It was once the home of British bike sport and derring do, and is still worth a visit today
It was one of the worldõs fastest circuits, with track 100ft wide and banking that you wouldnõt climb without a rope; where men pushed machines to the absolute limit between the two World Wars. So whatever happened to Brooklands? As much of it slips beneath the weeds, we look back at one of the UKÕS most amazing race circuits.
Built in 1907, Brooklands was the world’s first purpose-built racing circuit as well as being one of Britain’s first airfields. By 1918 it had also become the country’s largest aircraft manufacturing plant. So how did we end up losing such a landmark venue?
Whose idea was it to create a purpose-built race-track? We have to thank a gentleman called Hugh Fortescue Locke King who inherited the Brooklands estate and spent £150,000 of his own money to build a test track to boost the British automobile industry. In today’s money, that would be over £14.5 million.
Was Brooklands impressive? Just a bit. Built near Weybridge in Surrey, south west of London, the circuit was a 2.75-mile banked concrete oval and parts of the 30-degree banking were 30ft high.
It was wide too – 100ft across to be precise – and played host to up to 30,000 spectators at its peak. There were three circuit layouts; if the 2.75mile standard circuit used the bisecting finishing straight it became a 3.25-mile lap and this was known as the ‘outer circuit.’ The mountain circuit used the start/finish line and a small section of banking to give a 1.25-mile lap, while the Campbell circuit was 2.26-miles long and included an infield section.
When was the first race held there? The circuit was completed in 1907 and was officially opened on June 17, with competitive car events following in the next few weeks. The first motorcycle race was organised by the British Motorcycle Racing Club (Bemsee) on April 20, 1908, as a novelty break in proceedings during the Easter car race meeting. It was only over two laps, featured 22 invited riders, lasted 12 minutes, and had a first prize of 25 guineas (£26.25).
How fast was it? As a banked oval, Brooklands was pretty much flat-out fast all the way. The first time a motorcycle was ever clocked at 100mph in the UK was at Brooklands. That was on April 28, 1921, when Douglas Davidson achieved the feat on a Harley-davidson. In 1935, Eric Fernihough set a new motorcycle lap record of 123.58mph on his Brough Superior and by the time the circuit was taken over by the military in 1939 the motorcycle lap record was held by Noel Pope at 124.51mph. The highest official top speed ever recorded by a bike at Brooklands was 143.39mph, set by Fernihough on his Brough in 1938.
When was the golden age? Unquestionably during the interwar years, from 1920 (when racing resumed after WWI) to 1939. During that period, British racing motorcycles were the best in the world and a whole cottage industry sprang up around the circuit with no end of garages and famous riders of the day making it their home. The most famous motorcycle race to be held regularly at Brooklands was the Huthcinson Hundred Handicap which was first held in 1925. The winner was presented with the magnificent Melanno Trophy which, to this day, remains the Bemsee club’s most valued award. It is now presented to the club’s rider of the year.
When was the last race held there? On August 7, 1939, the British Automobile Racing Club staged what would prove to be the last ever race at Brooklands. The government requisitioned the circuit during WWII and it became a production facility for Hurricane fighters and Wellington bombers (the first ever Hurricane flight took place there in 1935). Hangars were built on the track itself, trees were planted as camouflage, and the circuit was also bombed by the Luftwaffe. After the war it was clearly going to prove too costly to rebuild and re-open the venue as a racing circuit so it was sold to aircraft manufacturer Vickers-armstrong in 1946. Is Brooklands still there? Parts of the banking survive, though theyõre fragmented and overgrown. But the location itself is thriving and the Brooklands Museum and Mercedes-benz World are both worth a visit. In 2015 it was announced that Brooklands would receive a £7m investment as part of the Brooklands Aircraft Factory and Race Track Revival Project. The project will restore and relocate the famous 1940 Bellman Hangar and the start/finish line of the original circuit will also be restored. The Brooklands Museum is open every day from 10am-5pm and costs £12.10 for adults. Visit www. brooklandsmuseum.com
Bikes, sidecar outfits and even a car form up on the startline in 1938
Brooklands’ banking in the circuit’s heyday between the wars
The famous banking today, as used as a photo location for an MCN shoot