London has more airports than any other city in the world – six. Why? Most big cities have one huge airport. How did London end up with so many little ones and why are they in such inconvenient places? The answer is… a fiddly and complicated one. Come with me now through the mists of time back in time to a time ten minutes before Britain’s aviation story started, when our story starts. In 1903 the Wright brothers invented the aeroplane. Five years later an engineer with an enormous moustache called Claude Grahame White set up Britain’s first aerodrome in Hendon in north London. If you want to airport you can use mini cab booking services.
All you needed for an aerodrome was a large field with enough room for taking off and landing, somewhere to store the planes when you weren’t flying them and a clubhouse that wouldn’t let you in unless you had a bushy enough moustache. So far, flying was just a leisure pursuit for the fabulously wealthy who already had their own planes. ‘I say chaps last one to arrive in Manchester has to telephone the Queen and a blow raspberry’ But little did Claude Grahame White know that his expensive hobby things were soon to become a major military importance.
In the First World War, aeroplanes were used for taking photos of and then dropping bombs on the enemy. The newly formed Royal Flying Corps took over Hendon and started building new aerodromes all over the South East. Shut up! It was clear after the war that planes were going to play a huge role in the country’s future. But predicting and sensibly preparing for this future was harder than you might think. Some experts thought the plane would go the same way as the car – smaller and more affordable and that everyone would be flying their own private planes around just like Biggles.
These serious plans from the 1920s and 30s showed just how wrong it was possible to be. This is my favorite one. In 1931 there was a genuine plan to build an aerodrome right here in the middle of London on the rooftop of Kings Cross Station. It would have had six runways facing in all directions with planes taxiing round the outside like an enormous bicycle wheel. The idea was people could commute to central London by plane. It seems ludicrous now, but thirty years prior to that the idea of flying at all was pretty insane so this wasn’t much of a stretch. What actually happened was planes were getting bigger and could travel much longer distances.