The History of Gatwick Airport
1241AD to 1958
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Having found a few photos of Gatwick's Beehive I decided to put together a feature page on the Beehive. It was not long before it had become a much bigger project and encompassed the origins of Gatwick from how the land was acquired in the year 1241AD through to 1956 and the opening of the current airport we know today.......with the Beehive set in amongst that.

I have also picked up the story around the railway, an important reason why Gatwick even existed, and the 3 stations; Gatwick Racecourse, Gatwick Airport and Tinsley Green.

I have tried to keep this a manageable size for reading on screen, but it is over a few pages and I hope you can bear with me as I wander through history with the odd diversion here and there no doubt.


The area around what we know as Gatwick today has been populated since around 5,000BC; that is the earliest date of habitation found so far. But moving forward a little bit and to Richard de Warwick who owned land in the parish of Cherlewood (Charlwood).

In 1241AD John de Gatewyk acquired a small parcel of land from Richard; this consisted of 4 acres of meadow land and 18 acres of arable farm land. The Sub Manor of Gatwick as it became known would stay with John and his heirs for some 450 years.

In 1696 the Manor of Gatwick was sold to the Jordan family and William Jordan started to build the fine and spacious new house at Gatwick which replaced the old manor house. The Gatwick Manor House was built just to the east of Povey Cross (near the current airport) and it was built in the then style of William and Mary.

The House was still standing until 1950 when it was demolished. Though, the site of the manor house was undeveloped for many years but eventually was swallowed up under a flood mitigation pond and buildings at the edge of the North Terminal.
This map programme allows side by side overlays - 1877-1900 on the left against 2014 on the right
Note
The Gatwick Manor Hotel between Lowfield Heath and Crawley was never the Gatwick Manor. It was another house of great antiquity and interest, called Hyders / Hyderhurst, and was the home of Richard de Hyde on the edge of the common of Lowfield Heath. The reason for its change of name may be lost in time, who knows maybe opportunistic marketing after the Gatwick Manor House was demolished?

Gatwick - The Racecourse

But we have jumped a few years, and now head back to 1871 and the Croydon Race Course. Croydon had two horse racing courses, Park Hill and later Woodside. The Woodside race course had a dedicated railway station built for it in 1871 brought race-goers to the course. However, the race course closed in November 1890 following pressure from the Mayor of Croydon who considered that the races only brought a lot of undesirables down from London and there were claims of increased hooliganism on race days.

The search was on for a new site and land beside the London to Brighton rail line near Horley was spotted. A syndicate of members from the old Croydon Race Course, called the Gatwick Race Course Company, bought the land they needed from Gatwick Manor and started building a new horse racing course.

The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway built a new rail station on the line adjacent to the new race course. This also had sidings for horse boxes so the horses could arrive by train. The racecourse owners contributed £5,000 towards the cost of the station, which was built by local builders James Longley Ltd. The site of the Gatwick Race Course Station is where the current Gatwick Airport Station is.

In 1891, the Gatwick Race Course opened and soon became very popular with race goers. By 1900 it was rated on par with Ascot as one of London’s premier race courses. The grandstands were noted as being “some of the finest in the Kingdom” and the course had the best paddock in the country.
In 1930 Ronald Waters became aware of some farm land for sale between Gatwick Racecourse and Lowfield Heath Village. Having borrowed the money from his Father he went ahead and purchased the 90 acres of land. It was large enough to operate their flying business from with a large landing ground available. No runways, this was essentially going to be a levelled grass landing area.

The Private Aerodrome License for Gatwick was granted to Home Counties Aircraft Services from 1st August 1930; it was valid for six months initially. Waters and Mockford moved their business to Gatwick and were open in time to offer pleasure and stunt flying on 25 August 1930.

A small hangar followed and the creation of the Surrey Aero Club. The clubhouse was a small room attached to the hangar but membership grew and the arrival of a drinks license made it a popular place. But you could also hire an aircraft for £3 an hour with an additional £3 10shillings (£3.50 ish) for an instructor to come along and teach you to fly.

Though, even in these early days, there was some opposition to the flying and Ronald Waters had to deal with solicitors letters from residents who objected initially. Flying continued, but inevitably in these early days of flying there was an accident and three people were lost when a Home Counties Avro 504 came down during a reconnoitring flight. The accident was reported as far away as Sydney; Australia.
The Finest Course in the Kingdom The Paddock at Gatwick Race Day Flyer - 1939 The Gatwick Racecourse Station
The Finest Course in the Kingdom The Paddock at Gatwick Race Day Flyer - 1939 The Gatwick Racecourse Station
Gatwick Manor House - just of the Povey Cross Road and where it would be today, roughly under the flood mitigation measures
Gatwick was not yet any sort of airport, thus there was no use of Gatwick for any aviation activities throughout World War I. Though some emergency landings are recorded on the farm land adjacent to Gatwick Racecourse; sadly one Royal Flying Corps pilot died when his aircraft overturned as he tried to land in the fields.

Croydon was Britain’s, and the Empire’s, principal aerodrome and this was the meeting place of two young men, John Mockford and Ronald Waters. They were both learning to fly at Croydon and became friends, subsequently deciding to go into business together.  In the late 1920’s they opened their sight-seeing and pleasure flight business and with expansion clearly in mind they called their business, Home Counties Aircraft Services. They would be based at Penshurst Aerodrome in Kent; Penshurst was the alternate for Croydon, but both suffered from fog issues.
Left, Mr Ronald Waters
Mr. R. B. Waters, proprietor of the Gatwick aerodrome, when flying this afternoon, was horrified to see an Avro machine, which he had been watching for a quarter of an hour, suddenly dive out of control to the earth, killing the occupants, who were three of his employees, all skilled pilots. They were William James Martin (Penshurst), Sidney James Weathred - Meathrel - (Bromley), and L. H. Irving-Bell (Tunbridge). They had gone up on a reconnoitring flight. Irving-Bell served in the A.I.F. And the Australian Air Force. He joined the Royal Air Force In 1919, and retired on account of ill-health in 1922.
The proximity of the new aerodrome to the racecourse was not missed and wealthier race goers could now arrive at Gatwick by air, this suited both businesses and was soon being jointly promoted.

Though the Air Ministry still refused to see Gatwick as anything more than a private aerodrome but increasingly Imperial Airways started to use Gatwick when Croydon was fog bound. They would convince the railway to stop at train at the Racecourse Station and their passengers were on their way to London with minimal fuss.

But money worries were raising their head with Waters and Mockford and in May 1932 they sold Gatwick Aerodrome to the Redwing Aircraft Company. Redwing were owned by a wealthy American ex-pat, and they manufactured two-seater aircraft. Redwing moved to Gatwick and held an fly-in on 1 July 1932. The, and the Surrey Aero Club, were now based in a timbered cottage at the edge of the airfield.
Gatwick was being reported well, one reporter from Flight writing “there are few pleasanter places at which to fly than Gatwick, while for those who wish to use the aerodrome as a port of call there is every facility”.

Later on that month the Air Ministry seem to concur, and agreed to limited use by passenger aircraft so long as improvements were made. These improvements were in hand and underway. Though by September 1933 Mr Frederick O. Benzer, whose main interest was car manufacturing (Hudson Car Company), reportedly grew weary of aviation and sold Gatwick for £13,500. 
The latest owner of Gatwick was a 29 year old young man who lived near Slough with his parents. Alfred Charles Morris Jackaman had long been interested in aviation and had owned a good few aircraft in the previous years.  Infact, in 1929 he ordered a new aircraft from Airwork (based in Heston).

From The History of British Caledonian: “One of Airwork’s earliest aircraft customers was a Mr Jackaman who had ordered a Gipsy Moth Coupe from De Havilland via Airwork. The aircraft was fully liveried in Jackaman’s colours and had all the latest equipment, cockpit lighting, oil temperature gauge, a clock and some navigation lights too. He took delivery of his aircraft, G-AADX, on 2 March 1929 having had it fully prepared by Airwork.” 

But Gatwick was placed more on a business footing, the more carefree days under Redwing had gone, and Morris Jackaman had definite ideas about how he wanted to expand Gatwick.  Morris Jackaman, aged 27, pictured on the left.
Jackaman continued badgering the Air Ministry for a Public License and also the Southern Railway for the provision of a joint rail / air service. Jackaman was promising the railway 30 First Class passengers a day from a new Gatwick - Paris service by DeHavilland 84 aircraft.

Southern Railway had been granted powers to operate Air Services in 1929 and, around the time Gatwick was sold to Morris Jackaman, Southern employed Airwork to undertake aerial surveys of their railway lines and the land around them, looking for possible locations to set up airfields. The railways were huge landowners and the rise in popularity of air travel had led them to think about possible interchange points with their rail services. The surveys started in July 1933
The Southern Railway Report would not be published until March 1934 but it did highlight Gatwick’s closer position to Continental Europe and ease of rail access....albeit via the Gatwick Racecourse Station at that time. One option mooted was for Southern Railways to buy Gatwick and develop it as their own London airport.

In the meantime, Morris Jackaman finally succeeded in getting a Public Aerodrome license for Gatwick. This was granted in February 1934; Gatwick could now handle commercial flights.

Around the same time, Jackaman bought a controlling interest in Gravesend Aerodrome and the combined Gatwick / Gravesend company was called Airports Ltd. Gravesend was to be London (East) and Gatwick was London (South). Both were on air routes to Croydon and finally the Air Ministry became interested in paying for both to be 24hour a day diversionary airports for Croydon.

To help run the business, Andre Marcel Desoutter was brought on-board by Jackaman and Marcel would be instrumental in the development of Gatwick. He was an aviator since the early days of flight but lost a leg in an accident in 1913. He designed his own prosthetic and continued about his work.

A trail flight was flown with a Douglas DC-2, this for the Gatwick-Paris service. Though they only went as far as Brighton, they made it there in 8 minutes from Gatwick, but it showed the watching Railway and airlines it was possible from Gatwick.

The business plan for Gatwick saw less and less pleasure flyers and more commercial aviation. The first airline to show significant interest in Gatwick was Hillman Airways (based till then in Essex) and the Air Ministry then offered a 15 year diversionary contract...but only if night landing systems were installed
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Marcel Desoutter in 1915
With a shortage of money for their plans, Airports Limited floated itself on 6th June 1935 and the public snapped up the 840,000 shares at 5 shilings each (25p). Left we have one the adverts for the share offering.

Having raised some £200,000 their first decision was the close Gatwick Airport. Though, this was to allow all the planned major construction works to get underway.

Also in 1935 Jackaman convinced Southern Railway to build another station at Gatwick and assisted with £3,000 towards its cost; with monies raised in the share offering.

This second station was for the Airport and was called after the local area; Tinsley Green. It was about 800 metres south of Gatwick Racecourse station. Tinsley Green Station opened in September 1935 and it took 9 months of lobbying to have it renamed Gatwick Airport Station in June 1936.  Though it is reported that it was always planned to be renamed when Gatwick Airport re-opened.

But Gatwick now had Gatwick Racecourse Station and Gatwick Airport Station to its benefit.

Most notable on the airport was the construction of its new, round, Martello tower type terminal building. This was positioned near the new station and there was an underground subway between the station and the new terminal for passengers to walk through so they did not get wet when it rained. Though the subway did flood in bad weather initially and was not always open.

The airfield drainage was also being improved and the River Mole diverted too. Though the clay drain pipes were damaged in the process and Gatwick would be plagued by wet grass landing areas for many years to come. Concrete runways were years away still.

But Gatwick was ready to re-open in 1936......its art deco round terminal building was ready.