BA100: 20. The Imperial Airways Empire Terminal

100 Years Of British Airways: The former Imperial Airways Empire Terminal in Victoria, London.

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Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London
Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

At 157-197 Buckingham Palace Road, between London Victoria railway station and Victoria coach station, lies an Art Deco masterpiece.

The Imperial Airways Empire Terminal opened to the public on 5 June 1939. Designed by the architect Albert Lakeman it was described on its opening as the finest air terminal in the world.

The original building was only 80 feet deep, but 500 feet wide. The 5 storey building has a symmetrical facade with a 10 storey central clock tower and wings curving forward to form a crescent shape.

As well as being used by Imperial Airways for ticketing and checking in passengers, it was also used by the airline as a Head Office. The very top of the tower afforded the Directors of Imperial Airways impressive views all over London.

Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London
Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

Above the entrance is a sculpture “Wings Over The World” designed by Eric Broadbent. This is the only remaining external clue as to the building’s original use.

"Wings Above The World", Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London
“Wings Above The World”, Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)
"Wings Above The World", Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London
“Wings Above The World”, Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

The location was chosen because the Air Ministry insisted that Southampton had to be used as base for flying boat services, and this was the only site that backed on to what was then Southern Railway station. It had direct access to was then platform 17 (now 19) of London Victoria.

A special train consisting almost entirely of First Class Pullman carriages carried passengers to connect to flying boat services operating from Southampton Water. Passengers could dine on the 90 minute train journey to Southampton, before taking services to Africa, India, the Far East and Australia the following day.

Passengers flying on services to Europe were taken by coach to Croydon Airport.

The building was subsequently known as the BOAC Terminal and then the British Airways Terminal.

The building closed to passenger use on 14 November 1980, partly due to pressure on BA to cut costs and like the now demolished West London Air Terminal, it also became redundant as Heathrow Airport gained direct transport links. It was officially listed in 1981. The site has been occupied by the National Audit Office from 1986 to the present day.

Pictures of the original interior are available from the Royal Institute Of British Architects.

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