA
1 February 1964 - EIS Boeing 727 (Eastern Airlines) (here)
11 March 1964 - EIS Hawker Siddeley Trident 1 (BEA) (here)
29 April 1964 - EIS Vickers VC10 (BOAC) (here)
26 April 1965 - retiral of Britannia by BOAC (here)
November 1965 - retiral of Comet 4 by BOAC (here)
10 February 1968 - EIS Boeing 737 (Lufthansa) (here)
Mid 1968 - roll out of BEA "Speedjack" livery (earliest picture I've seen here)
6 November 1968 - Terminal 1 opened (here)
1969 - addition of "T Pier" to T3 in anticipation of Boeing 747
22 January 1970 - EIS Boeing 747 (Pan Am)
14 April 1971 - EIS 747 (BOAC) (here)
1 April 1974 - Formation of British Airways by merger of BEA and BOAC

Taken in August 1960, the final picture below sums up the transitions at Heathrow in the late 1950s and early 60s - from piston engine (the DC3 on the right) to jetliner and the mix of old and new BEA liveries:-

Photo credit R A Scholefield at