Heathrow Airport London celebrates 70 years with nostalgic photographs

  • Heathrow Airport opened to the public in 1946 and welcomed 63,000 passengers during its first operational year
  • Today the hub handles over 67 million annual passengers travelling to over 180 destinations in over 90 countries
  • Retrospective images from a new book called Heathrow in Photographs, honour seven decades of aviation progress

From the terminal tents adorned with flowers and sofas to the plane spotters sat on fold out chairs on the runway, a surprising collection of nostalgic images celebrating 70 years of Heathrow airport have emerged.

Dating back to the 1940s, in an era before congestion or security measures were heard of, passengers are pictured strolling casually through empty concourses while staff write arrivals and departures information on blackboards in chalk. 

These are just some of the fascinating images in a new book called Heathrow in Photographs, which honours seven decades of life at Europe's busiest airport, ahead of its 70th anniversary later this month on May 28.

Before it became an aviation hub, the area of Heathrow was a hamlet known as Heath Row, which was cleared for construction on the airport in 1944. The original airport was launched in 1946 by the minister of Civil Aviation at the time, Lord Winster, and offered just one runway. At the end of its first operational year in 1946, 63,000 passengers had travelled through the airport, steadily rising to 796,000 in 1951.

Today the hub has grown to be one of the world’s busiest international airports handling over 67 million passengers flying to over 180 destinations in over 90 countries, each year.

Journey back in time with these incredible images of Heathrow and its evolution over the years.

Inside one of the terminal tents in 1946, comfortable armchairs and flowers are employed to distract travellers from the noise and temperatures outside

Inside one of the terminal tents in 1946, comfortable armchairs and flowers are employed to distract travellers from the noise and temperatures outside

Slow process: The movements board is updated by hand on September 2, 1948 using a blackboard and chalk

Slow process: The movements board is updated by hand on September 2, 1948 using a blackboard and chalk

Early plane spotters in the viewing enclosure circa 1949, with a Trans-Canada Airlines Canadair North Star in the background

Early plane spotters in the viewing enclosure circa 1949, with a Trans-Canada Airlines Canadair North Star in the background

Runway view: This terminal building restaurant in 1958 overlooks the tarmac as staff prepare an Alitalia Douglas DC-6B I-DIMB

Runway view: This terminal building restaurant in 1958 overlooks the tarmac as staff prepare an Alitalia Douglas DC-6B I-DIMB

Check-in desks for BOAC and Qantas airlines in Terminal 3 in 1969. The building is located where a hamlet known as Heath's Row used to be

Check-in desks for BOAC and Qantas airlines in Terminal 3 in 1969. The building is located where a hamlet known as Heath's Row used to be

Spacious and traffic free: Showing plenty of room for expansion, the Central Area has two SAS DC-6Bs and a BEA Ambassador aircraft in the foreground of this 1955 aerial shot

Spacious and traffic free: Showing plenty of room for expansion, the Central Area has two SAS DC-6Bs and a BEA Ambassador aircraft in the foreground of this 1955 aerial shot

In 1959 there were no covered walkway style gates at Heathrow, instead passengers are pictured watching the arrivals and waiting to board transfer buses

In 1959 there were no covered walkway style gates at Heathrow, instead passengers are pictured watching the arrivals and waiting to board transfer buses

In the foreground children play on airport terrace amusement rides on a sunny day in July 1967 while a BOAC Boeing 707 takes off in the distance

In the foreground children play on airport terrace amusement rides on a sunny day in July 1967 while a BOAC Boeing 707 takes off in the distance

Blast from the past: Fifteen years before BEA and BOAC merged to form BAs, a BOAC Bristol Britannia 312 G-AOVG is seen here in front of the BOAC headquarters, having been leased to BEA in May 1961

Blast from the past: Fifteen years before BEA and BOAC merged to form BAs, a BOAC Bristol Britannia 312 G-AOVG is seen here in front of the BOAC headquarters, having been leased to BEA in May 1961

No queues here: A colour image of Terminal 2 in 1957 shows individuals manning check in desks while passengers calmly walk by

No queues here: A colour image of Terminal 2 in 1957 shows individuals manning check in desks while passengers calmly walk by

Back in time: A 1957 view of the new Central Area control tower with BEA RF4 buses parked in the foreground

Back in time: A 1957 view of the new Central Area control tower with BEA RF4 buses parked in the foreground

The rear cover of the 1956 guidebook showed a plan of the airport at the time, with entrance prices to the spectators' viewing terraces and also for airport coach tours

The rear cover of the 1956 guidebook showed a plan of the airport at the time, with entrance prices to the spectators' viewing terraces and also for airport coach tours

Pictured here is a Pan Am 747-121 plane in March 1974, four years after the aircraft was introduced to Heathrow. The jumbo carried 324 passengers across the Atlantic from New York to London

Pictured here is a Pan Am 747-121 plane in March 1974, four years after the aircraft was introduced to Heathrow. The jumbo carried 324 passengers across the Atlantic from New York to London

Wearing BA's Landor livery, Concorde G-BOAE retracts its undercarriage as it lifts off from Runway 27L en route to New York on 8 May 1994

Wearing BA's Landor livery, Concorde G-BOAE retracts its undercarriage as it lifts off from Runway 27L en route to New York on 8 May 1994

On 2 June 1996, Heathrow Airport marked its 50th anniversary with a flypast of airliners that have served the airport over the years. This culminated in a formation flypast by Concorde with Hawks of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team

On 2 June 1996, Heathrow Airport marked its 50th anniversary with a flypast of airliners that have served the airport over the years. This culminated in a formation flypast by Concorde with Hawks of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team

An iconic aircraft which had been the most prolific type of plane in the airport's history, Vickers Viscount is pictured here on its last day in service on 18 April 1996 at Heathrow

An iconic aircraft which had been the most prolific type of plane in the airport's history, Vickers Viscount is pictured here on its last day in service on 18 April 1996 at Heathrow

Sign of the times: Staff stand over modern equipment at the 285ft-high control tower where they can also enjoy spectacular sunsets

Sign of the times: Staff stand over modern equipment at the 285ft-high control tower where they can also enjoy spectacular sunsets

A more familiar modern view is the tarmac packed with aircraft. Pictured here is Terminal 5 which opened in 2008 and is used exclusively by BA and now IAG (Iberia). It cost £4billion to build and took almost 20 years from conception to completion

A more familiar modern view is the tarmac packed with aircraft. Pictured here is Terminal 5 which opened in 2008 and is used exclusively by BA and now IAG (Iberia). It cost £4billion to build and took almost 20 years from conception to completion

Nowadays passengers are greeted with this familiar view of the new Terminal 2, the Queen's Terminal, which has capacity for 30million passengers each year and was officially opened in 2014

Nowadays passengers are greeted with this familiar view of the new Terminal 2, the Queen's Terminal, which has capacity for 30million passengers each year and was officially opened in 2014

Heathrow in Photographs - Celebrating 70 Years of London's Airport, by Adrian M Balch, is published by The History Press 

Heathrow in Photographs - Celebrating 70 Years of London's Airport, by Adrian M Balch, is published by The History Press 

 

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