Croydon Control Tower


from Barry Davidson: This a rare photo of a British Nederland Air Services Dakota. This is G-AJZX which took part in the Berlin Airlift.

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations has a new project (January 2018) to establish the sources of the Air Traffic Control service in order to celebrate the centenary and history of ATC, a project entitled 100 years of Air Traffic Control. Given that the Paris – London air route was the environment in which most of the early development work was carried out between 1919 and 1922, the celebration will start in 2021 at le Bourget as several events are planned there to coincide with the new le Bourget tower opening. The project will end with the centenary celebration of ATC 100 at the 2022 IFATCA Conference in October.  As the planning develops we will update this post to keep you all informed. IFATCA has hopes that the theme 100 years of Air Traffic Control will also be picked up as part of the events to celebrate the International Day of the Controller across the globe.

Ian Walker, the Chair of Trustees of the Historic Croydon Airport Trust has sent in a copy of a memo from 1920 requiring the provision of a control tower at Croydon.

authorising croydons aerial lighthouse 1920



CRYOa from Barry Davidson

photos via Ray Draper.

Ian Walker  tells us that post WW1 all civilian aviation in the UK was prohibited with ad hoc approvals for individual international flights and temporary suspension of the prohibition.

All UK restrictions on civil aviation were lifted on 25/8/1919 leading to the launch of regular scheduled services between U.K., France and Belgium. Hounslow Heath was temporarily the London customs aerodrome until 28/3/1920 when operations were relocated to Croydon. Lympne ( on the Kent coast) was the designated diversion aerodrome for the cross-Channel route. .The C.A.T.O. at Hounslow was Major S.T.L.Greer. Major Greer moved to Croydon Airport when Hounslow closed. Croydon became operational on 29/3/1920.

Croydon Aerodrome was two aerodromes merged into one- the former RAF airfield know as Beddington and the National Aircraft Factory No.1 testing airfield known as Waddon (Waddon is a Parish in Croydon). The airport was known under various titles. Hounslow and Croydon both had radio on opening. Croydon had D/F on opening with approved radio position fixing in 1922 (from memory Paris implemented radio position fixing in 1926).

croydon bd 11 19 (1)croydon bd 11 19 (2)

CRYb and c from one of a set of cigarette cards that you see as a bound volume available here. a day on the airway

Once operations were moved to Croydon in 1920 radio and C.A.T.O operations were located in the Control Tower. The Radio Officers at the opening of Croydon were:- Officer in Charge- Mr. W. A. G. Price Radio Operators- Mr. F.S. Mockford, Mr. L. Luger, Mr. F. S. Close & Mr. C. V. Lane.  Mockford became Officer in Charge in 1923-  C.A.T.O’s- Lt. E. H. “Bill” Lawford, G. J. H. “Jimmy” Jeffs (from 22/2/1922), Commander Deacon, Captain Morkam, Mr. Russell and later H. W. Chattaway.

Ian provided this material on major ATC innovations developed at Croydon relating to the work of the Controllers and Radio Officers at the London Airport- many of which are still in use today. Air Traffic Controllers were originally known as Civil Aviation Traffic Officers (C.A.T.O’s) and were supported by the Radio Officers. CATO’s managed and administered the Air Traffic. Radio Officers held the licences to handle wireless and telegraphic communications. Radio Officers were examined and licensed to Class 3 (U.K. standard). C.A.T.O’s and Radio Officers were initially ex-military having served in WWI. Some had worked on developing air/ ground communications during WWI (e.g. F. S. Mockford). Croydon handled 11,888 radio messages in a 6 month period during 1920.

A few examples of Croydon milestones follow –

1920- The term “Control Tower” is a British term and first used to describe the construction of the world’s first Control Tower at Croydon. This was approved in and recorded in the Air Ministry minutes of 25th February 1920. Before there were ATC Towers there were Radio Offices. The ATC Tower was a specific technical building developed for ATC tasks rather than just radio comms. First installed at Croydon in 1920 (timber) and further developed with the more substantive 1928 development of the Croydon terminal and Tower. Comms transmissions were on 900m, Met transmissions were on 1260m, Route Traffic information (between airports) was on 1380m, The First Croydon Airport equipment was Marconi 100W/ CW/ ICW telephone transmitter with Type 55 Bellini-Tosi D/F.

1920 Met Office opened at Croydon on 28/3/1920.

1922- G.J.H “Jimmy” Jeffs became the first licensed Controller on 22/2/1922 with Air Ministry ATC Certificate No.1 (the licence is on view at the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre). It was issued retrospectively.

1922- Radio position-fixing (originally known as Wireless position-finding). System developed, tested implemented and controlled from Croydon:-

1923- Croydon Radio Officer Fred Mockford  developed the “Mayday” distress phraseology. The Air Ministry approved the phrase which was published in the first UK Air Pilot issued in 1924. In 1927 Mayday was accepted as the international standard at the Wireless Radiotelegraph Convention held in Washington USA.

Click here for more on the tower but specifically a photo of Fred Mockford at work. The wicker seat was one of several private enterprise seats first made for and sold to allied fighter pilots in the 1914-18 war

1933- Low Visibility Ops and first Controlled Airspace- Known as QBI procedures implemented at Croydon.

Weather reports were a joint agreement between Britain and France (transmissions at 20 past and 10 to the hour) that was later expanded to include Belgium that transmitted at 25 minutes past the hour.

The first major change to regulations occurred after a 1922 mid-air collision. After the accident a meeting was convened at Croydon with French, Belgium and British pilots and Air Ministry Officials with new Air Traffic rules agreed. Rules included keep to the right of a line feature and aircraft with more than 10 seats were to have radios installed. The U.K. operators were quick to adopt the requirement (with a slower pace from European operators).

Britain was very good at documenting, regulating and approving infrastructure and procedures. Unfortunately, there’s not much in electronic form. For example the Air Ministry produced Annual Reports of the Progress of Civil Aviation from 1919 through to the 1950’s. The early reports detail how many radio transmissions were made, how many weather reports were requested, traffic figures etc.

Croydon has a superb museum in the top of the old tower. Check out the web site link below and plan a visit

Croydon Airport History

Tom Singfield points us at another site Airport of Croydon. (atchistory warning: this site could easily consume a weekend of online browsing)


John Faulkner has sent some photos in the Museum including Jimmy Jeffs’ ATC licence No1


Phonetic alphabet early

CRY2a Tom Singfield sent in this example of an engraved/embossed plate giving an early version of the phonetic alphabet. Its not from Croydon but its a great place to post it.

CRY TS (1)

CRY2b Tom also sent in his photo of Jimmy Jeffs ATCO Licence No 1.  Tom also photographed three cartoons on the tower wall.

Steve Balfour has been in contact his Manchester colleague Nick Phythian. Nick has provided a great set of pictures of the Museum. Once again do please visit the Museum its absolutely fascinating. – see link above.

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Dave Smith sent in a link that shows Croydon operations in the 20s including some period ATC footage late in the film.


From Brian Davidson an avalanche of period photos, post cards and philatelic covers. This photos that I have no copyright or other attributable data on I’ve published below. There are also two slides shows featuring postcards that are I think the product of extinct publishers. If you know otherwise please use the comment tab above to contact us and they will be taken of line.

croydon 1920s

CRY3 1920s

croydon aerial view 1020s




croydon terminal panorama


Croydon 1934 AIS maybe

CRY6 1934 flight clearance/flight briefing unit/Aeronautical Information Service

croydon dornier

CRY7 Dornier D223

croydon instone


croydon hp42 night

CRY9 Handley Page HP42


CRY9a a Builder plate from HP42 G-AAXC sent in by Grenville Paget who explained how he got it

“My Dad was an engineer with Imps before the war at Croydon.  During the war he was seconded to the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Wearing one of those uniforms he was despatched to Whitchurch where the HP42s had been sent for the duration.  I have a page from the Silver Wing magazine, retired staff journal of BEA, which tells the story of another engineer feeling a strong gust of wind and looking over to Heracles to see my Dad hanging on for dear life as the aircraft was lifted into the air.  As were others.  When the wind stopped down they came and were somewhat broken.  Dad was then involved in breaking up the aircraft and that registration plate came into our hands.

croydon 1939

CRY10 1939 G-ACVY

croydon 1939_2


croydon 1939_3

CRY12 1939

croydon tower inside


croydon 1950s decca anson

CRY14 Decca Navigator Company Avro Anson G-AGWE 1950s

croydon 1950s

CRY15 1950s G-AMYJ

croydon 1957

CRY16 1957

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miscellaneous post card and annotated photos slide show

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Pamlin Photos post card slide show includes G-EBLO, G-AAXC, GAGSH, F-ALCS, D-AMHC, F-AOHB, F-AQNP. G-AFDX

below, some of Brian Davidson’s  Croydon philatelic covers. he tells us that the plainest example has the rare “London Airport ” postmark.

Croydon PH

Barry says of the one above that “Croydon Airport cover with Airport postmark, very scarce item as Croydon had about 5 different airport postmarks during its life.”

two new photos from Barry Davidson of Croydon in 1928 initially published in the  “London’s Great” magazine






CRY19 an early photo of a building at Waddon,  one of two airfields that were amalgamated to form Croydon.


CR20  a photo from an 1947 pamphlet on the Ministry of Civil Aviation. the legends says MCA training: a loop aerial being explained to budding radio operators.

Croydon 1921

CR21 1921, a Handley Page W8B G-EBBH 0f Imperial Airways, named originally Melbourne, later Prince George.

4 thoughts on “Croydon Control Tower”

  1. I can remember seeing the Croydon Airport lighthouse operating from my Grandparents house in South Croydon. It must have been in the late 1950’s very close to closure. From what I can find out the lighthouse was located on top of the Waterworks Chimney in Waddon Way. Unfortunately the chimney is long gone though the steam engines have been preserved.


  2. My first posting as an ATC assistant was to Croydon Airport, to cover the departure of another (female) assistant to Australia on her marriage. This was my introduction to work in ATC and I felt very honoured to have the chance to work at this airport with such a history, despite the fact that it was about to close. Strange feeling of ghosts in the terminal and control tower when I came in for an early shift before anyone else was about. My last duty was on the closing day before posting to the Southern Air traffic Control Centre at Heathrow and soon after to Gatwick, where I was able to meet up again with some of the aircraft which had been at Croydon but which now seemed to be much smaller. Sweet nostalgia!


  3. Fond memories ,working at Morton apprentice airframe fitter rigger ,and as a very young airplane spotter at the end of Plough Lane and terminal areas. I was there on the last day as we had moved to Reigate then Gatwick .
    Left for Australia not long after .


    1. Hello Fred,
      I was working at Mortons at that time and trying to recall you.
      I was working with Dusty Miller in the elect/inst dept.
      As a note when Croydon closed Morton Service aircraft went to Redhill aerodrome, as I did, the flying club lot to Biggin Hill and Shell aircraft to Blackbush. Later we moved from Redhill to Transairs number 2 hanger.
      Pat P.


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