Brooklands – not just a museum

Tim Britton visits Brooklands, the birthplace of British aviation and motorsport, to look at the motorcycles in its collection and learn how it is striving to interact with visitors.

If you have never been to Brooklands, you must endeavour to rectify that as soon as possible, for the place is fantastic, and pays complete homage to British motorsport and aviation.

This faithful replica of the M23 BSA Empire Star, on which Wal Handley earned a Brooklands Gold Star for lapping at 100mph, was wheeled outside for Old Bike Mart’s visit. Why a replica? During the next race on the same day, the original was damaged beyond repair!

So many ‘firsts’ were achieved at Brooklands – first purpose-built race track, first female private pilot’s licence in the UK granted (to Hilda Hewlett, who also built her own aeroplanes!), first person to travel 100 miles in an hour and… well, the list just goes on and on.

Although our focus at Old Bike Mart is two wheels, the other aspects of Brooklands ought not to be ignored as often those involved in one aspect of powered transport would be active in another discipline too.

Brooklands was opened by Hugh Locke King in 1907 and remained open until 1939, when the aircraft industry expanded on the site. Unfortunately the circuit provided a distinctive landmark for enemy aircraft on the hunt for aviation factories, so it was bombed a lot, and other parts of it were destroyed to disguise it, so it was too badly damaged to reopen as a race track when peace returned. Thankfully, the banking is still there, and the sight of cars and motorcycles hurtling round flat-out in the 1920s and 30s must have been awe-inspiring.

I’d never managed to pay a visit to the circuit before, and it is thanks to Paul Stewart – the chap responsible for marketing Brooklands – that this omission from my experiences has been rectified.

Read more in the April issue of OBM – out now!

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