I live quite close to Booklands and have driven at a Mercedes World track event, but I’m sorry to say I had never visited this iconic track, It’s a gem. Cross the cast iron bridge and you enter through a pretty basic timber chalet. Brooklands is an intimate and very low key venue run and staffed by enthusiasts. It’s a hotch potch of some incredible history and I mean that in a good way, as you wander you will see:
A small but personal collection of early Formula One memorabilia.
A great collection of early bicylces right through to the present day.
A superb selection of early vintage motorcycles.
A selection of memorabilia and wonderful classic cars related to the history of Brooklands.
Then as you wander the “paddock” you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a graveyard for planes, the centrepiece of which stands Concorde, sitting proudly on the tarmac. I didn’t count them but there must be a dozen planes most of which you can go on and the volunteers positively encouraged us to sit in the cockpits and soak it all in. Most of the planes actually flew in on the old runway that was at the heart of Brooklands and now stand a little sadly landlocked by the river and various buildings. Scattered around the planes are various flight paraphernalia and equipment, moulds for aircraft panels, embarkation stairs, engines, fuel tankers and so on.
Then there is the London Bus Museum, as good as any bus museum. A wonderful collection beautifully maintained and with a “polished” graphic history of buses from the early days until today.
Tucked at the back of all of this and not really an active part of the “tour” is what I really came to see, the track. It’s there but you sort of have to discover it for yourself and I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to walk on it, but I did. It’s simple superb. Quite eerie, it’s much larger than I thought and the banked turns slope up fifty or sixty feet towards the horizon. The angle of the banking is steep, so steep that its hard to climb to the top of the lip without proper shoes and some care.
The concrete surface is cracked and decayed, roots and moss break up the concrete in patches and at the top trees have started to invade the edges. But despite this (or perhaps because of it) you can’t help but be transported back to the tracks heyday and feel the ghosts of so many races and racers throttle past. Although it’s sad to see the track in disrepair, it’s actually lovely that you can feel it as it was, you can almost still see the tyre marks and smell the fumes. Its not been restored, repolished or repainted, it is what it is, the original track. In a way its a disgrace that the most important track in the history of motorsport is in this condition but I actually like it. What distresses me is the fact that this site has been developed, with out of town shops, business parks and Mercedes World.
Britain leads the way with motor racing (humour me whilst I focus in this but of course aviation was an incredible part of Brooklands as well), If it was my decision I would clear the site of any modern buildings and return Brooklands to what it was, a track. Restore it very carefully so that it is complete but leave the potholes and cracks and perhaps just trim a few trees, but don’t take away the ghosts and the atmosphere, keep the ramshackle planes and the history that is there and celebrate it with dignity rather than as it is now the second class citizen to commerce.
On my way out I ventured into the last building a wonderful original hanger, clad with corrugated iron and peeling paint. Inside I was speechless, the building is literally packed with an extraordinary collection of amazing aircraft from the early days of flight through to a Hawker Harrier. Everywhere you turn there is something to look at, memorabilia, engines, uniforms, and so on. Wow.
It’s hard to describe but what a wonderful place Brookland’s is. As a museum it has so far escaped “The” makeover and long may that continue. Where else can children climb on an early McLaren car and actually get inside, walk through Concorde, see the history of the bus and so much more. All carefully enclosed by a snaking behometh of a ghost which is the Brooklands track. Congratulations to all the volunteers and the Trust for their enthusiasm and love, visit soon.