BA and the Beehive

Old Jun 6, 20, 12:30 pm
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BA and the Beehive

Nice photo taken from a cigarette card (and lightly enhanced) of the old Gatwick airport with British Airways prominent. For those who don't know, the "Beehive" was the old terminal building, and it's still there, now office space, a little to the south of the current runway and terminal building and visible from the train coming from the Brighton direction if you keep your eyes open. The station has moved north too, but if I recall correctly there is still the remnants of a tunnel to the terminal building.

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Old Jun 6, 20, 12:32 pm
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And here's what it looked like inside at check-in, this is a vastly reduced resolution copy of a press photo currently on sale at Ebay - I'm sorely tempted but it's eighty quid.

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Old Jun 6, 20, 12:32 pm
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Originally Posted by bisonrav View Post
Nice photo taken from a cigarette card (and lightly enhanced) of the old Gatwick airport with British Airways prominent. For those who don't know, the "Beehive" was the old terminal building, and it's still there, now office space, a little to the south of the current runway and terminal building and visible from the train coming from the Brighton direction if you keep your eyes open. The station has moved north too, but if I recall correctly there is still the remnants of a tunnel to the terminal building.

Great picture, roughly what year was that?
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Old Jun 6, 20, 12:39 pm
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Used to be the HQ for GB Airways (a former BA franchisee) before it was sold to easyJet in 2007.
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Old Jun 6, 20, 12:39 pm
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Originally Posted by BOH View Post
Great picture, roughly what year was that?
At a guess it's mid 30s. The card doesn't say.
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Old Jun 6, 20, 12:41 pm
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Enjoyed my first and only visit there in December for a conference.
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Old Jun 6, 20, 1:06 pm
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Runway(s) being the nicely-mown grass at the top of the pic, it seems.

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Old Jun 6, 20, 1:10 pm
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Worth an airport visit just to admire those weighing scales.
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Old Jun 6, 20, 4:16 pm
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Originally Posted by T8191 View Post
Runway(s) being the nicely-mown grass at the top of the pic, it seems.
And that's pretty much where it still is, though as with Croydon, the advantage of using a field back then was that pretty much any direction was possible for take-off and landing, depending on what the wind was doing.

The South East is very well served for interesting airport design and architecture, with Croydon and Gatwick, plus the lovely art deco terminal at Shoreham which of course is still an operating airport, though rather boringly renamed Brighton City Airport by a council with more hubris than sense of history. There are sometimes plans to start commercial flights to Le Touquet from Shoreham, but they never come to much.
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Old Jun 6, 20, 5:50 pm
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Originally Posted by bisonrav View Post
At a guess it's mid 30s. The card doesn't say.
There's a watermarked version on stock photo agency Alamy here which dates it as 1938, though per Wikpedia British Airways had moved to Croydon by February 1937 due to repeated water-logging of the runway.


EDIT: This version from the Britain from Above website is captioned 1937

Last edited by southlondonphil; Jun 6, 20 at 5:58 pm Reason: Additional info
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Old Jun 7, 20, 1:58 am
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Originally Posted by southlondonphil View Post
There's a watermarked version on stock photo agency Alamy here which dates it as 1938, though per Wikpedia British Airways had moved to Croydon by February 1937 due to repeated water-logging of the runway.


EDIT: This version from the Britain from Above website is captioned 1937
That would be because before LGW was built, the area was known as Crawley marsh.
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Old Jun 7, 20, 2:29 am
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Originally Posted by bisonrav View Post
At a guess it's mid 30s. The card doesn't say.
Great little piece of history you have. Especially as it's a cig card.
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Old Jun 7, 20, 4:55 am
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The Beehive was actually a fiasco. Built in 1936 for the "old" British Airways (sometimes known as BA Ltd). That was a private airline formed from the merger of other smaller companies, principally Hillman Airways, which did some routes to Europe in competition with the more established Imperial Airways, which used Croydon. Although the terminal must have been quite an investment, and came with its own railway station which was to the south of the current one, where the train sidings now are, its Achilles heel was the grass runway was subject to such constant waterlogging that it was commonly unusable.

In less than 12 months, BA Ltd moved out. They went first to Croydon, under sufferance from Imperial of course, and then in late 1937 to Heston airfield in west London, which was where the M4 Heston services now are. There in a couple of years they developed quite a network across Europe, mainly with imported Lockheed aircraft from the USA, and quite soon eclipsed Imperial within Europe. The government arranged a merger of the two, but this didn't happen until December 1939, as BOAC, by which time most of the crews were in RAF uniforms and the routes all closed "for the duration". When BEA and BOAC merged together in 1974 the latter still had the corporate name of British Airways Ltd in stock as a dormant company, and that's where the current name comes from. The well-known photo of Prime Minister Chamberlain on the steps of an aircraft returning from Munich in 1938 is actually a BA Ltd Lockheed at Heston.

The Beehive was never used as a terminal again, it was scarcely used at all after 1937, but did become a Listed Building, hence its survival. The "new" Gatwick opened in 1958, to the north, with a proper concrete runway etc. The problem with Gatwick's grass would have been incompetent drainage design - both Croydon and Heston had grass runway areas, necessary for pre-war aircraft, without the problem. The Beehive has eventually become offices, convenient for current Gatwick but not particularly practical. The tunnels to the aircraft stands and the old station are apparently still there unused and flooded - old problems die hard !
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Old Jun 7, 20, 11:05 am
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I had a go at enhancing the interior photo with AI but the original is as you say really poor resolution. Close up the faces look quite funny but some details are better.

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Old Jun 7, 20, 11:54 am
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The appearance rather spoiled by the un-panelled front of the desk.

And how/why does she need a Tablet holder on the desk in the 1930s? 🤔
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