An Airport In Hyde Park? It Could Have Happened

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 6 months ago
An Airport In Hyde Park? It Could Have Happened

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A large bi-plane on the ground, surrounded by peopler2
An iconic Handley Page H.P.42: its creator, Frederick Handley Page, wanted to put an aerodrome slap bang in the middle of London. Image: public domain.

An airport in the middle of Hyde Park? Sounds like pie in the sky — but it could've happened, had one MP (and a world renowned aircraft pioneer) got their way.

In the 1920s, Croydon Aerodrome was the most important airport in the country — and pretty much the whole world. But its location was a problem. The fog from the North Downs blighted many flights in and out of Croydon, often prompting accidents. It was also a shlep from central London — not ideal for businessmen and movie stars in a rush. And this distance wasn't just an inconvenience for passengers. In 1922, aircraft pioneer Frederick Handley Page grumbled about London's premier airport not actually being in London: "People in London do not have any real opportunity now of seeing aeroplanes... People would be much more interested in such a subject if they actually saw the machines regularly going overhead on their journeys."

Around this time, other aerodromes — both auxiliary and replacement — were being touted for London, including at Gunnersbury Park, Wormwood Scrubs and Cricklewood. The concept of slapping gigantic runway roofs on top of central London railway termini including Waterloo was also being bandied around. (This approach was famously imagined for King's Cross in 1931.)

A vision of future London from the 1920s with tall buildings and flying cars
London 2026 (as pictured in 1926 by Montague B Black).

And then there was the MP Lord Allen Algernon Bathurst Apsley, who — along with Handley Page — wanted to build an aerodrome in Hyde Park. After all, you couldn't get much more central than that. "A vision of the future when London business men will fly to work was conjured up by Lord Apsley yesterday..." wrote the Daily News excitedly in October 1926. Apsley imaged businessmen who lived in the countryside zipping into London in their light aircraft, landing in Hyde Park, then making a short car ride — or even walk — to the office: "Large areas of Hyde Park are unfrequented," said Apsley, "and the establishment of a small aerodrome in one of these areas would provide an additional attraction to the place." Maybe he'd been inspired by Montague B Black's painting of the capital 100 years in the future (above), in which the skies were abuzz with private aircraft.

The aerodrome could also be used as a form of flying taxi rank, said Apsley, so that busy folk could hop on, and be whisked off to their destination in a fraction of the time it would've taken by car or train.

Though Apsley envisaged Hyde Park Aerodrome being a small scale thing initially, accommodating smaller planes like Moths, he reckoned the idea had legs enough to grow into a larger scale airport: "It should be possible..." said Apsley, "for anybody to go to Hyde Park and make an aeroplane journey to Liverpool or Hull, in the same manner as one takes a taxicab from the City to the suburbs."

The fact that someone like Handley Page (whose company made iconic planes like the dashing H.P.42) had been touting such an idea since 1922 suggests it had kudos.

Peter Pan statue.
Who knows — maybe Peter Pan's statue would've had to have made way for a runway... Image: Londonist

Apsley put the proposals to the Secretary for Air, Samuel Hoare, in the House of Commons in November 1926, but they were given short shrift, Hoare replying that owing to the proximity of high buildings and trees — and due to central London's densely populated surroundings — an aerodrome at Hyde Park was't viable. Maybe the decision was for the better; you wouldn't really want Boeing Dreamliners roaring a few hundred feet above Oxford Street. Then again, today's London City Airport certainly operates in an extremely high-rise (and increasingly populated) part of London.

The closest Hyde Park came to fulfilling the audacious aerodrome vision came in December 1933, when a single-seater Bulldog made a forced landing in the park, narrowly missing Buckingham Palace, a feat that was — according to Illustrated London News — watched through the window by the King. Croydon remained the country's principal airport until London Airport (now Heathrow) rocked up in 1946. Apsley died in an air accident in Malta in 1942.

Last Updated 17 October 2023

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