Heathrow Airport History

What’s in a name – Judge John Heath or the hamlet Heath Row

How the airport acquired its name ‘Heathrow’ is not very clear, but two theories are are suggested regarding its name:

Judge John Heath: Some suggest that Heathrow was named after a man whose estate the modern airport now sits, called John Heath. John Heath was the cousin of Dr. Benjamin Heath, the famous Harrow School Headmaster (who abolished archery and brought in cricket and public speaking at the school). John Heath was a ‘Judge of Common Please’ who died on his estate, what is now the airport.

Heath Row: Others suggest that Heathrow Airport derives its name from a hamlet called ‘Heath Row’, which was destroyed during the construction of the airport (it would have been where terminal 3 now stands). A hamlet by the name ‘Heath Row’ on land where the airport now stands can be found on maps and documents going back several hundred years, long before Judge Heath was born. The village appears on John Rocque’s map of Middlesex of 1754 and was included, but spelt ‘Hetherow’, on John Ogilvy’s map of Middlesex of 1675.

History of Heathrow Airport

However it gained its current name, Heathrow airport was a privately owned airfield in the 1930s with the name the ‘Great Western Aerodrome’. Back then it was used for test flying, with commercial flights taking off from the nearby Heston and Hanworth Park airfields.

During World War II, the Air Ministry came up with a plan to use the aerodrome as a transfer base for the RAF. Work to build a runway and airport for this purpose, to be named ‘Heathrow Airport’, started in 1944, but the war was over before the work was completed.

With the end of the war came the prospect of a huge civil aviation expansion, and London needed a large modern airport to cope with this demand. History repeating itself, similar arguments are still being used for its expansion, 60 years later.

On 1st January 1946 the airport was transferred from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and Heathrow was formerly opened as a civil airport on 31 May 1946. The first civil departure was to Buenos Aires via Lisbon.

In its rush to open, a tented terminal was used – an army surplus tent, just a short walk from the airplanes. It is suggested that there was a bar in the tent, and that you would hand in your boarding card there before boarding the plane.

There were 9,000 flights in the first year of operation by a handful of airlines, serving 18 destinations. Passenger numbers grew enormously over the next 5 years, and work on a more permanent terminal commenced. In 1955 Her Majesty The Queen opened the Terminal Building (what is now terminal 2) and the tunnel which provides main road access to Heathrow’s central area.

A further terminal, the ‘Oceanic Terminal’ (now Terminal 3), was built and opened in 1961, and in 1969 another new terminal (now Terminal 1) was opened. Terminal 4 opened in 1986, and the airport is in the process of building Terminal 5, which will open in 2008.

BAA, heathrow airport’s owners, proposed building a 6th terminal and 3rd runway in June 2005, which would cost £7bn and allow the airport to accommodate 116 million passengers a year. In 2004 the airport handled around 65 million passengers, making it the busiest International airport in the world. 90 airlines flew to 170 destinations worldwide, with an average of 1,250 flights out of Heathrow on an average day.

Heathrow Airport Terminals

Terminal 1: opened in 1969 by Her Majesty The Queen, approximately 25 million passengers use terminal 1 each year

Terminal 2: what was once Heathrow’s first terminal, it was opened again for short haul flights in 1955 by Her Majesty The Queen. Approximately 10 million passengers use terminal 2 each year

Terminal 3: opened for long haul flights in 1961, approximately 15 million passengers use terminal 3 each year

Terminal 4: was formally opened by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales in April 1986, approximately 15 million passengers use terminal 4 each year

Terminal 5: currently under construction and is due to open in 2008

Terminal 6: is planned, along with a 3rd runway. It could be built as early as 2015