Brooklands Racing Circuit Opens
In the early 20th century, motoring in Britain was exciting and exotic. It was also considered reckless and dangerous. So laws were passed to keep the country’s Mr Toads in check by limiting their speeds.
For 31 years from 1865, speeds were restricted to a sub-pedestrian 2mph in town, and 4mph out of it. It was raised in 1896 to 14mph.they liked to go fast – in June 1906, they staged the first Grand Prix.
That annoyed some people. And it really annoyed Hugh Fortescue Locke King. So he spent £150,000 (some £15m in today’s money) building a motor racing circuit in the grounds of his estate in Weybridge, Surrey. He was strongly encouraged by his friend Selwyn Edge, a racing driver and car dealer.
The result was Brooklands – a 2.7 mile-long concrete circuit, 100 feet wide, with steeply banked curves. . It opened to the public in June 1907, and on 6 July, it held its first race meeting.
In so many ways Brooklands was a reflection of its times: it was a private venture, built on his estate by a wealthy landowner, Hugh Locke-King; it was a grand gesture, largely built it seems because of friendly pressure by Locke-King’s social circle; and it was another British first – the first purpose built car racing track – in the era of confidence and daring that preceded WWI .
Originally a somewhat simpler project had been intended, but eventually the banked track, built in concrete, cost the owners £150,000, roughly £10 million now. The banking allowed high speed driving on the 2.75 mile circuit, though the concrete (tarmac surfacing would have cost too much) gave a bumpy ride and was prone to wear tyres out rapidly.
Work on the track, designed by Royal Engineers’ expert Colonel Holden, only began in late 1906, but the gangs of labourers, teams of horses, and even a steam engine for the heavy work, ensured it was completed within nine months – something else hard to envisage for such an undertaking today – the safety checks would probably take longer. The official opening was actually on June 17 1907, but the work had not really been completed by then, and only a procession was possible (led by Ethel Locke-King, wife of the circuit’s owner). The first true race was held almost three weeks later, on July 6 1907.
Brooklands would go on to many other firsts: the first time a car covered 100 miles in an hour (1913); the first British Grand Prix (1926); and the first place where an English built plane was flown by an English pilot –Edwin A V Roe in 1907