Don't let motor racing's historic factories — and sheds — disappear: The Editor

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There were many highlights at this year’s Festival of Speed as we explain a little further on in this month’s magazine. But one thing that stood out and which it is easy to take for granted is the wonderful preservation of the cars.

This is as it should be: these are genuine historic artefacts that tell a story and have a value well beyond the sum of their parts. They are worth preserving – as the crowds of people gathering around them attest.

It is curious then that we do not always afford the same reverence to the places they come from. In fact we can show a careless disregard for locations at the heart of our racing history. This was brought to mind this month when we received a letter from a reader, Alex Farrell from Surrey, about a key piece of F1 history that may be under threat.

Over to Alex: “For the best part of 10 years there has been talk of the Tyrrell Shed being relocated to nearby Brooklands Museum,” he wrote. “I phoned up to find out if this has happened; it has not. I drove to Ockham to see if the shed still exists; it does. It’s in good order and being used for storage. I had a long chat with the gent whose company occupies the site. He is keen for the shed to be saved but needs it moved by the end of this year. The latest quote for dismantling and reassembly at Brooklands is around £50,000.”

Alex has contacted Brooklands and tells us that they said they have no room for the building, leaving its future hanging in the balance. He ends by saying, “I do hope that something can be done to save it. Let’s not forget , Ken Tyrrell took on and beat the world from that shed.”

Often it is down to enthusiasts like Alex to stop the bulldozers moving in. A few years ago a planning application was submitted to Haringey Council in London to demolish a set of buildings on Tottenham Lane which had been the site of Colin Chapman’s first proper Lotus factory. Objections, led by Neil Duncan who was involved with the Colin Chapman Museum, highlighted the significance of the site. His efforts led to over 60 objections to the application, which was eventually refused. “The proposed development would result in the demolition of a Locally Listed Building which is a heritage of historic significance,” said the planning officer. Too right!

Today the buildings and a plaque remain in place and I look at them every time I visit – which I do quite often since it is now my local branch of Jewson.

“It is often down to enthusiasts to stop the bulldozers moving in”

Some sites are still remembered, of course: in 2018 English Heritage treated the Cooper Car Company works in Surbiton to its own blue plaque. In Bourne, Lincolnshire, you can hardly move for reminders of its association with BRM and ERA, featuring as it does a Raymond Mays Way, a Graham Hill Way, a BRM exhibition centre, and of course RM’s home, Eastgate House, is well preserved there. Some prompts from history are more subtle: there is now an office block where the Connaught racing car base once stood in Send, Surrey – but at least it is called Connaught House.

Not all sites are as lucky. Although the name has recently been revived little remains of the Vanwall base in Acton. And as we reported in these pages some months ago, the Lola factory site in Huntingdon is up for sale with no guarantees about any new venture remembering its heritage. Our own Simon Arron remembers trying to trace Trojan Cars, which built some of the chassis for Bruce McLaren as well as its own single seaters. “It was based in Beddington Farm Road, Croydon and I tried to locate the site when I lived nearby, but couldn’t work out quite where it had been,” reports Simon. “I think it might be the site of a local water treatment works now.”

As that era of our racing history retreats further, is it now appropriate that we start taking such sites a little more seriously?

It is true that because of their nature these buildings are rarely of any true architectural significance but that surely is the point. They are a product of their time and however prosaic they are undoubtedly “heritage of historic significance”. Within them, gifted men – and women – worked with total focus and commitment to add new chapters to our nation’s sporting history.

Who knows, perhaps next year the central display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed won’t be a virtual incarnation of a Lotus as it was this year but a lowly – if large – wooden shed; a shed in which such feats of engineering as the 1971 constructors’ title-winning Tyrrell 003, and the 005/006s which took the ’73 drivers’ title originated.

Joe Dunn, editor
Follow Joe on Twitter @joedunn90

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