Imperial Airways Empire Terminal

Imperial Airways Building SW1, originally uploaded by Jamie Barras.

Designed in 1938 by architect Albert Lakeman, the Empire Terminal is a rather striking Art Moderne structure built to facilitate intermodal passenger and freight transport for Imperial’s C-Class flying boat services around the globe.  The main entrance features the statue Speed Wings Over The World, by Eric R. Broadbent, as well as the winged insignia of Imperial Airways in bas-relief.

The terminal is a lengthy facility stretching from 157-197 Buckingham Palace Road (Westminster SW1), and was completed in 1939.  It is strategically located adjacent to major road and rail connections, lying across the street from Victoria Coach Station and backing onto the railheads leading into London Victoria train station.  This ideal situation allowed mail, freight and passengers to congregate at the Empire Terminal, then be shipped to Southampton via rail, where they would be loaded into the flying boats and dispatched to the far corners of the earth.

Despite the general decline of flying boats in the postwar era, Imperial’s successor companies—BOAC and British Airways—continued to operate the terminal into the late 20th century.  In this 1978 image, the British Airways tail flash is visible atop the terminal’s central clock tower. At some point, BA management sold off the terminal and consolidated its offices elsewhere.  I am a little hard-pressed to comprehend how BA could easily surrender such priceless architectural and corporate heritage—with its predecessor’s logo painstakingly wrought from the very stone above the entrance—to any other body, regardless of how worthy.  Although given the state of Ford’s original Model T plant in Highland Park, Detroit, I suppose I should not be surprised by a company’s tone-deafness to their own rich history.

Today, the Empire Terminal is home to the UK’s National Audit Office, an independent parliamentary body that reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

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One Response
  1. Toby says:

    I am the photographer who took the picture of the “Speed Wings over the World” statue your article links to. Good article and well done for finding that 1978 photo of the building, I hadn’t seen that before.