Gatwick Airport began life as the Surrey Aero Club in 1930. In 1932 the club was bought by Morris Jackman who wanted to turn it into a commercial airport. He eventually persuaded a small airline operating domestic and international services to transfer from its Essex airport. He also needed a terminal building and following a chance conversation with his father the idea of a circular building was conceived.
The terminal was completed in the spring of 1936. Not only was it the first circular airport passenger terminal in the world but it also achieved a patent on account of the moving parts; the telescopic canopies which radiated out from the terminal to the aircraft. In addition, the Southern Railway had opened an airport station on the Victoria - Brighton line in September 1935 and this was linked to the terminal by a 130 yard long tunnel so visitors to the airport could remain undercover from the time they left London Victoria until the time they boarded an aircraft.
Scheduled services began from the new terminal in May 1936 with the transfer of the London services of British Airways Ltd.
During the 1939-45 war, the airport was requisitioned for the RAF, the terminal building becoming the Station Headquarters of various Army Co-operation and other squadrons. It was during the war years that the building became known as the ‘Beehive’. Gatwick was in the Kenley Sector of No. 11 Group Fighter Command.
When Gatwick was decommissioned in 1946 the future of the aerodrome remained in doubt. The government decided to operate Gatwick as a charter airport for an experimental 6 months and in 1952 they approved the development of Gatwick as an additional airport to serve the capital with a new terminal to the north on the site of the old Gatwick Racecourse which had opened in 1891 and closed in 1940. When Gatwick was re-opened in 1958, the Beehive found itself cut off from the main airport by the re-routed A23 road. Gatwick Airport Station closed on 28th May 1958 and was a replaced by a new station on the site of the old Gatwick Racecourse station a mile to the north.
It was not until 1996, just after the building celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, that its architectural importance was finally recognised by listing. When British Airways franchise operator, GB Airways, needed to relocate offices and control centre, BAA decided to bring the building back into modern-day use. At the same, BAA spent over £1m in conservation and enhancements of the building which was officially re-opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on 1st December 2000. The Beehive was subsequently sold to GB Airways.
As the main entrance to the building had been through the tunnel a new entrance had to be created. The stairway up from the tunnel is still there, as are some 20 meters of the tunnel itself, which has been renovated to give a glimpse of the 1930s flying experience.
Members of Subterranea Britannica visited the tunnel in September 1995. Entrance was down a flight of steps from the ground floor of the terminal building. At that time the tunnel was unused and very wet. There was lighting but most of the lights at the eastern end were no longer working. Close to a bend in the middle a heavy beam had been placed across the tunnel, presumably as the walls were becoming unstable at that point. At the eastern end a stairway up to the station was blocked near the top. The overgrown station platforms were still intact at this time but have subsequently been demolished.