Brooklands is known as the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation, and it was the site of many engineering and technological feats throughout the 20th century.
The story begins with Hugh Locke-King who decided to build the world’s first purpose-built motor circuit across his estate at Weybridge in Surrey. The track was made of concrete and 100ft wide, with banked sections 30ft high. It was more than three miles long.
The racetrack was built in just nine months, costing Locke-King the equivalent of millions of pounds in today’s money. Days after it opened in 1907, Selwyn Francis Edge, a motor-racing pioneer, set a speed record at Brooklands which stood for 17 years.
In 1908 Alliott Verdon Roe began flight trials at Brooklands, becoming the first Englishman to fly in an aeroplane of his own design. In 1909 the middle of the racetrack was cleared to become one of Britain’s first aerodromes.
Throughout the decades that followed, 18,600 new aircraft of nearly 250 types were made, assembled or took their first flights at Brooklands.
The famous track’s giant footprint can still be seen today. A section of the disused circuit and airfield is the home of the Brooklands Museum. Here exhibits ranging from early racing cars to Second World War aircraft live on.
The museum is a 20-minute walk from Weybridge station, and just off the M25. It is largely open to the elements so it is advisable to visit during decent weather.
The first section, Motoring Village, is home to sheds, garages and workshops housing vintage cars and displays. Two particularly interesting sections are the Speed Record Exhibition, which has racing cars such as the Napier-Railton and racing motorcycles on show, and the Grand Prix Exhibition. Here visitors can race for pole position in the McLaren Formula One simulator.
Meanwhile, younger visitors can be heard having fun at the nearby interactive science gallery. Here children are encouraged to get creative by powering trains and experimenting with light and sound.
A short walk away, the Wellington Hangar, originally supplied to Vickers-Armstrongs, houses fascinating aviation exhibits, including the Wellington bomber recovered from Loch Ness, a Vickers Vimy and Hawker Hurricane, Vickers’ guided weapons, and Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs. Outside in the Vickers aircraft park, various examples of airliners built at Brooklands can be spotted.
But it’s one of the newer attractions that’s proving to be a big hit. Visitors are invited to relive the excitement of the supersonic age by booking a ticket on a virtual flight on board Delta Golf, the only accessible Concorde in South East England. The “flight” lasts 30 minutes and includes an exhibition in the rear cabin about how the aircraft was built, and its connection with the museum – much of Concorde’s design and manufacture took place at Brooklands.
The site is also home to the London Bus Museum, opened last summer. About 30 immaculate buses and coaches are arranged in a walk-through 100-year timeline.
Brooklands has a real sense of pride and achievement. Volunteers and enthusiasts can be seen dotted around the site, working tirelessly on restoration projects. It’s a museum with a rich history and a big heart.
5 things to see
- Napier-Railton: Between 1933 and 1937 the car broke 47 world speed records at Brooklands.
- Racing experience: See if you go the distance in the McLaren Formula One simulator.
- Hawker Hurricane: The Z2389 Hurricane was shot down in 1942, and its restoration began in 1999.
- Concorde Experience: Be a passenger on the first aircraft to carry 100 people at twice the speed of sound.
- Chocolate Express: In 1922 London’s first luxurious “Pirate” bus became an instant success.