Away from the racing, Brooklands has played host to a plethora of strange happenings – not least two cases of murder most foul
In this Brooklands centenary year it may be appropriate to recall some happenings which took place at the Track other than motor racing.
Such as when the doctor who served the BARC was sent for at 2am one morning because murder had been committed at the farmhouse on the Byfleet side of the Track. The lady involved had run down the steps at the Byfleet bridge over the Track to ask for help from the occupants of the adjacent cottage. The doctor was presumably alerted by the Police and he drove his 8hp Talbot light car through the Paddock to the scene of the crime, the Track gates (now on the Brooklands Road) presumably left open. This is not to be confused with the murder at the Blue Anchor pub in Byfleet, when the murderer was caught and hanged. The full story of this other Brooklands murder is far more elusive.
Then there was the day in the summer of 1934 when I was with Cecil Burney (brother of Commodore Sir Charles Dennistoun Burney, Bt, CMG, supervisor of the successful Vickers R100 Airship, on its flight to Canada and back, whereas the government’s R101 crashed at Beauvais, on its flight to India, killing 54 of its 64 passengers and crew) in Mr Burney’s new Triumph sports car when I looked up and saw two low-flying light aeroplanes approaching the aerodrome, when suddenly I realised that the leading one had vanished. Others had also seen this and cars were hastily leaving the Track for the exit to see what had occurred. We joined them, round the Track, out and right along the Brooklands road and right into Oyster Lane, Byfleet, where the crashed aeroplane was seen in a side road on the right in a small housing estate, partially in a front garden. The pilot and girl passenger were still in their seats, either concussed or worse. An ambulance had been alerted, so we all drove out of the way. I have tried to discover whether the occupants of the aeroplane survived, the accident probably occurring when the pilot was confronted by the banking ahead of him, pulled up too sharply, and stalled. But all enquiries and looking in the local papers have been of no avail.
Other non-race happenings at the 360-acre Brooklands estate included, early on, a successful car in a “Selling Plate” event being put up for auction. This was probably thought undignified and soon ceased, although historic cars are now being sold like this.
One day in June 1914 the entire area below the Members’ Hill was the scene of many tents and marquees on the occasion of a Red Cross Field Day, attended by a Royal Princess who asked to see a racing car in action, but alas not one could be found. Visitors’ cars were tightly parked, filling almost the length of the one-kilometre Finishing Straight.
On other non-race days anything from a Greenbat electric trolley to AEC double-decked buses could be seen on destruction tests. Then in 1934 there was the display in the Paddock of four historic cars, the 1904 GB Napier, 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich ‘Vieux Charles Trois’, the racing-bodied Shuttleworth 1903 de Dietrich and Chitty-Bang-Bang, which I had persuaded Capt OV Holmes who ran Brooklands – Track and Air magazine to have put on in the Paddock with permission from Percy Bradley, Clerk of the Course. And in 1930 Thomson & Taylor had lined-up a row of racing cars for sale outside its premises, which included two ‘flat-iron’ Thomas Specials, a GP Sunbeam and the ex-Cobb-Warde 1910 chain-driven Fiat. Motor Sport got the photograph.
Other non-race-day occasions included John Cobb displaying the eventual lap-record Napier-Railton to the Press and later trying the nose-cockpit of the 400mph Railton-Mobil with his smartly-dressed wife looking on. There had been that appearance in 1932 of the Dynosphere, in which the driver sat inside a gigantic wheel for some obscure reason. And in 1937 Dame Ethel Locke-King arrived as passenger on the 1904 GB Napier to open the Campbell circuit – the Napier was a substitute for the car used by Edge for his 24-hour record in 1907. Also in 1934, the winter saw the divisions of the Paddock stalls removed to accommodate a lot of Eccles caravans while the makers sought new premises – the aged Austin 20 tow car must have done a considerable mileage back and forth!
Yet on a 1920s Sunday Brooklands was a quiet and pleasant place for a picnic. Now there is the free Mercedes World Museum, the Brooklands Museum and any number of Club gatherings, including the Brooklands Society Reunion, but for me it is never quite the same.
I wanted to acquire the large sign from Weybridge station saying “Alight Here for Brooklands Motor Course” but the railway company told me it had been destroyed; just as well, I suppose, as it was so enormous as to be hard to transport and difficult to store.
However, the railway company told me that other smaller signs could be purchased, and prices quoted, if a particular disused station was named. Rhayader station, not far from where I live, was closed, and I thought signs such as “Do Not Cross the Line” and “Ladies’ Room” would be amusing to have on my barn doors, in which were my 1921 Leon-Bollée, 1922 8hp Talbot-Darracq, 1924 12/20 Calthorpe, 1925 Cluley, 1927 Family Morgan and A7, and the fuel tank and two wheels from the ex-Whitney Straight Duesenberg which Jenks was restoring – not all runners, I hasten to add. So I paid a few shillings and Denis Jenkinson went with me, armed with hammer, chisel and a ladder, to remove them. DSJ was up the ladder hammering away when a policeman arrived on his bicycle, and said the value of what we were removing might be negligible but we were still stealing railway property, which was a criminal offence.
“I think not,” I said. Before he became difficult I produced the receipt I had for the signs. Another of those rare, rather satisfactory moments!