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Gatwick; Goat Farm, Racecourse And Finally An Airport

Jul 21, 2008
Gatwick is currently the country's second largest and second busiest airport combining a wide variety of shops, restaurants and car hire services. The airport can be considered one of the country's oldest having been in operation for more than seventy years. The name Gatwick however comes from the Anglo-Saxon and actually means goat or dairy farm. The site did not always have an airport situated upon it however, in the late nineteenth century the site was a racecourse, even hosting the Grand National. It was from the twenties that the site began its life as an aerodrome, developing in the later decades to become the airport we see today.

The history of Gatwick is extremely interesting, whilst it was still a racecourse the primary reason the airport was in operation was for pilots to fly in and watch races. It was during the thirties that the site was given the status of a commercial airport with a number of flights linking it to the continent. At this early stage of development the airport hierarchy realised the importance of transport links; an underground tunnel was built linking the terminal to the racecourse train station. This meant that travellers could leave Victoria Station in London and reach the airport without having to brave the weather. During the war years it saw service as a maintenance depot although a number of sorties were flown from the site.

In the post war years the airport continued to be a maintenance point for military aircraft although as civilian companies started to use surplus aircraft, the airport's role was expanded. Because of a severe drainage problem however the airport's future was in serious doubt, especially considering that the government was more inclined to develop the Stansted site in Essex. Stansted expansion plans however fell through and in 1952 Gatwick was earmarked for develop as an alternative to the already predominant Heathrow. After an extensive construction period over the next six years, the Queen flew into the airport on the ninth of June 1958 for the official opening ceremony.

The link with the railway was not forgotten however and this new terminal was the first to have a direct rail link to London. Another revolutionary design feature was the covered waiting areas and walkways that meant passengers had the minimum of effort to reach their plane. From this point onwards increasing numbers of airlines scheduled flights to the airport and its status grew in accordance with these additional flights. With long, short and medium haul routes, Gatwick saw a host of accompanying services such as shops, bars and car hire desks spring up in the terminal to be used by travellers.

In the eighties the Gatwick site was further expanded to cope with a growth in passenger numbers. In 1984 a new air traffic control tower was added and the Gatwick Express rail connection was launched. In addition to the new tower, further expansion was planned with a second terminal at the cost of two hundred million pounds. Once again the Queen opened this terminal thirty years after the opening of the first terminal. In the period since, expansion has continued with extensions of both terminals and the construction of new waiting lounges. As these expansions have occurred, increasing amounts of accompanying services had arisen to accommodate the needs of travellers.

Today Gatwick remains one of the busiest and most successful airports in the UK. This is set to change however, government plans to expand both Stansted and Heathrow has meant that Gatwick isn't set to develop considerably in the foreseeable future. Despite this, the site will continue to be a major airport, impressive considering the humble beginnings as a goat farm and a racecourse.
About the Author
Air travel expert Thomas Pretty looks into why car hire Gatwick airport services have been instrumental in its development.
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