SEN Airport Terminal

By the mid-2000s, Southend Airport was facing something of a bleak future. Movements were on the low side and any expansion plans looked as though they would be rejected primarily due to the proximity of an historically important, grade-one listed church close to the main runway and of course, the hysterical scaremongering of a miniscule, yet vociferous minority of local protesters. However by 2008, the airport had been taken over by the Stobart Group who thankfully managed to overcome most of these issues and would during the following decade, go on to turn SEN into a modern airport replete with a lengthened runway, a new control tower and a large, very futuristic looking international terminal.

Needless to say, this left the topic of this page – Southend’s original terminal and its associated buildings – somewhat redundant and for a short period, the future of the main terminal seemed uncertain. However, such an obvious asset would eventually become part of Stobart’s plans to turn SEN into a successful regional airport as you will see below. That being said, it is likely the history of the original terminal that is of more interest to the average SEN enthusiast. Suffice to say, since the 1950s it has gone through a number of substantial changes and in many ways, its evolution would eventually see it being comprised of four structures, three of these being extensions of the very first terminal.

Below you will find basic, top view drawings of the terminal’s development. Please note that for the sake of brevity, all outbuildings and minor extensions have been omitted while the drawings are intended to be a rough guide only and are not to scale.

 

1950 Terminal

SEN’s new terminal just visible to the far right of the two Bellman hangars

While having been based at Southend for more than a year, SEN’s primary operator East Anglian Flying Services had been offering mostly private pleasure flights with their single engined types, although the company’s single Miles Aerovan would on occasion fly the odd charter to and from the Continent, passing through Lympne each time to clear customs. However, it was from January 1948 onwards that E.A.F.S. would invest in a small fleet of Dominies which were converted into Dragon Rapides and then subsequently put into service flying a small number of domestic routes which included an associate service for B.E.A. between Rochester and Southend.

Come May 1949, E.A.F.S. had signed yet another agreement with B.E.A. to transport passengers between Southend and Ostend while freight flights were also on the increase, one of which saw L.E.P. regularly chartering textile flights between Southend and Lille. Thus in the very same month, an H.M. Customs & Excise office was opened at Southend which in turn saw the number of flights arriving at SEN increase exponentially. Obviously, with operations to and from the airport clearly on the up, something needed to be done and by 1950 a new gable roofed terminal had been erected on the grassy viewing area between the E.A.F.S. Bellman and S.M.F.S. hangars.

 

1954 A.T.C. Tower

It was in 1954 that SEN got its first purpose built tower which was constructed to the east of the main terminal building, replete with the E.K.C.O. designed A.R.A.A. radar and dish, the latter of which is clearly perched on top. At this time, a G.C.A. (talk down landing system) was prohibitively expensive not to mention rather bulky, so airport manager Bernard Collins sought the help of local electronics company E.K. Cole who were at the time producing radios, transmitters and radars for aircraft. A radar from a Hawker Hunter was eventually developed into an effective approach system which proved to be so good, that it remained in service until the late-80s. You can read a rather humorous story about it here.

 

1955/1956 Terminal

By 1955, airport movements had increased substantially and the decision was taken to improve and expand SEN’s terminal. Thus, the original terminal was extended outwards onto the airside apron. This extension included a new H.M. Customs and baggage area, a waiting lounge and bar/lounge area while landside opposite the terminal, a new petrol station and 100 space parking lot were constructed. As can be seen on the terminal plan below, there were also two areas reserved for what were known as ‘Water Guard’ flights. At this time, Air Charter was flying numerous trooping flights to Cyprus and sometimes to the Middle East on behalf of the M.o.S. and as a result of this, all military personnel, their weapons and their luggage would pass through these areas to undergo customs checks as required by law.

It was also during the winter of 1955/1956 that SEN would finally cease being an airfield and transform into an airport with the laying of two, concrete/soil mix, stabilised runways which would permit not only year round use, but would also allow larger and heavier aircraft to use Southend. While these new improvements were no doubt used before hand, the runways and the upgraded terminal were officially opened during May 1956.

 

1955 to 1962 Car-Ferry Terminal/Unit

It was during 1955 that the ‘Air Bridge’ car-ferry flights to Calais and (from October) Ostend witnessed their first successful year and thus in an attempt to ease the transition from landside to airside a new timber clad, two bay car-ferry unit was constructed. It was here that vehicles and their contents were examined by customs officers before being being driven out onto the aircraft by SEN’s aircraft loaders. These bays were built next to the western end of the main terminal where a car ferry office, a waiting room and passenger access to the terminal were also provided. However, as the car-ferry era later went into decline, the landside entrances were eventually blocked up and by the 1980s (or possibly even before this) it was being used as a baggage loading shed and storage area for aircraft seats. This shed was finally pulled down during the 1995 renovations.

The three storey car-ferry unit however fared much better. With car-ferry services doing a roaring trade by the early-60s especially now as the five car Carvairs were starting to enter service, a larger building was needed to deal with the large influx of both families and individuals that wished to cross the Channel along with their vehicles. So around 1962, what was for many years the tallest building on the airport was erected to the west of the car-ferry bays and subsequently became home to a number of SEN companies who now had a good number of administrative offices from which they could work from. However, by the mid-1970s the ferry era was over, although what would later come to be known as Viscount House still stands to this day and is still believed to be used by an assortment of local companies and possibly for airport administration purposes.

 

1960 to 1966 Terminal

It was during this period that the SEN terminal building would witness its last major round of improvements and with the exception of a few minor facelifts, it would in effect retain the same appearance for the next 20 years or so. It seems however that the terminal was further developed in two stages. The landside area was the first to be modified around 1959/1960. Opposite the landside frontage of the terminal a single story building had been constructed with an access road passing between them. This building was then incorporated into the new terminal with a roof and side walls later being constructed to bridge the gap between them. Meanwhile, another single story addition was built onto the airside frontage of the western half of the 1955/1956 extension at around the same time. Some may wonder why the old, original terminal was not simply replaced, however rumour has it that a capped gas main existed beneath this building and thus the foundations could not be disturbed.

Then in 1962, SEN finally got a new timber panelled control tower which matched the three storey car-ferry building that later went on to be named Viscount House during the BAF era. In the same year, a viewing deck or waving off terrace, bar and stairwell were built on top of the far eastern corner of the 1955/1956 extension more or less next to the new A.T.C. tower. However, construction would not end here and sometime between 1964 and 1966, the western half of the 1955/1956 terminal section that faced airside was partially endowed with a second floor.

The shot below captured during the early-80s quite succinctly shows the various stages of terminal construction. Taken from the A.T.C. tower, the roof nearest to the viewer is that of the former second floor bar and stairwell, the latter of which led up to the popular viewing deck. Behind this to the far left, a small portion of the flat roofed 1959/1960 extension can be seen, while moving to the left is the original, gable roofed terminal. Moving further to the right behind the viewing deck is the additional second floor that was built some time during the mid-60s. Finally, to the left of this is the second, partial extension that was built at around the same time as the 1959/1960 landside extension.

 

1962 A.T.C. Tower

Still a familiar sight at Southend to this very day is Southend’s former control tower which was in use from c.1962 until 2010 when it was finally replaced by the new, much taller tower on the eastern perimeter. By 1962, the decision had been taken to knock the original tower down and replace it with a more modern structure that was also sympathetic to both the terminal’s and the air ferry unit’s brown wooden cladding. Somewhat curiously though, despite the large ATEL hangars having gone up more than a year earlier, the tower was placed in a position that led to the 06 end of the runway being obscured from view. Whether this was merely an oversight or that there was no other suitable place to position the tower is unknown, although this issue was alleviated somewhat by the installation of a C.C.T.V. monitor, the camera of which was initially placed on the western end of the B.K.S. hangar.

 

1986/1987 Terminal

This period would witness the entire airside section of the airport terminal undergoing a program of modernising renovations which transformed it into a, two tone blue, fascia clad building. The work itself was undertaken by Vic Hallam and during this period some temporary buildings were erected on stand 2 & 3 to replace those areas of the terminal that could at the time, not be used. Unfortunately though, during this period both the popular viewing deck and the upper bar area were removed although admittedly, the terminal now looked much more welcoming to arriving passengers. Further developments saw the removal of the extruding western extension, this initially being used as the departure lounge and later as a restaurant. This had the effect of flattening the front of the entire terminal while the offset and rather awkward looking, western second floor was also removed and rebuilt in a central position. Where the landside frontage was concerned, minor changes saw the closure of the eastern entrance and a new sign over the main doors.

1995 Terminal

With British Airports International finally relinquishing control of SEN to Regional Airports Ltd in 1993, this privately owned company eventually set to work revitalising the airport in an attempt to reverse the losses that it had been making prior to their purchase of it. By this time, many of the aircraft that passed through SEN arrived for engineering purposes or were carrying out freight charters and cargo work, so with few passenger services operating from the airport, the decision was taken to make a number of major changes to the terminal building.

During the early months of 1995, the landside extension that had been constructed around 1960 was removed in its entirety while what was in effect the original 1948/1949 terminal was completely renovated and brought up to date to match the blue, airside facing section. The picture below shows the much of the original terminal building and the 1959/1960 landside extension as it was prior to the latter being demolished. As of 2017, the old terminal has been completely renovated internally and is now known as the Stobart Jet Centre which offers a full range of executive facilities to visiting Bizjet crews and passengers such as corporate clients, celebrities and other V.I.P.s. Connecting helicopter services to Central London are also provided.

A final view of the old landside sections of the terminal taken just prior to their removal in 1995.

 

With many thanks to Ian Anderson, Brian Mells, Jim Brazier, Russell Search, Graham Jennings, Tony Curtis & Chris Winch for helping with info for this page

 

Do you have any other, interesting snippets of information about SEN’s terminal history or indeed any pictures that you would like to share? If so, then please contact us on saadinfomail@gmail.com

Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.