Return to Croydon Airport

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

The photo above, which I took in 2001, shows a unique building that still survives today, and was, at one time, perhaps among the most familiar structures in the world.

It is the terminal building and control tower of London Airport; the famous Croydon Airport that was the location of so much newsreel footage prior to the Second World War.

The Control Tower at Croydon, built in 1928, was the first at any airport in the world, and Air Traffic Control systems were pioneered there.

The photo below shows a model of Croydon Airport in its pre-WWII heyday, complete with passengers boarding an iconic H.P.42 Heracles class airliner.

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Almost inevitably, the area around Croydon Airport, which had been open fields when the airfield was first opened in 1915, soon became covered with urban development. As a result, postwar expansion of the airport became impossible, so the decision was made to move operations to Heathrow instead. Heathrow replaced Croydon as London Airport in 1946, and then Croydon was gradually run down, finally closing in 1959. The runways at Croydon were all built over, and, in my ignorance, I thought that nothing was left.

Oblivious to the History around Me

During the mid-1980s, I worked for a while as a Technical Sales Engineer for an electronics distributor. An important aspect of my job was to liaise with the company’s Sales Representative for Surrey, and in order to do that, I would arrange to meet with her at a place called the “The Aerodrome” on Purley Way. The building containing the café is shown below, as it appeared during my 2001 revisit.

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

As I recall, my colleague’s primary reason for choosing that café was her enthusiasm for their garlic mushroom appetizer!

It wasn’t until decades later that I realized that this had been the Aerodrome Hotel, purpose-built in 1928 as prestige accommodation for London Airport. In my photo of the model above, you can see the hotel building at the top left.

As the hotel’s own web site shows, since 2001 the building has been renovated, and now proudly shows off the aviation heritage that seemed largely forgotten during the 1980s.

I Should have Looked Round the Back

Next to the building containing the café, there was what appeared to be a nondescript office block, and it never even occurred to me to take the opportunity to look around the back of that structure. Had I done so, I would have immediately recognized the famous apron of the airport.

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

(Since I took the photo above, replicas of the control tower’s masts have been added.)

By 2001, the terminal building had been renovated as the Airport House International Business Centre, so I was able to go inside and eat lunch at the Rayon d’Or Brasserie.

The lobby of the renovated building displayed fascinating relics of its history, as shown below. Several of the items that are visible are original features, such as the “Winged World” sculpture.

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

The display above included the model of the airport in its heyday, as shown in my photo. The Rayon d’Or Brasserie is in the background on the right.

At that time, the aviation memorabilia display was still under construction, as shown by the view below of the rudder of a Swissair DC-3, a model of an SE5a hanging from the ceiling, a Sabena logo, and some period luggage (without wheels, of course).

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Unfortunately, my visit didn’t occur on the first Sunday of the month, so I wasn’t able to avail myself of the tour of the old Control Tower. If you’re in the vicinity on the appropriate day, you may be interested in taking that tour. Full details can be found here, and this is the latest Google Streetview of the location.

A Modern Museum

It’s great to see that efforts are being made to preserve what is left of Croydon Airport. I hope to be able to visit the site again, next time I’m in the area.

Ally Pally


Alexandra Palace, London, 1982

I took the photo above, of the remains of Alexandra Palace (colloquially known as “Ally Pally”), while I was a student in London in 1982. I’d seen the Palace from a distance many times before I actually visited it, but eventually I was prompted to go there, partly by a connection to my intended future career.

This immense building in North London is hardly a major tourist attraction, having had a rather unfortunate history and a wide variety of uses since it was built in 1873 (ostensibly as a counterpoint to South London’s Crystal Palace). Nonetheless, the structure remains usable to some extent, and there are currently plans for a major renovation.

The reason that I’d seen Ally Pally so many times before is because it stands prominently on a hilltop, where it can be seen from the East Coast Main (Railway) Line. When traveling between York and London by train, I frequently caught a glimpse of the structure through the carriage window.

I mentioned that the Palace has had a rather chequered past, having burned down on at least two occasions. In fact, there had been a major fire in 1980, just before the visits during which I took these photos. Despite the partial dereliction of the building itself, the grounds are still worth visiting, because of the spectacular views they offer over much of Central London.

The World’s First HDTV Transmitter

Thanks (presumably) to the building’s prominent position, it was chosen in 1935 by the BBC as the site of their first television transmitter. Studios were inserted into the building immediately below the transmitter tower. When the television service first began in 1936, there were alternate transmissions of Logie Baird’s 240-line system and the Marconi-EMI 405-line “High Definition” system.

At the time of my photograph above, the rooms below the transmitter mast were still in use for the broadcasting of Open University programs. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I was studying Electronic Engineering in London because I wanted to get a job with the BBC (which I eventually did), hence my interest in the history of Ally Pally.

Public Events at the Palace

On another occasion when I visited the Palace in 1982, a public festival was underway, and several historic buses from the London Transport collection were ferrying visitors between the Palace and the nearest railway station.

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

One notable vehicle that was operating that day was RT 1 (shown above), which was the prototype of the highly-successful AEC RT class of London buses that preceded the famous Routemaster. RT 1 was built in 1939, and was the forerunner of what eventually were 4674 buses of that class, some of which continued in service until 1979.

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 is seen again here, hemmed in by cars, and earning its keep by shuttling visitors to the nearest railway station. The TV transmitter and studios are visible in the background.

Rails to the Palace

In earlier days, there had been a much closer railway station. To coincide with the opening of the Palace, a railway branch was built from Highgate to the site, which terminated in a station just north of the palace building. The station building still exists today as a community centre, but should not be confused with the modern Alexandra Palace station on the main line.

The line was built by the Muswell Hill Railway, which was eventually taken over by the Great Northern Railway and finally became part of the London & North Eastern Railway group.

Tubes to the Northern Heights

During the late 1930s, London Transport developed major plans to extend its tube railway services in North London, as the so-called “Northern Heights” extensions  of the Northern Line.

Some portions of these lines were to be entirely new, while others were to be electrified sections of existing steam-operated lines. The Alexandra Palace branch became part of the plan, and work to electrify the line began in 1939.

This excerpt from the published 1937 London Underground diagram shows the planned Northern Line extensions, including the branch from Highgate to Alexandra Palace. The line from Edgware to Elstree was to be entirely new, and I mentioned my visit to the “Arches Field” that formed part of the works for that line in an earlier post.

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Unfortunately, the start of World War II intervened, bringing to a halt all work on the extensions.

After the war, development priorities in Greater London had changed, and it was eventually decided not to complete some of the extensions. British Railways, which had taken over the LNER’s lines, continued to operate passenger trains from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace until 1954, when the service ceased.

Ghost Trains of Highgate

The London Transport station at Highgate has its own unusual history. As shown below, due to the cancellation of the Northern Heights extensions, part of Highgate Station ended up as a “ghost” which is still standing unused today.

Things to Come... But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

Things to Come… But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

The surface-level station was rebuilt in Art Deco style at the same time as the new tube station was constructed beneath it. The tube station remains in use today, which accounts for the bizarre survival of the disused platforms above it.

At the time of my visit to the “ghost” station, it was little known, and was extremely overgrown as shown in my picture, but it has now become quite famous as a “Hidden London” site.

Another Balloon Landing in the Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 9am yesterday morning. Once again, a hot air balloon had just made a forced landing in Village Green Park. When it first came down, the balloon was actually much closer to the trees in the foreground. By the time that I’d fetched my camera, its occupants had maneuvered it to the car park near the church.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that this isn’t the first time this has happened; I reported a similar incident last year. Fortunately, this time they managed to land the balloon without hitting anything, and began deflating it as soon as it had been moved to a recoverable position, as shown below.


Deflating the Balloon

There was actually a second balloon, which didn’t land, but hovered for a while behind the houses, as shown below.

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The balloon operators are required to report these unplanned landings to the FAA, so I trust that they will be doing so again in this case! Given the number of people who were walking in the park at the time, there were certainly many witnesses to the landing.

I assume that the reason they like to make these landings on Village Green is because there’s a car park next to it, which makes it easy to bring the recovery vehicle up to the balloon. After all, there’s an abandoned Naval Air Station just a few hundred yards away, which would make a much clearer landing ground, but I suspect that access to that is more difficult!

Hot-air balloon rides are a popular attraction in Wine Country, so I’m certainly not against them. However, I am becoming concerned about the number of apparently unplanned landings, such as this one, and the fact that they choose to land so close to buildings (which seems obviously unsafe).

The Invention of Wheeled Luggage


Luggage As It Was: Pencil Drawing, 1977

Luggage As It Was: Pencil Drawing, 1977

The pencil drawing above is another example of the weekly homework assignments that I completed when studying for my Advanced-Level Art qualification during the 1970s (as described in a previous post).

It’s obvious that the topic of this particular assignment was “luggage”, and the image would be extremely mundane, but notice something that none of the luggage items in the picture possess: wheels!

In retrospect, it seems incredible that the idea of adding wheels to suitcases took so long to develop. The first patent for the idea wasn’t granted until 1970. These days, most people wouldn’t consider buying a suitcase that did not have wheels and a handle, but, only 40 years ago, the lack of those features went completely unnoticed.

Learning the Hard Way

My family were anything but “seasoned travelers”, so, growing up, I had very little experience of packing and of taking luggage with me on journeys.

My parents also felt that buying new suitcases was an unnecessary extravagance, so they made do with a few decomposing leather examples, most of which probably dated from before World War II. These were typical cases of the time; strong, but with soft sides, one handle on top, and definitely no wheels or even sliders.

On the few occasions when we did pack suitcases to travel somewhere, we typically traveled by car, so loading the packed cases into the car, and unloading them at our destination, didn’t present any serious problems.

Coventry Railway Station 1979; scene of my luggage struggles

Coventry Railway Station 1979; scene of my luggage struggles

When I began attending Warwick University in 1978, therefore, it was effectively my first experience of having to transport myself and any significant amount of belongings from one location to another without benefit of a car. Naturally, we didn’t buy a new suitcase, so I inherited one of my parents’ ancient leather ones.

A few weeks after the start of the Autumn term, I decided that it would be nice to spend the weekend at home, which was only a few hours away by train. I also thought it would be a great idea to bring home with me a few of the new books that I’d purchased in Coventry. So, one Friday morning, I loaded up my suitcase and set off from my room in Coventry towards the railway station.

Needless to say, it was a disaster, because I couldn’t carry the heavy suitcase for more than a few hundred yards without having to stop and rest. Even getting from the University to the bus stop, to catch a bus to the railway station, became a Herculean task. I was saved only when a passing motorist took pity on me and offered me a ride in his car to the station.

Here was a problem that I’d never previously considered, and it became obvious that, as I acquired more possessions, the problem was only going to get worse.

Let’s Add some Wheels

As a result of my journeys, I soon noticed that more seasoned travelers had solved the problem of transporting suitcases by investing in sets of folding, add-on wheels, to which bags could be attached using bungee cords.

I quickly purchased such a set myself, which made a huge difference to the portability of my suitcases. In fact, you can still buy “luggage carts” like these, but the availability of wheeled suitcases means that they are less popular than they once were. I continued to use those wheels, and those suitcases, for many more years. I didn’t buy a suitcase with wheels until after I’d emigrated to California.

The final significant advancement in wheeled luggage, which everyone who flies now takes for granted, was the “Rollaboard”, which wasn’t invented until 1987, by a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 pilot.

Making the Drawing More Interesting

Returning to the details of my drawing above, even at that time, I considered the subject of luggage to be extremely dull. Therefore, although the bags and cases in the drawing are themselves based on real objects, and were drawn from life, most other items in the picture came strictly from my imagination.

For example, the young woman standing behind the suitcases certainly wasn’t anyone known to me, although the clothes she’s wearing are quite typical of those worn in those days by the girls at the Scarborough Sixth Form College.

The man walking by in the background is also pure invention. I’m not sure whether my art teacher realized that I had actually invented much of the drawing, but I didn’t really care!

Derwent Valley Light Railway: the Blackberry Line

York Layerthorpe Station, 1979

York Layerthorpe Station, 1979

My photo above shows York Railway Station, as it appeared in 1979. In case you’re now feeling that there must be some mistake, I should clarify that it’s York (Layerthorpe) Station, the terminus of the Derwent Valley Light Railway (DVLR), which was still operational for freight at that time.

The DVLR acquired the nickname “The Blackberry Line” long ago, because of the trainloads of blackberries that it once carried, but the most remarkable aspect of the line was its survival as a working independent railway, from its construction in 1912 to final closure in 1981. Bear in mind that almost all other railways in Britain were grouped into the “Big Four” in 1923, then nationalized in 1948, eventually all becoming part of British Railways.

A Successful Light Railway

In 1967, S J Reading, who had been the line’s General Manager from 1926 to 1963, wrote a book describing the history to that point. Full details can be found in that book, or the 1978 revised edition.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the railway system in Britain was largely complete. There were simply no further lines to be built that would be economically viable under existing laws. To try to stimulate further growth, the government set about specifying laws that would allow so-called Light Railways to be built more cheaply.

Among many other provisions, the Light Railways Act 1896 empowered local authorities to build new lines, and the DVLR was the only instance where local authorities took advantage of those powers and actually built a line. The DVLR was promoted and developed by the Escrick and Riccall Rural District Councils.

Soldiering On

Passenger services on the DVLR were never particularly successful, and, following the end of the First World War, the growth of bus services, spurred on by the cheap availability of military-surplus trucks and buses, led to the end of all passenger service in 1926.

Nonetheless, freight services continued robustly for many decades more, peaking during and after the Second World War, when the Ministry of Food established warehouses near the line. It wasn’t until 1981 that the DVLR’s last major customer, Yorkshire Grain Driers, switched to road transport, which spelled the end of rail operations.

The Final Steam Specials

When the new National Railway Museum opened in York in 1975, the DVLR saw an opportunity to work with the NRM to offer steam train rides along its remaining tracks. This seemed like a great idea at the time, but it was soon to be overtaken by events.

Since the end of steam locomotion on BR in 1968, the nationalized railway had refused to allow operation of any steam locomotives on its tracks, so the only way to travel on a steam train was to visit one of the preserved lines that were springing up around the country. However, BR’s ban was reversed in 1971, and specials hauled by preserved steam locomotives gradually began to make a comeback.

That was bad news for the DVLR, whose small trains ambling along a few miles of rural track couldn’t compete (in the view of the public) with expresses roaring along main lines. The DVLR’s steam specials ended after the summer of 1979.

Sadly, I never took the opportunity to travel on one of those steam specials. I think we just it took it for granted that the DVLR would always be around, until suddenly it wasn’t any more.

The Bus Route to Knowledge

After returning to live in Scarborough, and beginning my first full-time job at Swifts of Scarborough, in 1979, I got into the habit of traveling to York by train almost every Saturday. There was more happening in York than in Scarborough, and York was also the closest place that had a real university!

The University of York is actually in an attractive suburb called Heslington, and during my visits I would often take a York-West-Yorkshire Joint Services bus from the City Centre out to the bookstore there. In those pre-internet days, university bookstores were my only real antidote to the intellectual wasteland of Scarborough, so I was a frequent visitor.

It so happened that the bus route to the University partially paralleled the DVLR’s rail route, so the bus recrossed the railway several times. I remember the overgrown rails at those crossings, as the double-deck bus swayed over them, but again I never gave it much thought, because I just assumed that the DVLR would always be around.

A York-West-Yorkshire Bristol VR (right)

A York-West-Yorkshire Bristol VR (right)

Another blogger wrote a post describing how he too saw the DVLR’s tracks from his bus, on the way to York University.

The Preserved Remnant

The DVLR terminus at York (Layerthorpe) was demolished during the 1990s, and there is now no trace of the railway there. Fortunately, however, not all trace of the DVLR has disappeared. A small portion of the route has been rerailed as a preserved line.

Part of the former rail route passed through what is now the Murton Park site of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming. When the Great Yorkshire Railway Preservation Society had to move from its former home in Starbeck in 1990, the group negotiated a transfer of its collection to Murton Park. They relaid about ¾ mile of track, and even moved the former Wheldrake Station building to the site and rebuilt it there.

Where sheep may safely graze: the Preserved DVLR at Murton Park, 2008

Where sheep may safely graze: the Preserved DVLR at Murton Park, 2008

I paid a brief visit to the preserved DVLR when traveling between York and Scarborough in 2008. It was heartening to see that not only was something left of the Blackberry Line, but also that the remnant seems to have a secure future.

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

While driving home yesterday afternoon, I noticed what I at first thought was a rainbow in the Western sky, and took the photo above.

However, it couldn’t be a rainbow, because it wasn’t opposite the sun, as shown in the second photo below, where I’d changed position slightly so that the building did not block the sun. When I finally discovered what it was, it gave me a title for this post that sounds like it would make a good name for a Spaghetti Western!

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

It was in fact a Sun Dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that I hadn’t previously noticed here. The scientific name is parhelion, which doesn’t explain a lot since it’s just from the Greek for “beside the sun”.

The location of the photos is just off North Wright Road in Santa Rosa, near a place that used to be called Leddy Junction (before 1947). This was where the North Western Pacific Railroad’s tracks were diverted during the 1930s to connect to what had been the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad’s line. That allowed the trackbed of the duplicate NWP line to be sold to the state, for the construction of what’s now Highway 12.

In my photos, you can just see a pair of rails glinting in the sun. Those are the remains of a spur that once connected to the “main line”, which passed through where the row of bollards now are, on the left in the photos.

This is the current Google Streetview of this location. (I managed to avoid including any portable toilets in my photos!)

Autumn Leaves in the Park

The view below was from our bedroom window, one misty morning during last week. The trees surrounding Village Green Park are now displaying their full autumnal shades, and in fact the leaves have begun to fall.

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

That may have been my last chance to photograph autumn leaves this year, but we do have the Thanksgiving holiday this coming week, so maybe I’ll stumble across some more somewhere.

Fetters Springs Railroad Depot

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

Last weekend I made one of my fairly regular visits to Napa. On the way along Highway 12, I stopped off at Fetters Hot Springs to view the remains of Fetters Springs Depot. The former railroad depot, which was constructed in 1913 but is now a private house, is the small building with the large overhanging eaves in the photo above. The railroad tracks that served the depot originally ran across in the foreground of the photo.

There are no longer any railroads in Sonoma Valley, but, a century ago, there were two competing railroad lines, both running approximately North-South along the valley floor. The two railroads crossed each other several times along their routes, and were eventually consolidated into one, which makes tracking their courses today particularly complex.

The two railroads were:

  1. Sonoma Valley Railroad (which eventually became part of the North Western Pacific, NWP)
  2. Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad (which eventually became part of the Southern Pacific, SP)

Fetters Springs was a stop on the NWP line, as shown in the map below.

Railroads near Sonoma

Railroads near Sonoma

From the 1880s up to the 1960s, several hot spring spa resorts along Highway 12 were popular destinations. The first of those was Boyes Springs, which is now the location of the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. Incidentally, the founder of that resort, Captain Henry Boyes, was originally from Hull, England. The development of the Springs area is detailed in the book: Springs, The: Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley.

Until the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the most convenient way to get to the resorts from San Francisco and most of the rest of the Bay Area was via ferry and train, but railroad ridership was already declining by the early 1930s. Passenger trains north of Sonoma were discontinued in 1934, and then, in 1942, all the remaining tracks north of Sonoma were ripped up for wartime reuse in Oakland.

Most of the railroad buildings were of wood, so, even if they didn’t burn down, they were easy to demolish or just let rot away. The depot at Fetters Springs, however, had a tile roof and was sheathed in terrazzo, so it survived and was even worth renovating as a house.

In 1975, the Fetters Springs resort hotel itself burned down, and the ground on which it stood is only now being redeveloped, as shown below.

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

The Fetters Springs Apartments (visible in the background above) have been built on part of the site.