Brooklands was a 2.75-mile (4.43 km) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England. It opened in 1907, and was the world's first purpose-built motorsport venue, as well as one of Britain's first airfields, which also became Britain's largest aircraft manufacturing centre by 1918. The circuit hosted its last race in 1939, and today part of it forms the Brooklands Museum, a major aviation and motoring museum, as well as a venue for vintage car, motorcycle and other transport-related events.
The Brooklands circuit was the brainchild of Hugh Locke-King, and was opened on 17 June 1907 as the first purpose-built banked motor race circuit in the world. Following the Motor Car Act 1903, Britain was subject to a blanket 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit on public roads: at a time when nearly 50% of the planet's new cars were produced in France, there was a concern that Britain's infant auto-industry would be hampered by the inability to undertake sustained high speed testing.
Apparently drawing inspiration from the development at Brooklands, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built soon afterwards and held its inaugural race in August 1909.
Requirements of speed and spectator visibility led to the Brooklands track being built as a 100 ft (30 m) wide, 2.75 miles (4.43 km) long, banked oval. The banking was nearly 30 feet (9 m) high in places. In addition to the oval, a bisecting "Finishing Straight" was built, increasing the track length to 3.25 miles (5.23 km), of which 1.25 miles (2.01 km) was banked. It could host up to 287,000 spectators in its heyday.
Owing to the complications of laying tarmacadam on banking, and the expense of laying asphalt, the track was built in uncoated concrete. This led in later years to a somewhat bumpy ride, as the surface suffered differential settlement over time.
Along the centre of the track ran a dotted black line, known as the Fifty Foot Line. By driving over the line, a driver could theoretically take the banked corners without having to use the steering wheel.
24 hour event
In June 1907, eleven days after the circuit opened, it played host to the world's first 24 hour motor event, with Selwyn Edge leading three specially converted Napier cars around the circuit. A statement of intent had been made in 1906, and Selwyn Edge entered into a physical training program to prepare for the event. His car, "804" was extensively modified, having a special fuel tank, bodywork removed, and a special windscreen. Over 300 red railway lamps were used to light the track during the night. Flares were used to mark the upper boundary of the track. Edge drove his car for the full duration, with the drivers of the other two cars (Henry C. Tryon/A. F. Browning and F. Draper/Frank Newton) taking the more familiar shift approach. One of S. F. Edge's leading drivers, Miss Dorothy Levitt, was refused entry despite having been the 'first English-woman to compete in a motor race' in 1903, and holding the 'Ladies World Land Speed Record'. Women were not allowed to compete for several years. Edge completed 2545 km at an average 106.06 km/h, a record which stood for 17 years. The first standard race meeting would be held the next week, on 6th July.
George E. Stanley broke the one hour record at Brooklands race track on a Singer motorcycle in 1912, becoming the first ever rider of a 350 cc motorcycle to cover over 60 miles (97 km) in an hour.
The world record for the first person to cover 100 miles (160 km) in 1 hour was set by Percy E. Lambert at Brooklands, on 15 February 1913 when driving his 4.5 litre sidevalve Talbot. He actually covered 103 miles, 1470 yards (167.1 km) in 60 minutes. A contemporary film of his exploits on that day can be viewed at the Brooklands Museum.
During World War I, Brooklands closed to motor racing and was requisitioned by the War Office. Vickers Aviation Ltd set up a factory in 1915, and Brooklands soon became a major centre for the construction, testing and supply of military aeroplanes.
Motor racing resumed in 1920 after extensive track repairs and Grand Prix motor racing was established at Brooklands in 1926 by Henry Segrave, after his victories in the 1923 French Grand Prix and the San Sebastián Grand Prix the following year raised interest in the sport in Britain. This first British Grand Prix was won by Louis Wagner and Robert Sénéchal, sharing the drive in a Delage 155B. The second British Grand Prix was staged there in 1927 and these two events resulted in improved facilities at Brooklands.
In 1930, the Daily Herald offered a trophy for the fastest driver at an event at Brooklands. The first year, Birkin and Don Kaye competed in opposing Bentley Blower tourers, with Kaye winning with a speed of 137.58 miles per hour (221.41 km/h). In 1932, Birkin won driving his red "Monoposto" Bentley Blower No.1, clocking 137.96 miles per hour (222.03 km/h). The track record stood for two years, before being beaten by John Cobb driving the 24 litre Napier-Railton, which holds the all-time lap record at 143.44 mph (230.84 km/h).
During the late 1930s, Brooklands also hosted massed start cycle racing events organised by the National Cyclists' Union (as the sport's governing body, the NCU banned such events from public roads). In 1939, it was used as a location for the Will Hay film, Ask a Policeman.
When World War II broke out in 1939, motor racing ceased and the site was turned over to war-time production of military aircraft. Some of the track was damaged during this time by enemy bombing and a new access road to the Hawker factory was cut through from Oyster Lane. Other sections were also covered by temporary dispersal hangars. Racing returned to Brooklands for one day in 2009 when the track was recreated in full-scale for a slot-car race, as part of a television show.
Brooklands also became one of Britain's first airfields. In 1908 it witnessed the first taxiing and towed flight trials of a British full-size powered aircraft by a British pilot, Alliott Verdon-Roe. In the summer of 1910, Hilda Hewlett and Gustave Blondeau opened Britain's first flying school at Brooklands. Hewlett and Blondeau also started their aircraft manufacturing company, Hewlett & Blondeau Limited, on site before moving to larger premises at Leagrave, Bedfordshire. Vickers opened a flying school on 20 January 1912 and among its first instructors were R. Harold Barnwell and Archie Knight; 77 pupils including Hugh Dowding were taught to fly until the school closed in August 1914. In February 1912, Thomas Sopwith opened his Sopwith School of Flying and, that June, Sopwith, with several others, set up the Sopwith Aviation Company here, although their main premises were at Kingston upon Thames. Other aviation pioneers came to Brooklands before World War One including Prince Serge de Bolotoff who tried to build a large tandem triplane in a shed there in 1913. Blériot, Martinsyde, and Vickers also later produced military aeroplanes at Brooklands which became Britain's largest aircraft manufacturing centre by 1918. Many flying schools operated here before 1914 and the aerodrome became a major flying training centre between the wars.
Brooklands Aviation Ltd was formed in 1931 as a holding company to operate the aerodrome, and commissioned British airport architect Graham Dawbarn to design the Art Deco Brooklands Aero Clubhouse, which opened in May 1932. The company also operated the resident Brooklands School of Flying, as well as those at Lympne, Shoreham and Sywell Aerodromes in the later 1930s. The original pre-WW1 Brooklands Aero Club was re-formed by the BARC in May 1930 with Percy Brad,ey as Manager and the Brooklands Flying Club was established by Brooklands Aviation in early 1933. Brooklands Aviation won a War Department contract for pilot training for the Royal Air Force. and opened No. 6 Elementary Flying Training School at Sywell on 10 June 1935, training pilots with a fleet of 20 de Havilland Tiger Moths, and in 1937 the RAF Volunteer Reserve School was set up at Sywell with a further 16 training aircraft. During WW2, Brooklands Aviation became a contractor to the Civilian Repair Organisation, repairing various types of damaged aircraft, particularly Vickers Wellingtons. After ending its RAF flying training in 1946, the company diversified and built plywood and GRP cabin cruiser boats designed by Alan Eckford, until 1974.
In World War II, the site was again used for military aircraft production, in particular the Vickers Wellington, Vickers Warwick and Hawker Hurricane and was extensively camouflaged. Trees were also planted in some sections of the concrete Track to help conceal the Hawker and Vickers aircraft factories there. Despite these efforts, the Vickers factory was successfully bombed by the Luftwaffe and extensively damaged on 4 September 1940 with nearly 90 aircraft workers killed and at least 419 injured. The Hawker factory premises were also bombed and damaged two days later, but with no loss of life or serious disruption to Hurricane production. On 21 September 1940, Lt John MacMillan Stevenson Patton of the Royal Canadian Engineers risked his life when he and five others manhandled an unexploded German bomb away from the Hawker aircraft factory at Brooklands and rolled it into an existing bomb crater where it later exploded harmlessly - his bravery was subsequently recognised by the award of the George Cross. The crucial role of Brooklands in the Battle of Britain of 1940 is now explained in an exhibition at Brooklands Museum.
After the war, the circuit was in poor condition and it was sold to Vickers-Armstrongs in 1946 for continued use as an aircraft factory. New aircraft types including the Viking, Valetta, Varsity, Viscount, Vanguard and VC10 were subsequently, designed, manufactured and delivered from there.
In 1951, construction of a new hard runway required a section of the motor circuit's famous Byfleet Banking to be removed to allow Vickers Valiant V bombers to be flown out to nearby Wisley aerodrome which offered a longer runway and less built-up surroundings than Brooklands. This airfield opened as a flight test centre for Vickers in 1944 and used until 1972 (latterly by the BAC).
After considerable expansion with increasing commercial success in the 1950s, the Vickers factory expanded to its peak size in the early 1960s in preparation for the VC10 manufacturing programme and became a major part of the new British Aircraft Corporation in 1960. Substantial investment in the site at this time saw many new buildings constructed and also existing premises modified. First, in the mid-1950s, came a new assembly hall for the Vickers Viscount known as 'B.1' (presumably as it consisted of a number of standard war-time B.1 type hangars re-used (together with some T.2 hangars too) and rebuilt as one long double bay structure parallel to the runway. A large new 60,378 sq ft VC10 flight shed hangar was ready to house the prototype VC10 airliner by 1962 and a second even larger (98,989 sq ft) flight shed was added alongside this by 1964. The latter was probably the largest aircraft hangar in Europe at the time and became known locally as 'The Cathedral' hangar while the smaller shed was called 'The Abbey'. The huge factory at Brooklands went on to design and build the BAC TSR.2, One-Eleven and major assemblies for Concorde. Unfortunately, the Labour government's cancellation of TSR-2 in 1965 and the disappointing lack of significant orders for VC10s and Concorde saw the factory contract from the early 1970s; it became part of the newly-formed British Aerospace in 1977 and finally closed in 1988-89, although BAE Systems still retain a logistics centre there today.
In 1987, Brooklands Museum Trust was formed with Sir Peter G Masefield as Chairman, and began to record, research, preserving and interpret all aspects the site's heritage. The Museum project began after a highly successful temporary exhibition about Brooklands was staged in 1977 by Elmbridge Museum in Weybridge and, with support from British Aerospace, Elmbridge Borough Council, Gallaher Ltd and many dedicated individuals, this led to the selection of a 30 acre heritage site in the NE corner of Brooklands. As well as organising numerous aviation, motoring and other events since the mid-1980s, the Museum also staged regular fly-ins for visiting light aircraft from 1991 to 2003 using the Northern half of the original tarmac runway and staffed these events with an all-volunteer team.
Brooklands made a notable TV appearance when it featured in the 1990 'The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim' episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot, when Hercule Poirot investigates a crime committed involving a racing driver. The banking of Brooklands was also used as a 'road location' in an episode of The Bill where the CID foiled an armed robbery and resulted in a 'shoot out'. American car enthusiast Barry Meguiar (President and CEO of Meguiar's) has featured the Brooklands on his Speed Channel show Car Crazy.
In early 2004 the central area of Brooklands including the hard runway and parts of the remaining circuit were sold to DaimlerChrysler UK Retail and Mercedes-Benz World opened to the public on 29 October 2006. This development incorporates a vehicle test tracks and an off-road circuit and includes a conference centre and extensive Mercedes-Benz showrooms.
Following significant earlier work by The Brooklands Society (not part of Brooklands Museum), certain buildings (including the 1907 BARC Clubhouse, the 1911 Flight Ticket Office and the 1932 Brooklands Aero Clubhouse), structures and remaining sections of the Track first became the subject of preservation orders from 1975 and this legal protection was reviewed by English Heritage and increased by the DCMS in 2002). A draft Brooklands Conservation Plan was instigated by English Heritage and prepared in 2003 for DaimlerChrysler by DCUK consultants Terence O'Rourke and will be updated and completed for publication in 2013.
Brooklands motor course celebrated its centenary on 16/17 June 2007. Throughout 2007, various special events were organised by Brooklands Museum in order to celebrate its 100th birthday. Events included use of the Byfleet banking for the first time in nearly 70 years, a Formula One car demonstration by Mclaren-Mercedes, driven by Gary Paffett in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz World and a 24-hour slot car race to commemorate S.F. Edge's achievement of driving for 24 hours averaging over 100 mph (161 km/h).
Modern companies based at Brooklands today include Argos, BAE Systems, Currys-PC World, Japan Tobacco, Marks & Spencer, Mercedes-Benz World, Mothercare, Nomalites, Procter & Gamble, Sony, The Storage Pod, Tesco and John Lewis.
Brooklands Museum houses many historic aircraft including the Vickers Wellington bomber recovered from Loch Ness in 1985, a British Airways Concorde, G-BBDG, the UK's first production Concorde, and more recently the 40% scale model "G-CONC" gate guardian from Heathrow. There are also many other civil and military aircraft on display including a Vickers Vanguard, Viscount, VC10. The majority of these exhibits were built at Brooklands or have close associations with the site. The VC10 was built and first flown at Brooklands in 1964 and after airline service with British United and later British Caledonian Airways, in 1974 it became the official VIP transport for the Sultan of Oman until retired and flown back to Brooklands on 6 July 1987 and donated to Brooklands Museum by the Sultan of Oman's Royal Flight.
Although the Circuit is no longer driveable, it can still be simulated in the Spirit of Speed 1937 game for the PC and Sega Dreamcast, in which it was re-created in detail. Several other video games also feature Brooklands and Brooklands Museum's Formula 1 simulator also features a detailed computer simulation of the pre-war race track.
In 2009, BBC Top Gear presenter James May announced plans to recreate the full length Brooklands using Scalextric track and cars. This was undertaken with a team of 350 volunteers building the track from an uncounted number of pieces of Scalextric track, navigating ponds and roads, closely following the route of the old Brooklands track. This event broke the Guinness World Record for the longest ever Scalextric track in the world, intended to measure the original 2.75 miles (4.43 km) of the original Brooklands circuit but in reality recording 2.95 miles (4.75 km) in length (due to the need to navigate modern features that block the original course). The episode was shown on BBC2 on 17 November 2009 as part of James May's Toy Stories.
BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow filmed at Brooklands Museum in July 2009 and subsequently produced two programmes for its next series - these being first broadcast on 10 and 17 January 2010.
Apart from the displays and exhibits to be seen at Brooklands Museum, today there are a number of memorials to Brooklands. The first of these is the 'Brooklands Memorial' built by Vickers-Armstrongs to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Motor Course and was unveiled by Lord Brabazon of Tara in July 1957. This impressive concrete faced monument featured a fine bronze letters, plaque and related inscription summarising the site's history from 1907–57 and was originally located at the North end of the aerodrome, was designated as a Scheduled Monument in 2002 then relocated and restored in a new position just east of the River Wey on the museum site to make way for the new Mercedes-Benz World complex which opened in 2006. The original bronze fittings were stolen in the 1970s but the plaque was later found and is now displayed in the main entrance foyer of the former BARC Clubhouse. A second memorial dedicated to Brooklands aircraft design and manufacturing heritage was specially designed and manufactured by British Aerospace in the late 1980s to mark the closing of its last factory there and takes the form of a large engraved acrylic panel displayed at the southern end of the old runway close to the entracne to the community park and a children's nursery. Overgrown in recent years, this was recently rediscovered and is still in good condition. Another initiative was taken in the early 1990s by the developers Trafalgar Brookmount Ltd who commissioned an artist to design and produce two large brown terracotta 'gate statements'; these are located at the east end of Wellington Way and the south end of Sopwith Drive and feature representative images of Brooklands' pre-1940 history namely the Napier-Railton, Vickers Vimy and the two former Clubhouses. Finally, in 1993, HRH Prince Michael,of Kent officially opened a new Garden of Memories at Brooklands Museum which features a growing number of commemorative plaques in memory of many people who have been associated with Brooklands in the last 105 years.