Two Pre-War Courses

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An article in the Farmers’ Guardian last July explained the terrible state in which the Army left the Donington Hall 2,000-acre estate near Derby. According to this article they erected some 200 huts, laid down six miles of roadways, tons of hardcore, and moved in 70,000 vehicles, after giving the owners five days to quit. When they moved out in 1956 the present owner, Mr. John Gillies Shields, found the whole place derelict, the Hall, chapel and farms badly damaged, woodlands mutilated, gates and fences destroyed, and virtually the whole acreage sterilised by the indiscriminate tipping of waste diesel oil and detergent. Vermin were everywhere. The difficulties of farming the estate in this condition are outlined, and motor-racing enthusiasts who enjoyed Donington before the war will sympathise with Mr. Shields and with Mr. Bill Smith who manages the Home Farm. Now there is a threat of encroachment of runways for proposed extensions to East Midland Airport. It seems obvious that motor racing will never return to Donington, which was owned by one titled family from 1461 to 1895, was then sold, and bought from a speculator by the present Mr. Shields’ grandfather, who built the race circuit there.

As our Rally Correspondent pointed out last month, one special stage of the R.A.C. Rally next month is scheduled to go to Brooklands. This represents a spot of history in the making, inasmuch as no serious competition has been held within the confines of the old Motor Course since 1939. However, apparently this stage will be a very short one, mainly for the benefit of TV crews wanting to film the rally cars soon after the start from London. They will enter by the Oyster Lane gate and leave by the Brooklands Road, but I think it unlikely that they will dash madly up and down the runway, or use any part of the Track. Certainly the British Aircraft Corporation has begun to clear jigs and other debris from the course, a start having been made from the Byfleet Bridge for about a hundred yards towards the Railway Straight. When I called to enquire the object of this very welcome clean-up I was courteously received and told that the intention is to make the place generally presentable but that overall clearance may well occupy ten years. If the Brooklands Society, as seems assured, is able to hold another Re-Union within the Track next summer, its members will see very desirable changes in the look of the place, and presumably with every visit the Track, Test Hill, etc., will look more and more like they did in pre-war days. But the fact remains that this is a sensible industrial tidy-up. It does not for one moment suggest, in spite of “G. P.” optimistically expressing the hope last month, that Brooklands is being cleared for Club competitions or even for the R.A.C. Rally, nor will the public be admitted, we understand, to the special stage at Brooklands on the occasion of the Rally. It will be splendid, however, on the annual pilgrimages there of the Brooklands Society, to see the old bankings gradually uncovered and the trees and foliage cut back. And if any filming is scheduled to take place at this hallowed ground, the backcloth looks like being more appropriate than it has been for 30 long years.

So full marks to the B.A.C. for putting its historic house in order; but do not construe this as meaning that Brooklands Race Track is to be restored to us. To some extent safety precautions and the possible fire-risk may have prompted this welcome and overdue “spring-clean”, at what is an historic flying ground as well as the World’s first motor-racing course.—W. B.