The Birkin plaque

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On June 19, just after this issue of Motor Sport will have gone to the printers, lnnes Ireland, President of the BRDC, and HRH Prince Michael of Kent are due to re-instate the Sir Henry Birkin plaque on the wall of the Brooklands Paddock Clubhouse. No one could be better suited to the task, because Innes, like Birkin, was a hard charger on the circuits, while the Prince is not only a splendid ambassador for motor racing, but he has proved himself a skillful racing motorist by driving the Bentley-Jackson at Millbrook on its high-speed record-breaking runs. Thus does His Royal Highness continue the tradition of the Royal Family, members of which were frequent visitors to Brooklands before the war, with races named after the Yorks. HM King Edward VIII and HM King George VI were both Patrons of the BARC. In fact, in 1922 the Duke of York entered his chauffeur Wood on Douglas, Harley-Davidson and 988cc Trump-Anzani motorcycles, the last winning a race at 86.12mph.

The plaque in question was unveiled by Earl Howe in memory of Sir Henry Birkin, Bt, on June 23rd 1934, the day of the BRDC British Empire Trophy Race, in the presence of Sir Malcolm Campbell and other celebrities, Howe then being President of the BRDC. Birkin had been a prominent Brooklands’ competitor, racing a DFP in the early post-war years and later breaking the lap record on several occasions, when driving the blower 4-1/2 Bentley single-seater, leaving it at 137.98 mph in 1932. His Track prowess was recognised after the 1930 season when, in company with his rival for lap record honours, Kaye Don, and S C H Davis, he was awarded a Track Gold Star.

I described how the famous, rather tricky, Bentley handled on a lap record attempt in my Brooklands history (Grenville, 1979, and still available). This has recently caused me a rebuke in the BDC Review, in which it is suggested that I could not have observed Sir Henry taking both the reverse-curve at the Fork and coping with the notorious “bump” on leaving the Member’s banking. I can but defend myself from the implication that I may have employed “poetic justice” (which I dislike greatly in relation to factual accounts) by saying that in 1932 I was young and active, so could have got myself from one point to the other pretty quickly… Apart from which, I saw Birkin and my favourite Bentley in action on many occasions, so had no need to use imagination when writing my description.

In fact, so keen was I on this great Brooklands’ car and driver combination that, having been taken by friends of the family on a holiday to try to overcome the shock of my mother’s death when I was 17 — we did the journey to the New Forest in another friend’s ancient 9/15 Renault saloon which he had bought secondhand and of which he was very proud, as you are of your first car — I was very distressed when I found that, in the remote village where we were staying, I couldn’t obtain an evening paper on that Bank Holiday Monday, to see whether or not Birkin’s lap record had been beaten (it had, by Kaye Don’s V12 Sunbeam)!

After the war it was discovered that the Birkin plaque had gone from the Clubhouse wall. Where it went, and where it has now been found, represent two of motor racing’s minor mysteries. Another one is why Birkin was never listed by the BARC as holding a 130mph badge, although he had exceeded that lap speed in the Bentley frequently from 1930 onwards, both in races and on a clear Track. If anyone can tell me the answer to that, I shall be very grateful… W B