The Brooklands Motor Racing circuit in Surrey is owed a lot of birthday candles this year as it reaches the grand old age of 110.
To celebrate the birth place of the British Grand Prix we’d like to share 110 of its amazing facts but to save on time for now we’ll stick to 10 of them – so on your marks, get set, go….
1. Measuring up: The original concrete track was 2.75miles long, 100 feet wide with banking at either end reaching 30 feet in places, that’s as tall as two giraffes stood on top of each other!
2. One man’s dream: The track was the idea of local land owner Hugh Locke King. A huge feat of engineering, the track was finished in nine months and swallowed all his personal fortune the equivalent of around £16million today. Once completed it was the world’s first purpose built motor racing circuit.
3. The fun never ends: In 1907 Brooklands played host to the world’s first ever 24 motor event just after it had opened. 300 railway lamps were used to light the track. Selwyn Edge covered a distance of 1,581 miles at an average speed of 65.91mph which is equivalent of travelling from London to the Ukraine!
4. Legendary Ladies: In 1929 British Racing Driver Violette Cordery and her younger sister Evelyn drove her 4.5 litre four-seat Invicta for 30,000 miles in less than 30,000 minutes taking her around 20 days and 20 hours.
5. World Records and Disaster: In 1913 Percy Lambert became the first man ever to drive over 100 mph. Tragically he was killed later in the year trying to beat his own record when his car rolled over along the banking lip. He was buried in a streamlined coffin to match his car. In 1934 the all-time lap record was set by John Cobb at 143.44mph.
6. Not just motor cars: Brooklands also played host to mass cycling events and many motorcycle records were set there. This included George E. Stanley who broke the one-hour record on a Singer motorcycle in 1912, becoming the first ever rider of a 350 cc motorcycle to cover over 60 miles in an hour.
7. Taking to the skies: On Friday, 29 October 1909 the first official powered flight in Britain was made by Frenchman Louis Paulhan and his Farman biplane: this special event attracted 20,000 people and was the first public flying display at Brooklands.
8. During WW1 the site was requisitioned for the war office and hosted flying training centres as well as the production of aircraft. In WWII it was exclusively used for military aircraft production by two companies Vickers and Hawker. In total 3,012 Hawker Hurricanes, Britain’s most successful fighter aircraft, were built at Brooklands.
9. Facing Enemy fire: In WWII both factories were bombed. The Vickers Factory was extensively damaged on 4 September 1940 with nearly 90 aircraft workers killed and at least 419 injured. 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 bomb away from the Hawker aircraft factory rolling it into an existing bomb crater where it later exploded harmlessly – he was later awarded the George Cross for bravery.
10. Still setting records: In 2009, BBC Top Gear presenter James May announced plans to recreate the full length of Brooklands using Scalextric track. 350 volunteers built the track, navigating ponds and roads, closely following the route of the old circuit. At the time this event broke the Guinness World Record for the longest ever Scalextric track.
The Finish line?
As a birthday gift to the track, Historic England is supporting an event with the Brooklands Heritage Partnership in a project to safeguard the future of this amazing place. At the moment parts of the circuit, which has multiple owners and stakeholders, are on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register. Whilst some areas are in reasonable condition others are being damaged by trees and scrub, a lack of maintenance and a need for repairs.
We hope that by bringing together owners, guardians and neighbours we will be able to foster new relationships and take practical steps to improve the condition of the site to ensure insure Brooklands is protected and cherished for another 110 years.
If you’ve been inspired to find out more on Brooklands you can visit the Brooklands Museum and see the newly restored finishing straight.
Written by Stephanie Dance-Groom, Local Engagement Adviser for Historic England in the South-East.