The millions of people whose lives are blighted by the roaring din of night flights to Heathrow have been recognised as victims since the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the flights of which there are some 5,800 a year breach the human right to sleep.

The Government isnt obliged to act on the ruling, but it will be a moral outrage if it doesnt.

For Heathrow, the busiest airport in the world, is the result of one of the most callous political con-tricks in British history.

The story starts in 1919 when the Fairey Aviation Co bought 150 acres in the rural hamlet of Heathrow for a flight testing airfield to serve its factory in Hayes.

It wasnt a blot on the landscape because it had no concrete runways and only a few test flights.

Indeed, it was a welcome attraction, hosting events for the Royal Aeronautical Society, and giving local people the thrill of seeing planes at close quarters.

The idyll ended with World War Two. The Defence of the Realm Act empowered the Government to seize land without compensation or right of appeal if deemed necessary to the war effort.

Thus in 1944, with no prior warning or consultation, the Fairey Company lost its Heathrow airfield on the grounds that it was needed by Transport Command to fly men and supplies to the Far East.

But it was never used by the RAF, and in later years Harold Balfour, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Air from 1938 to 1945, admitted that his true motive had been to hi-jack the airport for civil use after the war.

He described how he and fellow conspirators, including Lord Beaverbrook, deliberately misled the Government into requisitioning 2,800 acres in and around Heathrow under its wartime powers.

In peacetime, he explained, such a move would have been impossible.

The Fairey Company never recovered from its eviction.

Neither did the people forced from their homes, farms and smallholdings.


Many were from families who had lived in the Heathrow area for generations or, in some cases, centuries, and they were devastated.

They got short shrift. The Air Ministry tried to get local authorities and the Ministry of Health (which was responsible for housing at that time) to find new homes.

But they were fully stretched in accommodating people made homeless by bombs. Eventually the Heathrow villagers were put into properties adjoining the airport at Heston. Landowners were treated even more harshly and their compensation, paid years later, was well below true market values.

An atomic bomb dropped at Heathrow could spread devastation more widely than the construction of an airport on this spot, mourned the Middlesex Advertiser.

Since then, Heathrow has demanded ever more space. Hence its hunger for a fifth terminal.

A public inquiry into the scheme began in 1995 and became the longest inquiry in British history.

If the building materialises, it will occupy a huge area west of Heathrow on what is now the site of Perry Oaks sewage treatment plant, and increase the annual number of passengers to 84 million.

Meanwhile, theres talk of a third runway. Protesters have warned that if all the airport expansion plans get the go-ahead, it would mean the demolition of the villages of Sipson, Harmondsworth, Longford and Harlington, together with 5,500 houses and two 12th century churches.

The authorities say this wont happen. But local residents, with their long experience of Heathrows insatiable hunger, fear that it will eventually.

Most passengers only use the airport occasionally. Its huge environmental effect is not their concern, and they know nothing of the history beneath those giant terminals, runways and the neighbouring hotels.

The heart of the ancient Heathrow hamlet was roughly where Terminal 3 is now.

The airports first hotel, Skyways, was built on the site of Bedford Lodge, a Georgian house in a beautiful garden.

The Ariel Hotel replaced the 18th century Coach and Horses. Lovely old Ash Cottage was demolished to make way for the Ibis Hotel; and the former Post House Hotel, to the rage of the local community, was built in the heart of the Green Belt between Harlington and Harmondsworth.

An hotel standing about 120 feet high would do no violence to any part of the M4 or its surroundings, was the breathtaking conclusion of a government inspector, recommending the hotel be allowed.

Other fine old landmarks sacrificed to tarmac included Perry Oaks Farm, noted for its fruit, the mission hall, the Plough and Harrow Inn, Philips Market Garden, Heathrow Hall, with its magnificent cedar of Lebanon on the lawn, Heathrow Farm, Perrotts Farm and some beautiful Tudor cottages.

But the main feature of the area, say former residents, was its utter peace and quiet!

By.June Sampson