Gatwick and its Stations

Gatwick; the name

Gatwick may never have had a railway station had it not been for the racecourse and subsequent airport; because of these it has had no less than three stations since 1891. It is therefore important to understand the history of Gatwick as it is intertwined with the railway, its stations and the trains that served them. As an airport Gatwick was the first in the world to provide a direct interchange between air, rail and road transport.
In terms of its name, Gatwick has been traced back to John de Gatwick who acquired some twenty-two acres of land around Charlwood. Subsequently becoming the Manor of Gatwick, the land passed from the de Gatwick family in on to various land owners the 14th century.
The railway through Gatwick opened on 12th July 1841 and whilst Network Rail suggests an 1876 station at Gatwick, no record of this can be located.

Gatwick (1891) Station

The Gatwick Race Course Company purchased Gatwick in 1890 with the race course opening in 1891 in order to replace Waddon Racecourse which closed in November 1890.
It was not without some irony that Waddon Racecourse became the site for the world's first international airport. Croydon Aerodrome officially opened for passenger traffic in March 1920 closing in September 1959 following the opening of Gatwick Airport.
September 1891 (some sources also quote March 1891) saw the opening of Gatwick station, the site of which is underneath part of the current Gatwick Airport station.
Besides the Up and Down Main lines that station had two new Up Loops and a new Down Loop line. There were two pairs of island platforms between each loop and its respective main line. In addition there was a further single platform along the second (western-most) Up Loop; this having direct access into the racecourse.
Facilities at the station were basic with no canopies or waiting rooms save a small building on the platform adjacent to the racecourse. The tracks were crossed by an open footbridge.
Sidings were provided for holding the return workings of race trains; the station only being used on race days; these are still present today although now see little use.
The station had two Signalboxes, both located on the down side. These were brought into use on 1st October 1891. An Up Relief line from Gatwick to Horley opened in October 1892, this becoming the Up Slow in 1907.
Powers for the quadrupling were obtained in 1899 and this was brought into use in 1907. This saw the replacement of two 1891 Signalboxes with a 75-lever box in 1907. The wooden Signalbox was 42' long, 12' wide atop a 9' wide brick base on platforms 3 & 4. Sykes Lock and Block was employed to Horley South (707yds north); Harper's Block to Tinsley Green (1m 602yds south). There was no 'box closing-out switch.
The quadrupling led to Gatwick being used for 'ordinary' traffic between June and November 1907; outside these dates the station was only used for race traffic.
Electrification came on 17th July 1932 and the nearby 1907 Signalbox at Tinsley Green closed on 5th June 1932. This 25-lever wooden Signalbox/brick base was 22' long, 12' wide and employed Harper's Block to Gatwick and Three Bridges North (1m 276yds south). It was only open 7 am to 11 pm weekdays and 7am to 10pm summer Sundays.
The racecourse itself now lies underneath both airport terminal buildings and their aprons; its orientation having been north-west to south-east.
As a race course, arguably Gatwick's place in history was during the First World War when for the only time in history, the world's greatest steeple chase was held away from Aintree.
Following the 1915 "Grand National" Aintree had been requisitioned by the War Office so in 1916 Gatwick hosted "The Racecourse Association Steeplechase" with a course length identical to the Grand National's 4 miles and 856 yards. The following year's race (1917) was renamed "The War Steeplechase" and the prize money from these two years was donated to the home for blinded soldiers. The final "National" to be held at Gatwick was in 1918; the winner "Poethlyn" being ridden by Ernie Piggott, the grandfather of the very well known jockey, Lester Piggott.
Although aircraft had been based at Gatwick from November 1928, Gatwick Airport only really came into being when the airfield was licensed as such in early August 1930. During the early 1930s race goers could arrive by road, train or air.
Airports Limited was formed in 1934 and with the Air Ministry issuing Gatwick with its first public licence that year, commercial aircraft commenced use of the airport with Hillman's Airways being the first airline to operate out of Gatwick to Paris and Belfast. In 1935 they merged with United Airways and Spartan Airways to form Allied British Airways Limited. In the same year (1935) Airports Limited became public and plans for a terminal building were raised.
In 1936 the Southern Railway Magazine listed stations at Gatwick (open race-days only) and Tinsley Green for Gatwick Airport. However, in 1937 it listed Gatwick Racecourse (open race-days only) and Gatwick Airport. Certainly by 1938 the name Gatwick Racecourse had appeared in the working timetable.
The racecourse closed in 1940 but at present no actual closure date for Gatwick station can be located. Perhaps given the war it just fell into disuse on the basis the racecourse might reopen after hostilities ceased?

Gatwick Racecourse station looking tidy and well cared for in 1956.

photograph by J H Aston.
We have tried to contact the photographer for permission to use this photograph but have been unsuccessful. If anyone can assist in this please advise the web master.

Gatwick Racecourse station

Tinsley Green (1935) Station

In 1934 Airports Ltd paid the Southern Railway £3000 towards Gatwick's second railway station, which opened on 30th September 1935 and was initially served by two trains an hour. With platforms on both slow and fast lines, constructed with concrete harp & slabs, the station was renamed Gatwick Airport on 1st June 1936. Signal Instruction Nº35 of 1935 confirms this opening date of "Tinsley Green for Gatwick Airport".
Connected by a covered footbridge, the station had waiting rooms and canopies on all four platforms.
On Sunday 17th May 1936 Gatwick's first scheduled air service left for Paris, operated by British Airways ("Allied" had been dropped in October 1935). Even then, through ticketing was available as the single fare of four pounds and five shillings included a first class ticket from Victoria! Other flight destinations were Malmo via Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen and the Isle of Wight. The Southern Railway was now serving Gatwick Airport, some of whose air services were in direct competition!
British Airways Ltd moved to Heston in 1938 and its competition on European services so threatened Imperial Airways that in November 1937 a Parliamentary committee proposed the nationalization and merger of Imperial and British Airways. When the reorganization was completed on 24th November 1939, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was formed. The connection with British Airways Plc is purely historical via the British Airways Board, which was formed from the merger April 1974 of BOAC and BEA.
The 6th June 1936 saw the opening of the Beehive; the world's first circular airport terminal. With a 130-yard foot tunnel to the station (thus allowing passengers to remain dry, although the tunnel often flooded) aircraft could pull right up to the terminal building.
Designed by architects Alan Marlow, Frankin Hoar and Bill Lovett the (now restored) Beehive with its patent on the moving telescopic canopies, which radiated out from the terminal building to the aircraft, was arguably a significant step in the design of airport terminal buildings. It is understood that a narrow gauge railway was involved in the airport construction work.
With the Second World War, Gatwick was requisitioned by the Air Ministry for use by the RAF. This including extending the airfield into part of the racecourse which saw its last race in 1940. Following the Second World War Gatwick was retained under requisition and operated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation saw civilian charter operations. Having had government approval in 1952 for the development of Gatwick, the airport closed in March 1956 to enable building of the "New London Airport". However Gatwick Airport (1935) station remained open and with the last trains on the 27th May 1958 it finally closed in favour of the new airport station on 28th May 1958.
The 1935 station remained derelict for many years. Eventually the copers were removed and in the late 1970s platforms 2, 3 & 4 of the 1935 station were razed and the slow lines straightened in readiness for Tinsley Green Junction.
Now in a position away from the Up Slow, the former station building even saw use as office accommodation for at least one of Gatwick Airport's many businesses.

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This page was last updated 24 October 2008

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