Brilliant Brooklands

| 6 Jan 2015

The Brooklands circuit in Surrey was at the epicentre of motorsport in Britain before racing ceased at the outbreak of war in 1939. It was the brainchild of landowner Hugh F. Locke King and opened in 1907, making it the world's first purpose-built banked racing circuit, and only its second-ever racetrack (a year behind the Aspendale Raceway in Australia).

The circuit played host to some of the most memorable sporting battles from the early years of motor racing in Britain, as well as being the site of countless speed and endurance records – the first of which took place just days after the opening ceremony.

It was also famous for attracting 'the right crowd and no crowding'. Major Brooklands race meetings were key dates on the social calendar, with the great and the good often in attendance. 

Copyright LAT 


The 30ft high banking at Brooklands was built for one thing: speed. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that a record-breaking run was carried out in Weybridge before any racing had taken place.

Just days after the opening ceremony (pictured), Selwyn Francis Edge drove his six-cylinder Napier for 24 hours, covering 1581 miles and setting a record that would stand for 17 years. 



Percy Lambert first raced at Brooklands in 1910 at the age of 29, just three years after the circuit had opened. He returned in February 1913 not to race, but to set a world record. Driving a 4.5-litre Talbot, he became the first man to cover 100 miles in one hour, succeeding where others had failed in cars with much greater displacement.

Lambert lost his life at Brooklands later that year, while attempting to regain his record from Peugeot. He averaged more than 110mph over 20 laps before one of his car's rear tyres burst, causing the fatal accident. 



The Test Hill was added to the facility in 1909 in order to encourage manufacturers to carry out testing and development work at Brooklands. A car's ability to climb hills could be measured, as could its braking effectiveness on the other side.

Inevitably, as performance levels increased, cars 'took off' at the top of the hill, making the record irresistible to those with an eye for danger. The record stood at 7.691 seconds for almost seven years until, on 25 October 1932, RGJ Nash drove his Frazer Nash special – The Terror – up the hill in just 7.45 seconds. By the time he reached the top, the car was travelling at more than 50mph – it flew for more than 40 feet before crashing to the ground. 

Our picture was taken in 1925. 



Built in 1907 to house race officials, the famous Clubhouse survives to this day, and now forms the centrepiece of the Brooklands Museum. In its original form, it included a weighbridge for the cars, drivers' changing rooms and a dining room for BARC members. Alterations were made in 1930 to accommodate a Ladies' Reading Room and Billiard Room. Its exclusive nature summed up the Brooklands credo of 'the right crowd and no crowding'.

After racing had ceased, the building was used by Vickers, and Barnes Wallis had an office here.



Brooklands was always notoriously bumpy due to the ravages of the weather and the way in which the concrete surface had been laid in sections. The worst part was near the end of the Members' Banking, where the Hennebique Bridge crossed the River Wey. The bridge 'settled' slightly, giving a sunken area that was uncomfortable for drivers but perfect for photographers.



In 1930, the Daily Herald sponsored a trophy that was awarded to the fastest person around the Brooklands Outer Circuit. It was claimed in the following years by four drivers including the first winner Kaye Don, who posted a speed of 137.58mph in his Sunbeam 'Tiger'. 'Tim' Birkin pushed the envelope further in 1932, recording 137.96mph in his Blower Bentley.

However, it was John Cobb who would get the final word when he drove his Napier Railton to a 143.44mph lap in 1935 – a record that stood in perpetuity following the closure of Brooklands in 1939. 



Engineering firm Thomson & Taylor was based at Brooklands, eventually taking over what is now referred to as the Malcolm Campbell Shed. The company played a central role in British motorsport during the 1930s, constructing John Cobb's Napier Railton and Land Speed Record-setting Napier Special. It also built the chassis for Raymond Mays' ERA voiturettes, plus two of Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird leviathans. 



AV Ebblewhite was known to all as 'Ebby', and became one of the track's best-known personalities. Ebblewhite served as the official timekeeper from the circuit's opening, and was therefore responsible for the handicapping – an often controversial responsibility. He also involved in the fledgling aircraft scene before WW1. 



Endurance racing had always played an important role in the identity of Brooklands, and that hadn't changed by 1930s – though noise regulations dictated that 24-hour racing at the venue would no longer be permitted. The solution was to split the racing across two 12-hour daytime slots, with the cars being locked-up overnight. 

The Double Twelve was one of the track's blue-riband events, and in 1931 MG claimed a famous victory, with Midgets filling the top five placings. The winning car was driven by Freddie Richmond – grandfather of Goodwood's current Lord March.



The fourth race of the 1926 AIACR World Manufacturers' Championship – the first ever British Grand Prix – was held at Brooklands. The full banking wasn't used for the race, with the competitors instead carrying on at The Fork and going down the Finishing Straight, onto which two chicanes were placed.

Despite strong competition from British record-breakers Malcolm Campbell and Henry Segrave, it was the French duo of Robert Sénéchal and Louis Wagner that took the chequered flag in their Delage 155B. Campbell finished 10 minutes later in his Bugatti 39A, with Robert Benoist and André Dubonnet's Delage the last of the finishers. 

Segrave posted a fastest lap in his Talbot 700 before retiring on the 60th tour with supercharger trouble – the same problem that befell Albert Divo's Talbot, which finished in fourth position.



From the very earliest days of Brooklands the circuit had been associated with endurance records. Nothing had changed by 1930, when a young Freddie March partnered Sammy Davis to victory in the BRDC 500 Miles race, much to the chagrin of Tim Birkin.

The pair covered the distance in a shade over six hours, at points lapping at 87mph. 



It was the outbreak of war in 1939 that finally sealed the track's fate. The facility was taken over by the state for the production of Vickers and Hawker aircraft, which involved building on sections of the track. Much of the rest was damaged by German bombs, and trees that were planted to camouflage the circuit's distinctive shape.

The cost of returning the track to an operable state proved to be too great, leading to it being sold to Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd in 1946. Always an important site in British aviation (the impressive Flying Club building still exists), Brooklands was given over entirely to the design and development of aircraft, including the Viking, Valetta, Varsity, Viscount, Vanguard and VC10.