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The History of Gatwick

The name Gatwick can be dated back to 1241, when Richard de Warwick assigned his rights to some land in the manor of Charlwood (four acres of meadow and 18 acres of land) to John de Gatwick and his heirs. The land was part of what was later known as the Manor of Gatwick and was owned by the de Gatwicks until the 14th century when it then passed to various different families.

In 1890, Gatwick was purchased by the Gatwick Race Course Company. The race course opened in 1891, complete with its own railway station.

During the First World War, the Aintree Grand National was abandoned and a substitute was run over the same distance at Gatwick in 1916, 1917 and 1918.The winning horses and jockeys for those years were: 1916 - Vermouth ridden by J.Reardon; 1917 - Ballymacad ridden by E.Driscoll and 1918 - Poethlyn ridden by E.Piggott (Lester Piggott's grandfather).

Dominion Aircraft Ltd based its Avro 504 G-AACX at Gatwick from November 1928, but Gatwick Airport really began life when its new owner Ronald Waters, who had obtained his first flying license for £1 1s 0d (1 guinea), had the airfield licensed from 1st August 1930. Flying began that very weekend with pleasure flights for the local population in Avro 504s of Water's Surrey Aero Club.

Gatwick soon grew as a flying club and the aircraft Ronald Waters owned included an Avro 504, Avro Avian and a de Havilland Gipsy Moth. By 1931, the Surrey Aero Club saw an increasing number of jockeys and racegoers arriving by air for meetings at the adjacent Race Course and a small hangar and clubhouse were built.

Gatwick was sold to the Redwing Company, whose owner, Mr F. Bezner, was the manufacturer of a side-by-side two seater aircraft. He moved the Redwing Flying School in to join the Surrey Aero Club.

Morris Jackaman bought Gatwick for £13,500 and in 1934 formed Airports Limited.

The Air Ministry issued Gatwick with its first public licence allowing the airport to be used by commercial aircraft.

Jackaman secured the services of Marcel Desoutter as his business manager. The two later became business partners in 1935 when Airports Limited was made public - 840,000 shares were sold for 5s each and together they formulated plans for a Terminal building.
A new railway station was opened at Gatwick in September 1935 and was initially served by two Southern Railway trains an hour, on the Victoria to Brighton line.
Hillman's Airways (the first airline to operate out of Gatwick to Paris and Belfast) merged with United Airways and Spartan Airways in 1935 to form Allied British Airways Limited.

The 'Beehive', the world's first circular terminal, was officially opened in 1936. The Beehive had several novel features including a 130 yard long subway to the train station so visitors to the airport could remain undercover from the time they left London Victoria until the time they boarded an aircraft. This building still exists outside the southern perimeter and has recently been completely restored.


Photo 1956 from the Mick Elliott Collection

On Sunday 17 May 1936, passengers boarded the first scheduled service from Gatwick to Paris - the single fare for the flight cost four pounds and five shillings (equivalent today of £160.22) and included the first class train fare from Victoria.

During 1936 passengers were able to fly to Paris, Malmo via Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen and the Isle of Wight from Gatwick. This year also saw the formation of Southern Aircraft (Gatwick) Ltd by Capt. J.E. Croxon to operate charters with Rapides, Proctors and Ansons and to engage in aircraft maintenance.

Gatwick's 'association' with the Spanish Civil War began around this time and makes interesting reading.

For an overview of Gatwick's involvement - Click Here

Gatwick became the nineteenth Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School in the country. Airwork Ltd moved in from Heston, having been displaced from there due to lack of space. This maintenance company brought with them its contract to maintain Whitley bombers for the RAF and, along with Southern Aircraft, became a vital component of the RAF's maintenance operations in WWII.

1939 - 1945
During the Second World War, the airport was requisitioned by the Air Ministry for use by the RAF, its area was later extended by further requisitioning to include part of Gatwick Racecourse.

For an overview of wartime Squadron Operations from Gatwick - Click Here

Gatwick was retained under requisition and operated for civilian use by the Ministry of Civil Aviation with a small number of charter airlines using the airport.

The Government gave approval for the proposed development of Gatwick as an alternative to Heathrow.

Gatwick closed in March 1956 and building began on 'the new London Airport'.
Gatwick Airport Consultative Committee, an independent forum of all interested parties concerned with the development and operation of the airport, met for the very first time in 1956. The committee still plays a pivotal consultative role on airport issues today.

The new Gatwick Airport was built in two and three-quarter years costing £7.8 million.

Her Majesty The Queen officially opened Gatwick Airport on 9 June 1958.
A 1958 Evening Standard feature about the newly built airport marvelled at the new 'finger and gate' system (piers and gaterooms) which would enable passengers to wait in one place until called to their aircraft, rather than walk or take a bus.
Gatwick was the first airport in the world to combine air, rail and road transport in a close-knit single unit.
The first airline to operate out of Gatwick in 1958 was Transair and in the first seven months of operating, 186,172 passengers used the airport - Gatwick now welcomes that many passengers in one busy weekend.

Members may read a detailed description of the Official opening and the events surrounding it by clicking here.

Passenger figures grew to 368,000, still less than a busy week in South Terminal today.


Work began on enlarging the airport - the terminal was doubled in size and two more piers were built.

Since the opening of the terminal still in use today, these are some year by year highlights.........

The runway was extended to 8,200 feet to accommodate the growing number of jet aircraft using Gatwick.


Passenger figures exceeded 2 million for the first time and the new office block was constructed above the terminal building.

The runway was extended to 9,075 feet in 1970 and again in 1973 to 10,165 feet (today it is 3,256 metres in length).

Pier 2 was opened. It was extended in 1984, providing extra jetty-served stands.

Pope John Paul II flew into Gatwick on the first Papal visit to the UK.

The Satellite Pier was officially opened by Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk. The satellite replaced the old North Pier and incorporated the first rapid transit system of its kind outside the USA. Work also began on building a second terminal. The North Terminal was to be the largest single construction project south of London to have taken place in the 1980's - the main building is approximately six times the size of the Royal Albert Hall.

InterCity launched its non-stop Gatwick Express rail service from Victoria.
The new Air Traffic Control Tower was built and officially opened by Princess Michael of Kent - the tower is still among the tallest in Europe.

Construction began on the new northern runway, which would be used as alternative to the main runway in case of emergencies.
Pier 1 is the only part of the present day South Terminal that dates back to the original building in 1958. A complete modernisation building programme was finished in 1985 to refurbish the pier.
In July 1985, British Airways Concorde made its first ever commercial flight from Gatwick.

BAA plc, of which Gatwick Airport Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary, was floated on the stock exchange. 1.35 million people purchased shares in the company.

The £200 million North Terminal was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

A second pier was opened at North Terminal providing pier-served stands for 11 aircraft.

The new North Terminal International Departures Lounge and the first phase of the new South Terminal International Departures Lounge opened. The investment for both the lounges was £30 million.

British Airways introduced the first Boeing 777 to their fleet at Gatwick.

BAA Gatwick launched its ground-breaking Sustainable Development Strategy, which, following three years close consultation with local authorities and communities around Gatwick, outlines how the airport should develop during the next ten years.
A £29.5m extension to the international department lounge in the South Terminal was opened, offering increased seating capacity and new shops and restaurants.

A new extension to the North Terminal international departure lounge was opened, a £35m development which offers passengers extra seating and a wider range of shops and catering facilities.

The new Pier 6 Air Bridge spanning Taxiway Lima was positioned and lifted into position by a fleet of massive cranes over the weekend of 22nd/23rd May 2004 and 'christened' by a specially positioned BA 747-400 G-CIVM on Thursday 27th May 2004.Having been earlier in the week, the new 'Air Bridge' is christened by on 27th May 2004. There is a 2.5 meter clearance for a 747-400 tail fin.

After many years service with the Gatwick Airport Fire Service, HS121 Trident 3B G-AWZX was finally scrapped.


The new Pier 6 Air Bridge was officially opened on May 16th by Alistair Darling MP.

Credits: The British Airports Authority & Harry Hawkins.