Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & Marc Arys - Translation: Marc Arys & David Niemegeerts   © sbap 2015

Brooklands circuit is a 4.43 km long circuit near Weybridge in Surrey, UK. It opened in 1907 and was the first place dedicated to motorsport, and built especially for this purpose. It was also one of the first airports in Britain. The circuit hosted its last race in 1939 and now houses the Brooklands Museum dedicated to aviation and automotive. The association that manages the museum has set a course for the preservation of the industrial history of the site Brooklands. The circuit remains a meeting place for vintage cars and motorcycles, and other events related to transportation.

 Brooklands in 1939 (UK archives) Brooklands today (Google Earth)
  

Circuit and races
In 1903, England implements its new traffic code which obliges a speed limit of 20 mph (32km/h) on all public roads. At the time, over 50% of all cars in the world were produced in France, and there were concerns about the start of automobile industry in England, as it was made impossible to do high speed tests on open roads. Hugh Locke-King then financed the construction of the Brooklands circuit. The circuit was inaugurated on June 17th, 1907, and became the first circuit especially created for automobiles. Soon after, during March 1909, the Indianapolis Speedway was built, inspired by Brooklands. Its inaugural race was held on August 12th, 1909.

Taking into account the speed limits, and visibility (or the lack thereof), the Brooklands circuit was 30 meters wide, 4.43km long, and is oval with banked turns up to 9 meters high. A right-hand pit lane was built, increasing the length of the circuit up to 5,23 kilometers, of which 2,01km was banked. The circuit could accommodate up to 287 000 spectators when entirely full. In the middle of the track, there is a black, interrupted line (called the “Fifty Foot Line”) which theoretically allowed the pilots driving beyond the line to take the banked turns without using the steering wheel.

Because of the poor quality of the tarmac at the time, and the price of asphalt, the circuit was created using rough concrete. Withstanding the test of time, the circuit has deteriorated, and became very bumpy, due to the degradation of the concrete. Eleven days after its inauguration, on June 28th and 29th 1907, the circuit hosts the first attempt at a world record with a duration of 24 hours. The pilot Selwyn Edge, who was already committed to attempt the record before the works started, already obtained three Napiers of his team, which were specially modified. More than 350 street lights are installed to keep the circuit lit up at night, and smoking machines mark the edges of the track. Edge drove his car during the entire duration of the race, while four drivers took turns for the remaining two cars. He finished the 24 hours after having driven 2 569km at an average speed of 107,25km/h. The other two Napiers also reached the 24 hours.
On February 15th, 1913, Percy E. Lambert became the first driver to drive 100 miles in one hour, aboard a Talbot 4-Liter with lateral valves. He travels exactly 161,7km (a filmed document of this performance is visible in the Brooklands museum). During the First World War, the circuit was closed and commandeered by the War Office. Vickers built a factory on Brooklands in 1915, and Brooklands quickly became a strategic site for the construction, testing and refueling of military airplanes. The races were resumed in 1920 after the repair of the circuit, which was damaged during the First World War. The first British Grand Prix was held in 1926 by Henry Segrave, who created an interest in the automobile sport thanks to his victory in the Grand Prix de France in 1923 and the Grand Prix de San Sebastian the next year. The race was won by Louis Wagner and Robert Senechal driving a Delage 155B. The second edition of the Grand Prix, won by Robert Benoist at Delage, takes place the next year, and these two events contributed to a big improvement of the facilities of the circuit.

In the late 1930s, the circuit also hosts cycling events organized by the National Cyclists' Union. In 1939, it is also used for shooting the film Ask a Policeman by Marcel Varnel.
When World War II broke out in 1939, the site is returned to the production of warplanes. Some parts of the track are heavily damaged by air raids and a new access road at the Hawker Siddeley factory-cut part of the track in two. Other sections were also temporarily covered with hangars. The Second World War had completely diverted the circuit from its original purpose; Post-war, no more racing events will be held at Brooklands.

 The famous Brooklands races (UK archives) Wellington assembly line at Brooklands (RAF archives)
  

Aerodrome

Brooklands became one of the first airports in England. In 1908, it welcomes the first test flights of a plane completely built by England’s Alliott Verdon-Roe, future founder of the companies A.V. Roe and Company, and Saunders-Roe Ltd. In the summer of 1910, Hilda Hewlett and Gustave Blondeau open their first flying school in the United Kingdom. They also launched their own aircraft manufacturing company, Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd. On the site, before moving to larger premises in Leagrave, Bedfordshire.

In February 1912, Thomas Sopwith opens the Sopwith flying school and then, in June, with several partners, Brooklands moved to the Sopwith Aviation Company headquartered in Kingston upon Thames. The companies Louis Bleriot, Martinsyde, and later Vickers started to produce military aircraft at Brooklands, making the site the largest aircraft manufacturing center of Britain in 1918. Many flight schools also come to settle at the site, and the airfield became a flight training center during the interwar period.

During World War II, the site is used for the production of military aircraft, including the Vickers Wellington, the Vickers Warwick, and the Hawker Hurricane. Trees are planted on some sections of the circuit to camouflage the Hawker and Vickers factories. Despite these efforts, the Vickers factory is severely bombed by the Luftwaffe on September 4, 1940. The death toll was that nearly 90 workers were killed, and at least 419 injured. The premises of the Hawker factory are bombarded and damaged two days later, but without any human losses or disruption of production. September 21, 1940, Lieutenant John McMillan Stevenson Patton of the Royal Canadian Engineers, and five of his men risk their lives to move an unexploded German bomb that fell near the Hawker plant to explode into an existing bomb crater. McMillan Stevenson Patton was rewarded with the award of Georges Cross.
The crucial role of Brooklands in the Battle of Britain in 1940 is reconstructed in an exhibition at the Brooklands Museum.

After the war in 1946 the circuit, that was in a very poor condition, was sold to Vickers to continue their aviation activities. New aircraft, for civil purposes, are built on the site, such as VC.1 Vickers Viking, Vickers Valetta, the Vickers Varsity, the Vickers Viscount, the Vickers Vanguard and Vickers VC-10.

In 1951, the construction of a new runway that would allow new Vickers Valiant to take off, led to the removal of part of the track. The new track, longer than the previous one, has fewer buildings than the previous site, and remained a test center for Vickers until 1972.

 

After a considerable expansion during the 1950’s, Vickers merged with the British Aircraft Corporation (Fusion between English Electric and Bristol Aircraft) in 1960, designs and builds the BAC TSR-2 and BAC 1-11 as well as several parts of the Concorde. The factory signed a fusion contract in the mid 1970’s, with the new company British Aerospace. British Aerospace occupied the site until its acquisition by BAE Systems in 1989. BAE still maintains a logistics center at Brooklands today.

In 1987, the site welcomes the Brookland Museum, dedicated to the preservation and education of the cultural heritage of the site. In addition to organizing many car events since the mid-1980’s, the museum also organizes regular aeronautical meetings between 1990 and 2003, using the northern half of the original track.

After extensive work done by the Brooklands Society, entirely independent from the Brooklands museum, several buildings, structures and the remains of the initial track were preserved. This legal protection has been reviewed by the English heritage, and improved further by the DCMS in 2002.
During early 2004, what remained of the Brooklands Circuit and airstrip were sold to Daimler UK, who wanted to install its « Mercedes-Benz World », a complex including a test track for cars, off-road circuit, a conference center and a showroom for the Mercedes-Benz brand, which would open its doors on October 29th, 2006.

Brooklands appears on television in the 1990’s, in the episode “The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim”, in the series of Hercule Poirot. Poirot investigates a crime involving a race car driver. One of the filming locations in the Brooklands was also used in an episode of “the Flying Brigade”.

 The VC-10 assembly hall (Vickers LTD) Parts of Concorde were also produced in this mythic area (BAe)
  
Brooklands Airport Booking Office Some parts of the circuit remain today
   
 The Museum...
Outside aircraft exhibition
  
 Concorde G-BBDG (1974)
 Airliner elegance Close up on the winshield and nose folding system
 Tail wheel British Airways proudness
 Vickers 1103 VC-10 ex G-ASIX/A4O-AB (1964) Vickers 806 Viscount G-APIM (1958)
 Vickers VC10 Nose Section Test Specimen (1960) Vickers 837 Viscount XT575 ex OE-LAG Cockpit Section (1958)
 Vickers 953 Merchantman (Vanguard) G-APEP  (1961)
 BAC One-Eleven G-ASYD (1965) Vickers VC10 G-ARVM Cockpit & Fuselage Section (1964)
 BAC Jet Provost XN586 (1961) Scottish Aviation Jetstream T.1 XX499 (1970)
  Supermarine Swift F4 WK198 Fuselage Section
(Lithgow speed record holder)  (1953)
Hawker Hunter FMk51  XF314  (1956)
 Hawker Hunter FMk51 E-421 (Former Danish Air Force)  (1956) BAC TSR2: Cockpit Section (Test Specimen)  (1964)
 Tallboy bomb
     
Vickers 498 Viking 1A G-AGRU   (1946)  Vickers Viking "Vagrant"
 An elegant old airliner Young and old for a same passion
   Long time work for perfection
 Vickers 668 Varsity T1 WF372  (1951) Observer post under the belly
 The pilot office
 Wireless radio post View of the belly observer post
 Belly observer post access Navigator station
  Rear cargo seats Flares compartiment
 Hawker P.1127 XP984 (6th prototype) (1963)
 The aircraft is temporarily fitted with an earlier P.1127 wing On the way to the Harrier
 
Aviation related vehicles
   
 BMC 420WF refueling truck (1968)
 AEC Mercury MKV 4x2 refueling truck (1963) Dan Air London Morris Minor 1000 Pick Up  (1956)
 British Caledonian Airways Morris Minor Van  (1970) British European Airways Bedford HA110 van (1979)
 Roe I Biplane replica  (1908)
  
Wellington Hangar
  

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIA Z2389  (1940)

  Eagle Squadon markings of the Hurricane
  Vickers Valiant B(K)1 XD816 Cockpit Section  (1956) Santos-Dumont Demoiselle reproduction  (1909)
 Sopwith Tabloid (Schneider Racer) Floatplane Replica  (1913) This aircraft type won the 1914 Schneider Trophy race in Monaco
 Vickers Vimy reproduction NX71MY (Alcock and Brown's 1919) This replica was built in 1994 and made it's last flight in 2009
 Sopwith Camel F1 reproduction (1917) Red Dean / Red Hebe missile prototype (1950's) and the SE5A F5475 (1918)
Vickers 60 Viking IV reproduction G-EBED  (1922)  Avro 504K reproduction G-AACA  (1928)

Hawker Harrier TMk52 G-VTOL / ZA250   (1971)

  Harrier TMk52 cockpit
 Hawker Fury I reproduction K5673  (1936)

 White Monoplane Canard Pusher  (1912) CH01... ;-)
 Rolls Royce Kestrel VI  (1934) Bristol Pegasus  (1937)
  
   
The recovery on September 21st, 1985  (Brookland trust archives)
   
 Vickers 290 Wellington 1A N2980 (1939)

N2980 is the only surviving Brooklands-built Wellington. During a training flight on the 31st December 1940 the aircraft developed engine trouble and ditched into Loch Ness. All the crew escaped, but the rear gunner was killed when his parachute failed to deploy.
Developed from the Wellesley, the Wellington prototype first flew at Brooklands in 1936. Its fabric-covered geodetic structure was able to absorb heavy damage, and it was the only British bomber to be used throughout World War Two, serving with Bomber, Coastal, Transport and Training Commands. Altogether 11,461 Wellingtons were produced, 2,515 of these at Brooklands.
First flown on 16th November 1939, by Vickers’ Chief Test Pilot "Mutt" Summers, N2980 was first issued to 149 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall and allocated the squadron code letter ‘R’ for ‘Robert’. It took part in the infamous Heligoland Bight raid on the 18th December 1939, during which over half of the twenty-two Wellingtons involved were shot down by German fighters. N2980 later served with 37 Squadron at RAF Feltwell, taking part in fourteen operations including day and night raids.
In 1976 the Wellington was located by a team of American Loch Ness Monster hunters and was successfully salvaged on 21st September 1985 by the Loch Ness Wellington Association assisted by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Despite nearly forty-five years underwater, the aeroplane was remarkably well preserved. The taillights still worked when connected to a modern battery and many of the crew’s personal effects remained in the fuselage.
Delivered to Brooklands Museum by British Aerospace on 27th September 1985, N2980 is now one of only two surviving Wellingtons but is the only one to see action as a bomber in operational service.

 Cockpit section Fuselage with N2980 markings
 The typical Wellington frame structure  Nose turret
General rear view  
WWII Bomber material
 The tail section 70 years ago in a Wellington...
 
 Cars and Motorcycles


Back in the past
 Brough Superior Sidecar
 "Nanette" Brooklands Special
 Lorraine Dietrich Vieux Charles III (1912) AC sports  (1922)
 Alvis Single Seater (1953) Cooper T.72 F3 (1964)
 The 1930's.. ...and the 1980's
 H.A.R. Formula 2  (1952) Olympus Wolf WR7  (1979)
 Jordan EJ11  (2001) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car...my youngster period  (1968)
 


 The motorcycles area with: 
BSA M23 Empire stars (1937) - Ariel Red Hunter (1938)
Francis Barnet 172cc Brooklands Track Special  (1927) - Grindlay Peerless – JAP 500cc(1929) - Norton 490cc Racing sidecar (1927)
  
Visitors and collectors
 
 Simply beautiful, the British elegance @ Brooklands
 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Aston Martin DB5
 The British Feline... Jaguar XJ-S
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