Demolition and Development

In 1955 Queen Elizabeth officially opened new buildings in the centre of what was then London Airport; the Europa Terminal ( which later became Terminal 2 ) and The Queen’s Building with its offices and roof gardens. In 2009 they were demolished to make way for a new Terminal 2. The Queen has outlived her own historic buildings. In the meantime, in the nearby historic Harmondsworth Village mentioned in the Doomsday Book, The Great Barn built in 1426 still stands.

The Queen opens London Airport terminal, 1955 – BBC Archive

‘Built by Winchester College as part of its manor farm at Harmondsworth, the oak-framed barn is an outstanding example of medieval carpentry and contains one of the most intact interiors of its era. At nearly 60 metres long, 12 metres wide and 11 metres tall, with 13 massive oak trusses holding up the roof, both its size and aisles evoke the space and shape of a cathedral.‘ It is now under the care of English Heritage; when we lived nearby it was on private land and only open to the public occasionally, but one visit was enough to stand inside and be awestruck. It was heart breaking to hear that Harmondsworth Village could be demolished to make way for a third runway. There was ridiculous talk of moving the barn and in 2015 our future Prime Minister famously said, as MP for the Uxbridge constituency near the airport, that he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway”.

Harmondsworth Barn | English Heritage (

The barn is still there and there is no third runway yet, but Heathrow Village must be the most changed and continually changing patch of grade A agricultural land in Britain; perhaps not in the whole world, Dubai and China might compete for that honour. There will still be people who remember a few tents being put up by the Bath Road in the 1940s; many years ago an old lady told me they looked across the road from their house and thought those few tents would not make much difference to them…

When our family emigrated to Australia in 1964 we left on a chartered migrant flight from London Airport on a Saturday afternoon. We walked across the tarmac to the steps of the plane and waved to our relatives standing on a balcony; just as well we could wave as we had arrived late at the airport ( that’s another story ) and had no time to chat to them. So there was no time for pictures, or perhaps Dad had no camera till he bought one in duty free during the trip.

Pictures from my father’s album.

In the late 70s, early 80s you could still go up on the Queen’s Building roof gardens; there was a playground for the children and it was a playground for plane enthusiasts who sat with their sandwiches and radios listening in to the control tower and incoming aircraft. But Heathrow has always been a continual building site, constantly adding bits on or demolishing. I occasionally worked in the old Terminal 2 and as you went through and down into the staff airside area, the ceilings seemed to get lower and lower, a security chap told me they felt like pit ponies… so perhaps this building was ready for demolition.

While I was working at Terminal Three it was being modernised, yet again. In Singapore business lounge our passengers went out on the last flight of the night and when we locked up and walked through the main departure lounge it was totally deserted, very different from what the passengers experienced. As we went out through the staff exit the builders would be coming in, nearly decapitating us as they wielded planks and all sorts of equipment.

One day going into work I got off the bus as usual, down to the subway and moving walkways, up into Terminal 3 Arrivals, turned left to step on to the up escalator that was there the day before and nearly fell over, it had disappeared. Another night our late flight was delayed and I was the only one heading for a particular staff exit… but when I got there it wasn’t there, it wasn’t just closed, there was no sign that it had ever been there in the first place. A story idea for sure, I was suddenly trapped in the no man’s land of Airside, would I ever see my home again? Luckily I saw a security bloke and said ‘I know you won’t believe this, but I can’t seem to find the staff exit.’ Luckily I wasn’t going mad, he directed me to the new exit.

One of my colleagues told me that he had a job in the ‘Irish Pub’ in the departures lounge. He went on holiday back to the Philippines for three months, returned, put on his uniform for work, went in and couldn’t find ‘the pub’ – restaurants and bars had five year leases and were always disappearing to be replaced by something completely different.

We moved away in 2004 and only a few years later we went to meet someone at Heathrow and parked in the Terminal 3 multi-storey car park. I had this feeling I could not get my bearings. Absolutely nothing looked how I remembered. It turned out the original car park had been demolished and a new one built further back, creating a pleasant plaza effect. If you ever want to know how to find your way round Heathrow, don’t ask me!

Have you had a Heathrow experience, good or bad?

My short story ‘Fog’ in my Dark and Milk collection was inspired by the third runway controversy and a few thoughts on what might have been…

My novel Quarter Acre Block is inspired by our family’s experience of being Ten Pound Pommies.

21 thoughts on “Demolition and Development

  1. Heathrow experiences
    1. Arrive very early to avoid infamous waiting times to check in, to no avail. 2 hours later reach the desk, to be informed the flight is full. Ahead of my explosion, the attendant quickly jumps in with ‘So we’ve upgraded you to first class’.

    2. Arrive at Heathrow with my wife and take a cab to a nearby hotel. The fare is outrageous and the driver doesn’t bother to help with our bags in the pouring rain. Late that night my wife hears her younger brother is dying and has to fly home. In the morning we take a cab to the airport and the fare is half what we were charged the previous day. After a tearful farewell, I join the cab queue and who should be at the head but the sleazebag from the previous day. His face clouds in recognition. I have him drive me back to the hotel, tell him I have to get some cash from the cashpoint in the hotel lobby and never return.

    nearby hotel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s probably unlikely flights are overbooked in present times, but wearing smart clothes was supposed to increase your chances of being bumped up to business or first class. Heathrow black cabs were notorious and at one stage had traffic wardens and police supervising the ranks. Drivers always tried to avoid short fares – like going to hotels!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember going to the Queens Building to watch the planes. I hadn’t been on one at the time, so found the whole thing very exciting. Seems lame now!
    My last visit to Heathrow was in 2011, to catch a 6:05 BA flight to Prague. I had never seen Terminal Five before, and I was very impressed, especially as it was almost empty.
    As for the old barn, I fear it may be doomed. Remember what happened to the Firestone Factory? Illegally demolished ove a Bank Holiday weekend, when ‘nobody was looking’.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many loved going to the Queens Building Pete! I have not even been to Terminal Five – after all the years of chaos watching it being built, but our younger son worked there for a while ( one of his many jobs! ) in World Duty Free. It does sound like an improvement on the other terminals.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story, Janet and I love your inside perspective of working at the airport. You’d get some great stories working out there.
    I’ve only been to London once in 1992, flying in from memory from Amsterdam via Gatwick and I don’t remember much about that at all, except being met by my friend who was living there and bustled me through London to a hotel in Chelsea. It’s actually been about 13 years since i’ve caught a plane. Since we’ve had the kids, we’ve driven everywhere. We even drove down to Melbourne and put the car on the ferry to go to Tasmania. It would be nice to go on a flight with the kids, but it won’t be happening any time soon thanks to covid.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The only exception are hose who get pulled up for some reason, or worse, arrested. You might’ve heard of a very high profile case of Australian Shapelle Corby, who was caught in Bali with marijuana in her boogie board bag. We also watch a show called Airport Investigators. There’s always some one smuggling prohibited food into Australia on there.


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