Elmdon Terminal Building, Birmingham Airport


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
The Elmdon Building, Birmingham Airport Cargo, West Midlands, B26 3QN


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Statutory Address:
The Elmdon Building, Birmingham Airport Cargo, West Midlands, B26 3QN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Solihull (Metropolitan Authority)
Bickenhill and Marston Green
National Grid Reference:


The Elmdon Building, Birmingham Airport, of 1939 by Norman and Dawbarn.

Reasons for Designation

The Elmdon Building at Birmingham Airport, of 1939 by Norman and Dawbarn, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its striking Moderne design, a statement piece of 1930s architecture; * for the playful yet functional referencing of air travel in the design, notably the 'wings' to either side of the building; * for the degree of survival of notable design features and design overall.

Historic interest:

* as an example of the early development of civil aviation, as a purpose-built terminal building which also incorporates a control tower; * as an example of the work of Norman and Dawbarn, among the most prolific architects working on airport design during the 1930s.


In 1928, in response to national initiatives to increase Britain's provision of civil aerodromes, Birmingham City Council decided that the city should have a municipal airport and a committee was established to proceed with this. Little seems to have happened until 1931, when sites at Shirley, Elmdon and Aldridge were being considered. The committee visited Elmdon in June that year and were impressed with the site, but the Depression and the subsequent cuts in public expenditure meant that the plans had to be shelved. However, by the end of 1933 the scheme had been revived and a new Airport Committee was formed in 1934 to manage the establishment of the airport. One of its first actions was to arrange to visit a number of European airports thought to be successful designs. A 1934 memo from the City of Birmingham Engineer and Surveyors Department contains a list of the airports that the committee might wish to inspect. A trip took place in 1935 and visits to airports including Amsterdam, Berlin, Lyon, Paris, Brussels and London.

The airport committee was aware of the specialist nature of airport design and at its meeting on 8 January 1935 the clerk tabled a letter written to Messrs Norman, Muntz and Dawbarn inviting Mr Norman to attend the committee with a view to them becoming its expert advisers. The firm were subsequently appointed as advisers before also being appointed as architects for the project. Norman and Dawbarn had an established reputation for airport terminal design. In 1931 Graham Dawbarn (1893-1976) had won a bursary to travel around the United States of America to study American airports. His pilot for this journey of 8,000 miles was Sir (Henry) Nigel St Valery Dawbarn (1897-1943), known as Nigel Dawbarn. In 1932 Dawbarn wrote a report for the RIBA and on his return home designed the new 'Aero-Clubhouse' for Brooklands. In 1933 he formed a partnership with Norman and carried out airport work at Heston, Wolverhampton, Jersey, Manchester and Birmingham. Dawbarn's most famous work post-dates the death of his partner; BBC Television Centre, built 1953-60.

In 1933 the council authorised the compulsory purchase of 300 acres of land and a year later another 214 acres were similarly acquired. In 1936, a private bill presented by Birmingham Corporation passed through Parliament, providing for the acquisition of further land and the diversion of roads and footpaths to allow development. A short article in Flight magazine in May 1937 featured a photograph of the site at Elmdon, seven miles from the city centre, where the new airport was to be built. The City Engineer and Surveyor, the Public Works Department and a firm of aeronautical consultants, Norman and Dawbarn, set to work on ground preparation and drainage, designing the terminal and hangar buildings, and organising the layout of the airport.

A 1936 meeting at the offices of Norman and Dawbarn had discussed the development of ideas for the terminal building, and by this date the building's distinctive 'wings' seem to have been included in the design:

'With regard to the terminal building, the most notable departure from current practice is the provision of covered loading accommodation by means of hoods on either side of the terminal building, and two covered canopies on the elevation facing the landing area. This would provide an overhang of 50 feet over a length of 80 feet on each side, which should be sufficient to enable the loading and emptying of the largest type of passenger aircraft undercover.'

By January 1937, Norman and Dawbarn had been authorised to finalise the design drawings, which appear to have been completed by June 1937. In October that year Holst and Co. Ltd. were appointed for the reinforced concrete construction work, with Richard Crittall and Co. Ltd. for the panel heating system, and Henry Hall and Son Ltd. for the metal windows. The entire expenditure on the project would amount to around £360,000.

The airport was ready for traffic on 1 May 1939, and was officially opened by HRH the Duchess of Kent on 8 July 1939, who was joined by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, the Lord Mayor, Alderman J Crump, and the Airport Committee, led by Alderman AH James. From its opening, there were regular services to Croydon (with connections on to the continent), the Isle of Man, Belfast, Glasgow, Brisol (with connection to Dublin), Cardiff, Southampton (with connections to the Channel Islands), Liverpool, Manchester and Shoreham, with other destinations added soon afterwards.

The new terminal building at Elmdon was designed to be more than functional; it was to be an experience for passengers and spectators alike, with numerous facilities inside the building. At the end of the hall, facing passengers as they arrived, was a large mural painting with airline company offices and administration offices on the ground floor. At the mezzanine floor there was a gallery overlooking the hall, a public bar, tea lounge, restaurant and a balcony from which the whole aerodrome could be seen. The floor above this was reserved for airport staff with some accommodation, offices, meteorological department and the pilots' restroom, all accessed from staircases at the southern end of the building. The shell of the terminal building was of reinforced concrete, with remaining structure in brick. The roof was originally covered with light-reflecting tiles and insulated with cork. The entire terminal building was heated on the panel system by means of an electrical thermal storage plant in the basement.

When war broke out, the new airport was requisitioned by the Air Ministry and all civil flying ended. During the war, Elmdon was used as an Elementary Flying Training School for the RAF and Fleet Air Arm as well as for flight testing and as a delivery base for Stirling and Lancaster bombers. During the war, the Air Ministry built two hard runways. The airport reopened for civilian flying on 8 July 1946.

The terminal building was altered and extended in the second half of the C20, before its eventual replacement by a new terminal building in 1984. Following this the building was converted for office use. The extension that had been added to the south-west of the building has been removed, and internally a floor has been inserted which divides the previously double-height space. Much of the interior has been sub-divided with modern partitions.


The Elmdon Building, Birmingham Airport, of 1939 by Norman and Dawbarn.

MATERIALS: a reinforced concrete structure with brick and render.

PLAN: the building is orientated north-south, with a bowed northern end facing the airfield. To either side are large 'wings' projecting out to provide covered areas beneath.

EXTERIOR: the building is approached from the south where it has a tall, flat elevation with a central entrance beneath a balcony on thick concrete supports. The balcony retains its original handrail and terminates at each end in a spiral staircase with a stepped central post, originally with lamp, and cantilevered steps, with moulded profile to the underside. The entrance doors have been replaced but in the original opening; they are flanked above the balcony by full-height stair windows and a central feature of projecting Art Deco-style engaged columns with finials which step back above the parapet where there is a further recessed storey. Between these columns there is a coat of arms and a clock.

The side elevations are dominated by the projecting concrete 'wings' which originally provided a covered area for passengers boarding planes. These occupy the five central structural bays of each elevation and have glass lights set within the concrete to light the space below; these are now blocked on the east side. Above and below the wings are rows of windows. The northern end of the building is bowed, originally with balconies at each of the upper levels. The ground floor level has been extended and the upper two balconies infilled, all reflecting the bowed shape of the building. At fourth floor level, the original bowed control tower is set back and above this is the later control tower, thought to have been added in the late 1950s.

INTERIOR: the building has been altered and sub-divided with modern partitions to form office space since it ceased to be used as the airport's main terminal building. The main central concourse, originally double height, has had a floor inserted dividing ground and first floor levels and central corridors which form offices on either side. The original structural columns survive and show the extent of the original double-height space. Some original stairs survive at each end of the building; those to the south were for staff and have Moderne-style handrails with curving metal sections. The northern, public stairs, of which one survives, had bowed ends with open central sections and curved uprights, and were enclosed in places by walls of glass bricks. At least one section of glass brick wall survives at first floor level, although painted and partially covered, with an original door surround.

The upper floors retain some original parquet flooring, and it is likely that further areas remain underneath modern coverings. The former committee room at second floor level retains its original marble fireplace. At each level the structural columns survive which mark original extent of the bowed end of the building, with balconies beyond; these are now enclosed apart from at first floor level.


Books and journals
Brown, P, Birmingham Airport Through Time, (2017)
Cheater, BJ, Birmingham Airport: 40th Anniversary, 1939-1979, (1979)
Negus, G, Happy Landings! A Celebration of Birmingham International Airport plc, (1989)
Pearman, H, Airports: a Century of Architecture, (2004)
RIBA, , Airports and Airways, (1937)
Dawbarn, G, 'Some Aerodrome Buildings' in Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, (4.4.1936), 589-92
'Birmingham Airport', the Architect and Building News, 18 August 1939
Birmingham Archives WMCC/AB/1
Historic England Archive MD95/08405/PA Elmdon Airport Plan - BHM/0742


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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