And here’s something about Heathrow.

I’ve been involved in a little project lately to try to find something interesting to say about every station on the Underground. Here’s a little extract concerning Heathrow. This blog has been getting a bit too egotistical of late.

Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3

The origin of the name “Heathrow” is pretty obvious – it refers to a row of houses built on Hounslow Heath. Before the airport came along, this area was actually rather rural. The Heath, historically, was known as a bit of a lawless place, not somewhere for the unwary to traverse alone. A remnant of the bad old days, if you’re supernaturally inclined, can apparently be seen in Terminal 1 – being built upon the old Heath, it’s supposedly haunted by the ghost of none other than Dick Turpin.

Yr. Humble Author is inclined to be a little more sceptical than usual about this one, as Turpin is supposed to haunt at least two other places. I mean, I know he’s supposed to have got about a bit in life, but you’d think death would be a chance to relax a bit.

Another notorious character seen here was James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. He was arrested here in 1968, suspicion apparently being initially raised by his dodgy Canadian passport.

Heath Row itself, if you’re curious, no longer exists. It’s buried under Terminal 3 somewhere.

Heathrow Terminal 4

Heathrow Terminal 4 is one of the only stations on the system to consist of a single platform.

The aim of Terminal 4 changed partway through planning. The original idea was that it would be intended for short, commuter flights, for which that site was ideal. Unfortunately, it was then decided that the function of the terminal would be that British Airways, the national airline (or “flag carrier,” to use the technical term) for the UK. The site, needless to say, was terrible for this purpose and the result was a rubbish terminal that was neither one thing nor t’other when it opened in 1986.

British Airways would have more problems to deal with in the coming years. It was privatised in 1987 and, for the first time, faced serious competition. It didn’t take too kindly to this, resulting in a serious legal slap on the wrists following a notorious dirty tricks campaign against Virgin Atlantic. The net result of this was that in 1993, BA was forced to pay out £500,000 in damages to Richard Branson. You would think that this might have taught them a lesson, but no. That same year, former police officer John Gorman took action against the airline when he found broken glass in the brandy and Coke he had ordered. Three months later he was arrested for conspiracy to defraud British Airways and was accused by the airline of being a “Virgin stooge”. No charge was made, and Gorman claimed he then received an anonymous telephone call saying, “We’ll get you next time, arsehole.” His car was later broken into, and mysteriously the thieves had only taken material relating to British Airways. Planespotters, perhaps?

Gorman finally won the right to sue BA over his shoddy and frankly bizarre treatment in 1998 – five years later.

Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in the world, at least in terms of international passenger traffic. Current estimates put the number of annual users at 67 million. It’s come a long way from its starting point. An airfield has existed on the site since the First World War, and the current airport was begun as an RAF base during the Second with the intention of finishing off Japan. It was turned over to civilian use shortly after the War. The airport has been expanding ever since, and Terminal 5 is the most recent addition. After much delay, it finally opened in 2008. It is the largest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom.

There are, in fact, six terminals at Heathrow rather than the five you’d think of from looking at the Tube map. The sixth is exclusively for cargo and possibly the occasional stowaway.


Filed under 18th century, 20th Century, History, Hounslow, London, London Underground, Suburbia, Transport

3 responses to “And here’s something about Heathrow.

  1. gordon simpson

    Your story about British Airways and John Gorman omits the outcome of his law suit against BA, namely that the judge found his claim to be entirely fabricated and denied his case.

  2. Pedro Diaz

    Actually you’ll find that John Gorman’s ‘glass in the drink’ was dismissed, however BA settled out of court in relation to their harassment of John Gorman

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