King’s Cross Airport

October 23, 2011

Here’s a fantastic vision from 1931 – an airport sitting on top of King’s Cross Station.

Designed by architect Charles W. Glover, the new Central Airport for London was launched in an article in the Illustrated London News in 1931, and Glover presented a model at the Institution of Civil Engineers in June. It was to be built over the railway sidings just north of St Pancras. It would have cost some £5million.

It was envisonaged that planes would approach down a new ‘Aerial Way’ above the Pentonville Road, landing on one of the half-mile concrete runways (which look like spokes on a cartwheel.) In the 1930s, London had no skyscrapers, so the approach would have been obstacle free.

The “Aerial King’s Cross” would see both regular and private flights; businessmen who owned their own small planes would be able to store them in garages under the runways, which would be brought up by lifts when they were going to be flown. Passengers were taken up to the planes in much the same way, via lifts from the buildings below which made up the rest of the urban airfield.

Planes would taxi around the rim of the wheel until they got clearance to take off from the runways – which, due to the spoke design, were ingeniously laid out to allow take-offs and landings in eight different directions.

There were two problems with the concept, though: firstly, the design meant the runways could not be lengthened at a later date, and secondly, if a plane careered off one of the numerous edges, it would be a catastrophe.

Glover continued to try and develop the King’s Cross railway sidings when the airport plan dissipated. In 1961, a remarkable piece of Pathe news footage (which you can see here) features Glover’s attempts to rebuild Covent Garden market on the site – complete with a helicopter landing pad on the top.

After initial excitement, the proposal went nowhere. In 1935, the Corporation of London was considering buying up land for a city airport along the south bank of the Thames near London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Proposals were mooted to build a landing strip in the Thames itself, and in 1945, plans were drawn up by Kenneth Lindy and Winton Lewis  for a cruciform airstrip built across the roofs of five skyscrapers in Liverpool Street.

It wouldn’t be until 1987, when London City Airport was opened in Docklands, that London had its first City airport.

The “Aerial King’s Cross” features in Felix Barker and Ralph Hyde’s excellent 1982 work London As It Might Have Been, a collection of architect’s plans for London which were proposed but never built. Additional information from Airports: A Cemtury of Architecture by Hugh Pearman (2004.)