Only about 20 minutes from Bookham at Weybridge is Brooklands – you may know it as a local Tesco but you must also have seen the remains of the banking of the old car race track. It was ‘the Home of British Motorsport and Aviation’ and on the site is Brooklands Museum. It was built in 1906/7 in a staggering 9 months by wealthy local landowner Hugh Locke-King (whose family home nowadays is part of Brooklands Technical College) at a personal cost in 1906 money of £150,000, equivalent to millions today. The object was to build a motor circuit where cars could be tested and raced away from public roads. It was an instant success. Drivers and their cars were weighed in as in a horse race and originally wore horse racing colours. Large cars such as Napiers and Bentleys raced at high speeds along the top of the famous Members Banking and smaller, not so fast cars raced at the bottom of the banking. Most races were based on handicaps. Cars were tested on the famous 1 in 4 Test Hill which is in regular use today for car club etc event days.
All this was the beginning of motor sport in this country where speed, record breaking and glamour soon caught the fashion. The crowds flocked to Brooklands, many walking the short distance from Weybridge station to a tunnel which still exists under the Members Banking and into the circuit. Visitors can today walk along a good stretch of the Members Banking where cars regularly raced at speeds well over 120mph.
It was the heyday of the British sports car – names like Bentley, Aston Martin, Frazer Nash, MG, Morgan and Riley abounded. Brooklands was the place to be and attracted large crowds. Famous racing drivers such as John Cobb, the Hon Brian Lewis, Tim Birkin and Sir Malcolm Campbell enthralled spectators. It was the era of goggles, leather helmets and young ladies who answered to the name of ‘Bunty’.
Meanwhile back in 1909 a young man by name of AV Roe made the first powered flight from Brooklands – a name that many are perhaps more familiar nowadays as Avro who built the Lancaster and latterly the Vulcan nuclear bomber. And so aviation at Brooklands was borne.
Vickers, latterly the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and on to British Aerospace and now BAe Systems was founded at Brooklands. Legendary aircraft were designed and built there, the Vickers Viking, Viscount (the world’s first turbo prop passenger aircraft), Vanguard, VC10, BAC1-11 and finally major parts of the Concorde. All these aircraft are usually open for inspection with the (ex sales demo) Concorde being fully open to the public in July this year. Also on display is the only Wellington bomber left which saw action (and rescued from Loch Ness in 1987) which was designed by Sir Barnes Wallis and of which thousands were built at Brooklands. Wallis also designed the famous ‘bouncing bombs’ as used in the Dam Busters raid and is now buried in Effingham churchyard. Thousands of Hawker Hurricanes were built on site one of which is on display having been rescued from Russia!
Today Brooklands is a magnificent time warp – a walk back in history with the 1907 clubhouse at the centre now surrounded by a number of large modern office blocks with firms such as Proctor & Gamble, Sony making it their headquarters site. The Museum is seeking to raise some £14m over the next few years for a number of big restoration projects. The WW2 runway has been taken up and a grass runway is being laid for use by light aircraft – both modern and vintage – in time for the Brooklands Centenary in June 2007 when big celebrations are being planned.
If you have not been to Brooklands – come and have a look. It’s open 7 days a week from 10am. Ring 01932 857381 for details or visit the Brooklands website – www.brooklandsmuseum.com . Details about becoming a Friend of Brooklands Museum can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org