Brooklands' Obituary

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One of the saddest announcements we have ever made is that Brooklands is no more. Built by the late H. F. Locke King, at his own expense, for the express purpose of giving the British Motor Industry a much-needed testing ground, the Brooklands Motor Course, so happily situated amidst the Surrey pines, has served the nation admirably for 40 years.

Col. Holden, R.E., got out the design, Locke King footed the bill (a matter of some £150,000) and 80 truck loads of material handled by six locomotives over seven miles of railway track arrived during 1907 to alter, but certainly not to mar, this country estate. Over 2,000 labourers, aided by 10 steam grabs, toiled for a year, 200,000 tons of concrete were laid, and one of the first ferro-concrete bridges in the world was constructed, and, lo, the first, and our only, Motor Course came into being. Unsuspected difficulties resulted in serious setbacks, but gradually Brooklands came into its own — a rave course frequented by British sportsmen but, of greater moment, a test track invaluable to the industry, and, as such, an invaluable asset to the nation. From 1914-18, the Track served the country equally well. After that war Locke king stood the cost ol repairing it after the Government had patched it up, and from 1920 until 1939 Brooklands went from strength to strength.

Today, with Donington Park unreleased and the Crystal Palace circuit as good as gone, we need Brooklands badly. There, and there alone, could widely-varying types of cars be run together in safety. Nowhere else could testing, race practice and routine lappery go on at one and the same time without danger or inconvenience. Brooklands offered unlimited workshop accomodation, an aerodrome well suited to sporting living and unrivalled facilities for motorists engaged in sport or business. Over and above this, the Track is an historic place, every bit as deserving of preservation as ancient buildings and famous beauty spots. During its 40 years, Brooklands has not only seen more high-speed motoring and motor-cycling than any other track in the world, but it has been used for all manner of purposes unconnected with motor-racing — cycle racing, military manoeuvres, filming, ambulance brigade tests, British Legion rallies, demonstrations of the Motor Industry’s products before foreign embassies, Press tests, research runs, etc. Likewise,the aerodrome is unique. The first Englishman to fly in this country — A. V. Roe — did so at Brooklands, and there Pegoud performed the first loop over British soil. Hawker and Vickers military aircraft were developed there and Brooklands has been deservedly called “the cradle of British Aviation.” Only at the Track could beginners gain experience, the Press conduct their tests unmolested and engines be tuned and tested without the need for skilful driving, or for cars suited to road courses.

Remember this, when people say the old Track had had its day. Remember, too, that Brooklands was but a short drive from London. Those who deem it out of date must concede, such was the genius of Locke King and Holden, that fifteen years or more after it was built the Track could accommodate all save the very fastest racing cars, and it would, today, serve the quickest sports cars equally comfortably. Finally, its Campbell artificial road circuit, which could presumably have been repaired comparatively inexpensively, is just what we need now for a resumption of serious motor racing.

When war came, the M.A.P. requisitioned Brooklands. But, and do not overlook it, the B.A.R.C. asked its members, numbering about 1,250, to continue to pay an annual subscription in order to insure the future. When the war ended, Brooklands having again admirably served the nation, enthusiasts pressed for news. Lord Howe asked questions. All was silence — Sir Malcolm Campbell, one of the directors of Brooklands (Weybridge) Ltd., said nothing. Then the Bentley Drivers’ Club hit upon the idea of a rally to the Track. The idea seemed innocuous enough, especially as The Motor had published photographs showing the state of the Track at the conclusion of hostilities. The outcome of this request was so unpleasant and the events leading up to cancellation of the rally after permission had been granted by the M.A.P., so mysterious, that the B.D.C., through its secretary, Stanley Sedgwick, wisely sent a report to the Press. This follows : —

Statement Relating to Proposed Rally at Brooklands

A letter to the Clerk of the Course at Brooklands requesting permission for members to meet on a Saturday afternoon was passed to Mr. K. L. Skinner, Secretary of Brooklands (Weybridge) Ltd., the owners of the Track. The letter was acknowledged and it was stated that ” . . . Inasmuch as all our property is still in the occupation of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and as access to it is still very difficult, it would not be likely that the Ministry would consent to your making the proposed visit. .;

The Hon. Sec. acknowledged this, stating that the M.A.P. would be approached in the matter. This was done, suggesting a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the near future.

An Air Ministry Official telephoned that he thought the Rally would be possible and he would visit the Track and make arrangements.

A Committee Meeting was held at this juncture and the proposed visit approved. Sunday, the 16th of December, was fixed as the date, lunch tickets to cost 6/each, and the Hon. Sec. to make detailed arrangements, circularise members and send invitations to the members and the Air Ministry Official.

A letter was then received from the Air Ministry in which it was said : “… Permission can now be given for the Club to hold a Rally at Brooklands subject to a few minor conditions

Lunch accommodation was reserved and A circular sent to members inviting applications for lunch tickets and stating that applicants In excess of 60 might he sent tickets for admission to the Track, for which a nominal charge of 1/- would be made.

The Hon. Sec. sent a copy of the circular to Mr. Skinner and an invitation to lunch.

Immediately upon receipt of the circular Mr. Skinner telephoned the Hon. Sec. and said that the visit could not take place: “Why hadn’t he been consulted when making detailed arrangements? ” ” What did the Hon. See. think he was doing? ” ” What about his Board’s permission?” “What about the High Court injunction against cars at the Track on a Sunday?” “Nobody could charge admission except the owners.”

The Hon. See, replied that he had not yet come across any requisitioned property where the owners had any say in the use to which it was put, and as far as he was concerned he had the requisite permission to proceed. He did not see that any covenants entered into, or injunctions against, the owners could affect the Ministry in possession.

Mr. Skinner then admitted that his first letter was written on the assumption that the Ministry would not give permission. He said the whole thing was ill-advised and causing him a lot of trouble. He could not stop us, but he thought the Ministry would. When asked by the Hon. Sec. if that would result from action taken by him, he said “Yes.” After this the conversatien was getting nowhere and Mr. Skinner rang off.

Efforts by the Hon. Sec. to secure a confirmation from the Air Ministry revealed that permission had been granted after an investigation of the “security angle” only, without reference to the other Departments concerned. Strenuous efforts by an M.A.P. official to secure the permission revealed more and more snags, not the least of which was a very strong desire on the part of the M.A.P. to avoid publicity in connection with Brooklands and its future as a race track.

It was deemed advisable at this point to advise members that the visit might not materialise and a circular to this effect was sent out.

A letter was then received from Mr. Skinner reiterating the points made in his telephone conversation and emphasising the lack of courtesy which had been meted out to him. It was also stated that ” … having consulted my Board I am unable to give you permission to visit the Track” and “by the terms of our Bond to HM. Customs this Company alone is permitted to issue tickets of admission to Brooklands upon payment.”

The Hon. Sec. acknowledged the letter and asked Mr. Skinner to put before his Board the suggestion that the visit take place on foot, cars being accommodated outside the Track and no charge being made for admission. This letter was acknowledged. by Mr. Skinner, who stated that it would be put before his Board, and requested that ” … in the meantime, should you receive any communication from either the Air Ministry or the M.A.P. on the matter, perhaps you would be good enough to inform me.”

A letter was received from the M.A.P. to the effect that “there are difficulties on legal and other grounds in arranging at the present time to allow access to the Track and the Department would be glad, therefore, if you would arrange to confine the meeting to a local venue outside the perimeter of the Track.”

A part of this letter quoted above was passed to Mr. Skinner before the meeting of his Board took place and the Hon. Sec. wrote to the M.A.P. asking them to state their attitude should the owners agree to allow a visit on foot.

The Ministry replied: ” … The Department cannot see their way at the moment to agree to your members visiting the Track, even on foot.”

This was followed by a letter from Mr. Skinner in the following terms:

“As promised, I brought the matter of your proposed visit to Brooklands before the Board yesterday, and am instructed to inform you that my Directors would have been only too pleased to have permitted you to make the proposed visit now you no longer wish to make it on a Sunday and not to charge for admission. But the letter you have received from the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which you quote to me, would seem to rob your visit of all point inasmuch as they preclude you from passing the perimeter of the Track. This means that access is completely denied to you.”

It is evident that the above events have occurred at a time most embarrassing to both the owners and the Ministry, and it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that the death knell of Brooklands is sounding behind closed doors at this very moment.

The inference is that the Ministry are finding that it will be cheaper to buy the Track for industrial development than to reinstate it as a race track. This is borne out by the fact that Brookiands Ordinary Shares now stand at a 50 per cent, premium, the highest price since the Company was formed.

As the Track is lost to us, there is no need to enlarge on this unfortunate “passing of the buck” between Mr. Skinner and the Ministry. When it became known, due to the outcome of the B.D.C. request, that Brooklands’ future was insecure, Lord Howe, on behalf of the B.R.D.C, called a public protest meeting in London. However, on January 7th, Brooklands (Weybridge) Ltd., called a shareholders’ meeting and the majority voted in favour of selling the Track. Sir Malcolm Campbell appears to be quite indifferent to the fate of the place where he achieved fame. The other director, C. W. Haywood, argued that the M.A.P. would not release the Track for another three years and wished Vickers Ltd. to have the opportunity of buying it — at an agreed figure of £330,000. As repairs could not be commenced and whatever happened racing could not happen before 1950, it was felt best to sell out. Thus, ignominiously, after 40 years, the late Locke King’s handiwork is ended; he received no thanks for this work, which has been, nevertheless, of inestimable value to the nation. His widow at least has the pleasure of knowing that tens of thousands of sportsmen have derived some of the happiest hours of their life at the Weybridge Estate. And some shareholders did protest at the sale, accusing the M.A.P. of “blackmail.”

We do not know why the owners of the Track did not press for its release and repair — avarice seems the only answer. We do feel that the attitude of the B.A.R.C. has been intolerable. On March 31st, 1936, H.M. King Edward VIII consented to become the Patron of the B.A.R.C. Within a fortnight of H.M. King George VI ascending the throne the club was informed that the Royal Patronage would continue. Commenting on this great honour in its Year Book of 1937, the club stated : — “Needless to say, the B.A.R.C. will do everything in its power to be worthy of this distinction and will endeavour to maintain its proud position as the leading and oldest organisation in this country solely devoted to the interest a of motor racing.” The King is, we presume still Patron of the Club! One would, therefore, at least have expected a public announcement that the Track was about to be sold, greater courtesy towards the innocent requests of the B.D.C., and an explanation of what is to become of members’ wartime subscriptions. In 1935 the Brooklands Estate Company and Electrical and General Trusts, Ltd., negotiated to purchase Brooklands. Byfleet Estates, Ltd., duly acquired the Track and in June, 1936, Brooklands (Weybridge) Ltd. acquired the estate. A statement in the Year Book about this sale now seems to take on a new significance. The B.A.R.C. quelled “alarming rumours about the Track and aerodrome being turned into a building estate” and said that “so smoothly was the changeover made that it is doubtful whether any member would have been aware of the fact had the news not been published in the Press.” This time, members seem to have enjoyed even greater secrecy, and publicity to have even less welcome.

The M.A.P. and Vickers-Armstrongs have done motoring enthusiasts great disservice by acquiring Brooklands and turning it into an industrial area. Whether they have done the nation an equal disservice — remembering that as an aerodrome the place is obsolete and that we have no other motor course — is for the nation to decide. The industry appears to have done nothing to save the Track — although Lord Nuffield has bought an Australian horse-race course for £205,000, and Lord Austin gave more than that for atomic bomb research. When you remember that the Greyhound Racing Association has £500,000 to spare to combat dog-doping, poor old Brooklands seems quite cheap; we wish one of the big manufacturers would buy it and leave the outside bit to those who still want to race motor-cars. What a hope!

We would have preferred that Brooklands became a public park and cars never race there again than that the ugly shadow of avarice should darken a place where men have lived purposefully for a cause in which many have sacrificed their lives. Alas, it has not worked out even that way. But the B.A.R.C. owes it to the memory of Vincent Herman, William Burke, Percy Lambert, Dario Resta, Capt. Toop, Clive Dunfee, John Houldsworth, Leeson, Watson and other gallant men, to save and preserve the Lambert and Birkin memorials and the records of the Track’s history. Let us see that these, at least, remain.