Ever wondered how our London airport’s came to be named, or the meaning of the names they have been given? Some take the name of their location or local village, others from Anglo-Saxon definitions. Let’s take a look at six of London’s finest.
Two names of London’s airports are linked with the RAF. Biggin Hill – take a map dated a century ago and we doubt you’d be able to find it because it was no more than a farm that sat next to an ancient settlement called Aperfield. The RAF move in, take the farm as their base and playing an extremely important role in World War II, which led to not only the farm being renamed but also the village itself! The other airport in London with the RAF connection is, of course, RAF Northolt which also handles private civil flights. The ancient name of Northolt is recorded in the Domesday Book as Northala, and is also mentioned in the 10th century Nord Healum. The name is also associated with Northala Fields – a range of artificial mounds that were created from the old Wembley Stadium rubble.
The change of name for the newest London airport, London City Airport in the Royal Docks was more of a practical one – London Formerly Derelict Maritime Infrastructure Airport just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well. But Southend – ok, an old airport but the newest to be officially designated as one of London’s international airports – has a much more literal translation… Southend was the ‘south end’ of a little village known as Prittlewell!
Two London airports actually located outside of London are Stansted and Luton. Although Stansted was simply named after the next-door village of Stansted Mountfitchet, the name itself originates from the Saxons and means ‘stoney place’ – many years later, the airport’s acres of concrete and tarmac become quite apt! And just in case you were wondering, Mountfitchet comes from the land owner William de Mountfitchet who founded Stratford Langthorne Abbey in 1135 and made his mark on London’s tube map – just think Abbey Road DLR station! The name of Luton also orginates from the Saxons and means ‘town on the Lea’; the River Lea, which runs through to the Thames. It is believed that Luton has one of the oldest names as Lea could be derived from the Celts.
And that brings us to the UK’s two largest airports – Heathrow and Gatwick. Heathrow’s name is simple; starting out as a small, grassy airfield in the hamlet of Heathrow, which was first recorded as La Hetherewe in 1410, was just a row of houses on a heath. Now one of the largest, busiest airports worldwide, how many people would rather go back to the 1930s when the airport first opened? And that leaves Gatwick; in Anglo-Saxon times, a landlocked place, i.e. a market or trading settlement, was depicted by a ‘wick’ of ‘wich’ on the end of a place name – it is amusing to learn that Gatwick could be the Anglo-Saxon definition for ‘goat farm’! This isn’t a definitive definition, I’m afraid, as the name wasn’t recorded until 1241 when the ‘de Gatwicks’ were in control of the area, and long after the Normal conquest.