Thursday, April 27th 2017
Brooklands in its heyday was probably the world’s most famous motor race track. It was also the world’s first purpose-built motor race track. Today it is a museum and can be visited.
Brooklands was built by a local landowner, Hugh Locke King, on his estate near Weybridge in Surrey. It was 2.75 miles long, 100ft wide and was banked to allow the curves to be taken at high speed. The first official race took place on July 6th 1907. Facilities also included an aerodrome and by 1918, Brooklands had become a major aircraft manufacturing centre.
Racing at Brooklands was halted during the First World War and resumed in 1920. When the Second World War was declared in 1939, however, racing was once again stopped, this time permanently. Having secured funding, the Brooklands Museum plans to restore the final mile-long finishing stretch to its original state and bring it back into use.
The journey to Brooklands took us first to Weybridge (Surrey) which we reached by train from Waterloo. As this map shows, Brooklands is about half a mile from the station, as the crow flies. By road it is longer. We looked around for buses to take us there but ended up making our way there on foot. The entrance is at the western end of the complex where you pass through a wooden building comprising the ticket desk and the inevitable museum shop.
This is by no means a static museum where you file politely past the exhibits in their glass cases. There is a lot of activity and people in nicely soiled overalls doing things with engines. We came upon this group of enthusiasts trying to start an ancient motor cycle and then ride it.
Racing teams and motor businesses established themselves at Brooklands and many of the sheds are still in place with the names of their famous owners emblazoned on them.
Pictured above, for example, are the (restored) workshops of Sir Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948), racing driver and journalist, who achieved many speed records on both land and water in vehicles that all bore the name Bluebird.
This rather handsome building is called the Clubhouse. It contains offices, displays of memorabilia and welcome facilities such as toilets and a cafe where we gratefully took tea.
There is much to see, including cars…
and even pedal cycles. This display features the R.G.J. Nash Collection of Cycles. There is so much to see, in fact, that unless you are deeply interested in vehicles of every sort (and perhaps even if you are), it is likely to become difficult to pay attention to all the exhibits.
I concentrated on those items that particularly attracted my attention.
These included this motorcycle and sidecar combination belonging to the Royal Automobile Club, better known as the RAC. The RAC was founded in 1897 and in years past, motorcycle patrols run by the RAC and the AA (founded 1905) were a common sight on British roads. Their role was to help members who were in difficulty, typically because of mechanical problems. The patrolmen would even salute members (indicated by the appropriate badge affixed to the vehicle) encountered en route.
I similarly noticed this handsome pair of 1930s vintage Austin Sevens, one of the most popular cars in its day. From left to right they are an Austin Seven Sports (1934) and an Austin Seven Speedy (1935).
I spotted this group of three gentlemen giving some TLC to one of the exhibits. It is care and attention like this that helps keep museums lively places to visit.
We also visited the aircraft hangars, starting with the Brooklands Concorde. This exhibit features in various events as this Web page explains. The museum also owns the last remaining Concorde Simulator, that was used for training Concorde flight crews.
Wellingtons were the main allied bombers of the Second World War. This one, known as ‘R for Robert’ had been lost until it was rediscovered in 1978 at a depth of 60 metres (197 feet) in Loch Ness. Its finders had actually been looking of ‘Nessie’, the so called Loch Ness Monster! Since then, funding has been obtained, firstly to recover the aircraft and then to begin the work of restoration. More information on ‘R for Robert’ here.
We had a look inside a Vickers VC10, in its day one of the most popular passenger aircraft, so much so that the Sultan of Oman bought one for his personal use and adapted it accordingly. Yes, that aircraft is also in the museum’s collection. (See here.)
Before leaving the aircraft section, we had a look at some of the historic aeroplanes, most of which had fascinating stories attached to them. Not least was the famed Sopwith Camel, though this one is in fact a modern reproduction. The Sopwith Camel became legendary both for the awkwardness of its handling, which caused the deaths of a number of pilots, and for its formidable manoeuvrability and destructive prowess when flown by an expert. The Camel was first made in 1917, during the First World War, as a fighter plane. Its armaments consisted of twin machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller. This is a replica of B7270 of 209 Squadron, RAF, which was piloted by Captain Roy Brown when he shot down the ‘Red Baron’, Manfred von Richthofen. (More details here.)
Conveniently sited just next door to the Brooklands Museum is the London Bus Museum. Londoners, and the inhabitants of any city, no doubt, entertain a love-hate relationships with the bus. When the services run to time and the buses are not crowded, they provide a convenient way to get around and see the sights. In rush hours, or when the traffic is disrupted for some reason, bus travel may become less than wonderful… Quite apart from that, the development of the omnibus and the various forms it has taken throughout its relatively short history are fascinating and the bus museum will provide surprises for even the most apathetic visitor. In a phrase: the London Bus Museum is well worth a visit.
I must admit to being particularly fond of horse-drawn buses, an enthusiasm enhanced by a ride on a horse bus in Antwerp in 2011 (see Bruges 2011 – Day 2). This horse bus is the oldest vehicle in the bus museum. It continued in use for some decades even after the introduction of motor buses.
A curiosity is the advert on the side. This reads ‘DOOF SEGDIR’. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is ‘RIDGES FOOD’ spelt backwards. (Ridge’s Food was a food preparation ‘For Infants Invalids & The Aged’. See this advertisement.) Why is it the wrong way round? One theory is that it was written thus so that shoppers would see it the right way round when reflected in shop windows. I am sceptical of this.
The above mirror image is surely no more readable than the original version. If they had meant it to be seen in reflection, Ridges would have reversed the letters as well, as is done with the words ƎƆI⅃Oꟼ and ƎƆИA⅃UᙠMA intended to be seen in vehicle drivers’ rear view mirrors. I am inclined to think it was a rather bold way of grabbing people’s attention with a puzzle.
Inevitably, motor buses improved in reliability and horse buses and trams gradually disappeared from London’s streets. Open-top buses are these days not very popular but once they were the norm as this 1925 motor double-decker shows. What now appears quaint to us would once have been a common sight along the busy streets.
For us it was time to leave the museums and find our way back to the railway station. For the return leg, however, we found a bus stop and waited patiently there until a bus arrived and carried us smoothly into Weybridge. We felt we had done enough walking for one day!