I wonder if you were lucky enough to get a ticket for the Rotary lecture at Halliford School a month or so back. The speaker this year was Allan Winn, CEO and Director of Brooklands Museum who gave a fascinating overview of the Brooklands legacy; on our doorstep we have such a wealth of history. You may associate Brooklands predominantly with motor racing. Brooklands was the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit.
Three world land speed records were set there and the fastest ever pre-war 500 mile race was held on the circuit. It was the site of the first ever British Grand Prix (1926) and was the birthplace of the great record breakers; Campbell’s Bluebird and John Cobb’s Napier-Railton. But at the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, Brooklands closed as a racing venue and the site expanded its aviation production. In fact Brookland’s aviation legacy is greater than that of motor racing with a continuous history of design, testing and construction covering 80 years. More aircraft (nearly 19,000) of more types were first built or flown here than any other single site in Europe.
It is this aviation history which is now being celebrated in style with the opening in November of the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed. It was built with the help of a £6M Heritage Lottery grant and we were lucky enough to get a preview of the facility at the recent Aviation Day. The team have every reason to be proud; it is magnificent and a fitting setting for some of these incredible planes.
Brooklands is home to the Vickers Vimy, the first to cross the Atlantic and the first to fly to Australia. In our modern day such flights don’t seem such a bid deal but when you see the plane you are truly struck by the magnitude of such an achievement. This was in 1919, almost 100 years ago.
In case you are not familiar with it (I confess to not being very up to speed myself on aircraft), the Vimy is a bi-plane, but not just any bi-plane, it is HUGE! It was on display at Aviation Day and my jaw dropped when I saw it. With a 64 foot wingspan this aircraft is a giant. Imagine the bravery of the men who flew her.
These were truly the brave. The Aircraft Hangar is going to open the world of these flying machines to the wider public, with interactive displays as well as the chance to get hands on, feeling what it was like to work in an aircraft factory. This new exhibition is the culmination of a lot of hard work over a long time. The Museum wants people to feel like they were in an aircraft factory, and to see how aircraft were designed, constructed and flown at Brooklands from the 1900s to the 1980s. One of the focuses of the new displays is on the people that worked and flew here. It was such a major industry in the area that local villages such as Weybridge, Addlestone, Byfleet and Cobham were built to house workers. The new facility opens mid-November.