The land on the banks of the River Mersey has been a place for aviators to land and take off almost since the beginning of powered flight. Built in part of the grounds of Speke Hall, Liverpool, Speke Airport, as the airport was originally known, started scheduled flights in 1930 with a service by Imperial Airways via Barton Aerodrome near Eccles, Manchester and Castle Bromwich Aerodrome Birmingham to Croydon Airport near London. The airport was officially opened in mid-1933.
By the late 1930s, air traffic from Liverpool was beginning to take off with increasing demand for Irish Sea crossings, and a distinctive passenger terminal, control tower and two large aircraft hangars were built.
During World War II, the airport was taken over by the Royal Air Force and known as RAF Speke. Rootes built many bombers in a "shadow factory" here, including Bristol Blenheims and 1,070 Handley Page Halifaxes. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation assembled many types, including Hudsons and Mustangs, that had been shipped from the United States to Liverpool Docks. The airport was also home to the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. Wartime also saw the construction of three concrete runways to cater for the faster and heavier aircraft required to use them. However, requisitioning by the Air Ministry meant that the airport fell into civil service hands and Liverpool Corporation did not take back control of the Airport until 1961, by which time rival Manchester Airport, which had resisted requisition, had grown to become the main airport for the North West.
|Speke Airport 1963|
Liverpool Corporation invested heavily in Speke Airport during the Sixties and built a new runway on the far side of Speke Hall. This new runway allowed modern jet aircraft to fly from Liverpool but the expected increase in traffic did not materialise and twenty years were to pass before there was to be any futher significant investment. As a result Manchester airport went from strength to strength.
However, in 1986, the southern apron was opened, followed by the construction of a new southern terminal. Architecturally, the new terminal was inferior to the Art Deco masterpiece it replaced but in aviation terms it slashed taxiing distances and made flying from Liverpool far more economical. Passenger numbers remained static at around half a million per annum for several years, but in 1990, the local authority decided to sell the airport and British Aerospace, took control. The new owners announced ambitious plans for the creation of the largest private sector airport in the world, aiming for an eventual passenger throughput of 40 million per annum. Feasibility studies for the expansion, which would have involved a second runway in the Mersey Estuary, were carried out but plans were scaled back to a more modest 12 million. The revised plan included, expanded terminal facilities, car parks, hotels and cargo facilities on the old Northern Airfield. The main feature was the realignment of a runway, which was to be rotated clockwise about its western end onto an east-west alignment. The purpose of this was to free up space for terminal development, allow for a runway extension and move the flight path from over Hale Village. The former Northern Terminal was bought by Neptune Developments, in 2000, they refurbished and extended the building to form the Marriott Hotel Liverpool South (later to become the Crowne Plaza).
Subsequently the airport has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Holdings Ltd. In 2000, work on a £42.5 million passenger terminal began, tripling its size and passenger capacity, completed in 2002. There have since been further extensions. Destinations served are throughout Europe, 2002 saw the airport being renamed in honour of John Lennon, a founding member of The Beatles, 22 years after Lennon's death. A 7 ft (2.1 m) tall bronze statue was installed which stands overlooking the check-in hall. On the roof is painted the airport's motto, a line from Lennon's song "Imagine": "Above us, only sky".'
2010 saw construction work proceed on a £12 million upgrade of the security and retail area within the airport. This work was needed to increase security provision and thereby reduce queuing time and included moving most retail activities airside and increasing the sales area.
Liverpool Central Library
Robert F Edwards