It was like stepping back in time when I visited Croydon Airport on one of its open days. The exterior of the main building had the unmistakable look of the 1920s or 30s, while inside white columns and wood panelling in the departure hall were reflected in the old photographs hanging on the walls.
The airport operated from 1928 to 1959, and, at its peak, thirteen airlines used it as a terminal from which to ferry passengers and supplies all over the world. It was also the first airport to introduce air traffic control, and a visit to the control tower was part of our tour. There I sat at a flight simulator and attempted to fly a plane from Croydon to Epsom, a few miles to the southwest, and failed miserably: my plane hovered dangerously above the airfield and surrounding houses as I prepared to land before disappearing from the screen without trace. To add insult to injury, I was immediately informed that a five year old had performed much better earlier on in the day and had earned a highly prized certificate for her efforts, but there was no way the museum attendant was going to grant me the same honour.
Croydon was also the departure point for Amy Johnson, when, in 1930, she made her epic solo flight to Australia. There were numerous Johnson memorabilia, including items from the flight, and, most poignantly, the bag she was carrying when she made her last ever flight and crashed into the Thames.
Flight safety was clearly not a major issue back in the early days, and I was intrigued by the display of old cabin seats. In the 30s Lloyd Loom chairs were quite the norm, and they were arranged haphazardly along the aisle without so much as a seat belt to protect the passengers.
As ever, though, I was looking for a connection with murder, and, in particular, with Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, in which Hercule Poirot flies from Paris to Croydon, and a murder takes place during the flight. I didn’t see any reference to this in the museum, but, judging by the information available, Paris London was obviously one of the well established routes. Moreover, there was a display of crockery which was used on these flights, and I could easily imagine Poirot sipping one of his tisanes from the cup. So maybe the spirit of Hercule Poirot wasn’t so far away, after all…
…and, although it was a fine afternoon with Wembley Stadium clearly visible from the control tower, there were, nevertheless, some fluffy little white clouds floating just above.