A Day at the Races
This article by Brooklands Society Archivist TONY HUTCHINGS appeared in the Brooklands Bulletin July/ August 2014.
BARC Bank Holiday Meeting – 6th August1934
“What shall we do? Where shall we go?” Not uncommon questions as a Bank Holiday comes into sight in the diary. Something local – village fête or flower show, or a trip out in the car to a stately home or to the seaside, or something sporting like a cricket or tennis match perhaps. You might even consider a visit to Weybridge and an exciting afternoon at Brooklands! “Yes, that’s it, let’s go to Brooklands.”
‘...it was a lovely place, deep in green Surrey with masses of trees in the background, the River Wey running through to give a sight of a heron now and then; but with man-made noises ever breaking through; the periodic beat, beat, beat, clank, clank, clank of a steam train passing; the roar of a car and more remote but always there, aero engines buzzing, either stunting Moths or Dessouters or more urgent Hawker or Vickers planes.’ Cyril Posthumus
In the days leading up to the Bank Holiday Meeting enthusiasts would have been alert to any forecasts or facts that might appear in the motoring press, reading the ‘Forthcoming Events’ sections in The Motor, The Autocar or Motor Sport. The closing date for those intending to race on 6thAugust was 25th July, leaving just 13 days for the Broooklands Automobile Racing Club office staff to process the entry forms and produce and print the ‘Official Race Card’ as the programme was called.
Right then, how shall we get there?” Travelling by train from London was no problem as not only was the timetable on display in the station but the August Bank Holiday train services from Waterloo via Clapham Junction, Surbiton and Walton to Weybridge were printed in every programme. There was also a timetable for trains from Guildford via Woking. With racing commencing at 1.00pm and allowing for the walk from Weybridge Station to the Track ticket office, spectators had a choice of four trains from Waterloo, each taking about 40 minutes.
On the other hand one could always drive to Weybridge. A map in the RAC Yearbook for 1934 provided a route guide for both BARC Members and the general public. Members were recommended to leave London on the A3 via Putney, Roehampton and Malden, leaving the main road at Esher and taking the A317 through Hersham to Weybridge. They then approached the circuit from the north which made access through the tunnel under the Members’ Banking that much easier. An alternative was the route via Kew, Richmond and Kingston on the A309, joining the A3 just before Esher. The public were advised to come off the A3 at Cobham and follow the A245 to Byfleet, then up the B374 Brooklands Road to the entrance to the Track. ‘Open air carparks are provided near the gates for those who do not wish to take their cars into the public enclosure alongside the course.’
“Do you know what to do when we arrive?” BARC members and the public had a number of options when they arrived at the circuit. Members could turn off the Brooklands Road, go along Shell Way and down through a tunnel under the Members’ Banking to park in the Clubhouse and Finishing Straight area. If they had arrived by train, a footpath from Weybridge Station would lead them to the entrance at Caenshill and on to the Members’ Bridge over the Banking.
The public arriving via the Caenshill ticket office would take the footpath over Shell Way and through a second, pedestrian, tunnel under the Members’ Banking onto the hill where there were a number of enclosures, all with splendid views of the whole circuit. Next to the BARC Members’ enclosure was a Reserved Lawn (admission £1), then a 5/- (five-shilling – 25p) enclosure and finally a public area costing 2/6 (12½p). The admission price for the Bank Holiday Meeting was adults 3/6 (17½p), children 2/- (10p), with transfer to the Paddock costing 10/- (50p). If you chose to park alongside the Track the fee was 10/-(50p) otherwise car parking cost 2/6 (12½p). The entrance fee to the Fork Grandstand was 5/- (25p) for an adult and 2/6 (12½p) for a child.
Those who had visited the Track before would now notice that some changes had occurred over the winter months. A new grandstand had been erected on the Byfleet side of the Track at the Fork and the bridge over the Finishing Straight, which had been built in 1926 to join the Paddock to the Members’ Enclosure on the hill, was now fully enclosed and made more permanent. Over by the airfield the original hangars alongside the Byfleet Banking, which were erected in 1909-10, had been demolished and a new assembly hangar for Hawker aircraft had just been built by Boulton & Paul. Most of the racing took place on Saturdays, with a few events booked for Mondays – like this Bank Holiday Meeting – or even mid-week
“Did anything happen at Brooklands when the racing finished for the season?” Apart from the winter months when Track repairs and building work was undertaken, Brooklands was always busy. During weekdays the Track would be used by manufacturers developing their machines, the motoring press testing the latest models or racing mechanics putting their highly-tuned cars on trial prior to a race. Ordinary motorists could also use the Track if they were brave enough! The BARC Yearbook for 1934 stated that ‘The charge for the use of the Track, including the Test Hill and “Overseas Course” is 10 shillings per car, five shillings per motorcycle, per day, including admission of the driver and one passenger. Extra passengers charged at one shilling each.’
If being bounced around the Outer Circuit did not appeal, then summer weekends at Brooklands could be an alternative as the Weybridge venue took on a party atmosphere. As there was no race programme on a Sunday entry to the Paddock was free and the restaurant on the hill provided “thé dansant”– tea and dancing. The tennis courts were also available and at one stage there was a mini golf course set up. For others a visit to the Flying Village at the Byfleet end of the circuit enabled aviation enthusiasts to watch a flying display promoted by the Brooklands Aero Club, Brooklands Flying Club, Brooklands Aviation Limited or the Masonic County and Flying Club, the last opening in 1934. Those of a daring disposition could purchase a ticket at the Flight Ticket Office and go up, up and away over Weybridge in a light aircraft. Others may have preferred to keep their feet on the ground and enjoy lunch or tea in the Aero Clubhouse which opened in 1932. In short, there was always something happening at the Track.
“Once we are settled with a good view of the action, what kind of racing will we be watching?” The programme shows that between 1.00pm and 5.30 there would be four types of event familiar to the Brooklands enthusiast – three Short Handicaps, three Long Handicaps, four Mountain Handicaps and a Brooklands Championship event. The handicap events had variable starting times based on the driver’s skill and the speed of his car.
For the Short Handicap races the drivers were instructed to make a Pond Start (near the Fork) then complete two laps of the Outer Circuit before finishing on the Railway Straight, having driven some 6½ miles. In the Long Handicap events an additional lap of the Outer Circuit increased the distance to about nine miles, with the same start and finish lines. Starting on the Finishing Straight opposite the Paddock, the ‘Mountain Course’ then took a right turn under the Members’ Bridge, raced along the Members’ Banking clockwise to the Fork and ending on the Finishing Straight, the five laps adding up to around six miles.
“It doesn’t seem as if we will have much time for refreshments once the racing has started. Perhaps we should have a look now at what is available.” ‘The Army & Navy Co-operative Society are appointed as Catering Managers to the Brooklands authorities, and with their vast resources they undertake to supply refreshments, luncheons and teas to the spectators. There are large restaurants and licensed bars at several points in the enclosures, and soda fountains and marquees are also erected at convenient centres...’ BARC Yearbook 1934
BARC members had their own dining room on the first floor of the Clubhouse, overlooking the Paddock. Members and their guests would enjoy lunch and then watch the racing from this panoramic vantage point. Later they could have an afternoon tea. The lunch menu was substantial, comprising soup of the day (stockpot or Brown Windsor), a joint (roast lamb, beef or pork), a sweet (Brooklands treacle tart) followed by cheese and coffee. This would cost 3/6 (17½p), with tea (bread and butter, pastries and cake) at1/6 (7½p). The members also had the use of a lounge. If they were in the Members’ Enclosure on the hill then they could use the restaurant at the top of the hill. Members could also cross the bridge over the Finishing Straight to visit the Paddock facilities.
“I have heard there’s a chap called ‘Long Tom’ in the Paddock. Does he have something to do with looking after horses?” Well, strange as it may seem, this is not far from the truth because in the early days Brooklands was modelled on horse racing events and used names such as ‘Paddock’, ‘Race Cards’ and ‘Short’ and ‘Long Handicaps’. The BARC even permitted bookmakers on the site as long as they had official licences. A note in the programme always advised those thinking of placing a bet to do so only with bookmakers that displayed their ‘Official Permit’. Their business continued right up to the closure of the Track in1939. The bookies were located in the Paddock, together, in the 1930s, with a Tote Office run from a converted bus. They were also to be found on the Members’ Hill. Odds and starting prices were published in Sporting Life and Motor Sport for the benefit of serious ‘investors’.
Over the years some15 bookies operated at the Track, among them Thomas Harris –‘ Long Tom’ and Alf Leach – ‘The Motor King’.
“Having had lunch and laid a bit of pocket money on a car, what should we do before the racing starts?” It might be a good time to have a look in the programme and in particular at the drivers who are taking part. Scanning the race entry pages would have shown us that the likes of John Cobb and the Napier-Railton, which took to the Track for the first time at the August 1933 meeting, Oliver Bertram and the 12-cylinder Delage, Dudley Froy and his Bugatti, together with Raymond Mays and Humphrey Cook in the brand-new ERAs would be appearing. Earlier in 1934 Cobb had taken the Napier-Railton to the other banked track – at Montlhéry near Paris – for an attempt on the world 24-hour record. This run ended when Freddie Dixon crashed the car, but not before five worlds’ records had been taken. The damaged car was repaired in time for the August Bank Holiday Meeting.
Other drivers in the ‘well known’ category and worthy of spectators’ attention were Harry Clayton in his Amilcar, Pat Driscoll in the single-seat Austin, Tom Delaney in his Lea Francis ,Chris Staniland (the test pilot) driving a Bugatti, ‘Goldie’ Gardner in an MG and Ron Horton also in an MG, this time the record-breaking Magnette. Less well known perhaps were the drivers and names of the various specials, from the Appleton to the Rapier; unorthodox machines they may have been, but perfectly suited to the Brooklands Track where experimentation had been recognised as an essential part of the development of the automobile from the earliest days.
As the time approaches for the start perhaps we should enquire, “Just how are the races organised and what actually happens during this Bank Holiday afternoon?” Reporting on all 11 events would be too complicated so we will concentrate on a Short Handicap, the Brooklands Championship and a Mountain Handicap. In good time for the first race – the Esher Junior Short Handicap at 1.00pm– 13 cars would leave the Paddock and accelerate down the Finishing Straight to the Fork and turn towards the Pond start line. The programme may have shown numbers up to 15 but regular visitors would have known that 13 was never used. Also, the Paddock score board would have indicated that A C Dobson’s Bugatti was a non-starter. As the drivers approached the start line marshals would direct them to their correct places according to their handicaps. In overall charge was ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite the official starter who would make sure that the ‘limit’ man C le S Metcalfe with the lowest handicap of one minute, nine seconds was placed on the inside edge of the Track. His Salmson carried race number 15 and would be flagged away first, the remaining 12 cars following in accordance with their individual handicaps, ending with the Bainton Special last to set off. Cars with the same handicap were flagged away by ‘Ebby’ in a group, which meant that in the first race he released the 13 contest-ants in eight groups. As for the race itself it developed into a match between the MG of Aston-Rigby and the Lea Francis of Tom Delaney. The MG, lapping at 95.96mph, just held off the Lea Francis to cross the line 25 yards ahead at an excellent average speed of 90.46mph for the 6½ miles, ‘...good going for an unsupercharged1,087cc car...’ 300 yards behind and in third place came Green’s 747cc MG. Interestingly, Tom Delaney and his Lea Francis would carry on racing in VSCC and other events for a further 66 years!
With regard to the sixth race – the 1934 Brooklands Championship Race – the programme shows that no handicaps were indicated as this was a ‘scratch’ race and a means of deciding the relative merits of such cars as Cobb’s Napier-Railton, Don’s Bugatti, Bertram’s Delage and Fotheringham’s Bugatti – a type-35B that had formerly belonged to Malcolm Campbell. The entries were by invitation only, with Horton’s MG a non-starter. Once again the Pond start was used, but this was a longer race, of about 11¾ miles, which amounted to four laps of the Outer Circuit finishing on the Railway Straight. By the time Cobb’s Napier-Railton came off the Members’ Banking onto the Railway Straight it was in the lead, a position it never relinquished. His standing lap was run at 118.30mph. With the Track virtually to himself, Cobb went all-out and set up a new Brooklands lap record of 140.91mph, covering the 2.767 miles in 70.69 seconds. Having achieved this he slowed to 138.34mph,then 134.60 before crossing the line. Meanwhile Dudley Froy and Oliver Bertram were fighting it out for second place. Froy’s handling of the Bugatti was first class and he covered one lap at 135.34mph.Bertram’s Delage, although more powerful, managed a lap at 133.88mph. Cobb won by half a mile at an overall 131.53mph, a new record as this was the highest average speed for any race since Brooklands was built. It beat Kaye Don’s previous record of 128.36mph, set in May 1928. As for the others, Froy came in second and Bertram third, some eight yards behind the Bugatti. The course changed once again for the last two races of the afternoon. Now they had to cover five laps of the ‘Mountain Circuit’, a distance of about six miles.
The cars entered for the 10th race – the Third Esher Mountain Handicap – were evenly matched with only 32 seconds between Staniland on scratch and Driscoll on limit. This usually resulted in an exciting race and this Mountain Handicap was to be no exception. Although the cars were bunched together, Raymond Mays driving ERA R1A picked up six places on lap fourto arrive at the finish in second place. In doing so he broke the Class F lap record with a time of55.2 seconds at 76.31mph. Chris Staniland in the Bugatti ‘... by dint of really fine driving... passed 10 cars in the five laps...’ and despite having to get through the field from the scratch mark, managed third place.
The one car that no-one could catch however was Aubrey Esson-Scott’s very smart, all-black, supercharged two-litre Bugatti which won at 69.05mph by 150 yards. Between them, the Clerk of the Course Percy Bradley and the Starter A V Ebblewhite must have been kept very busy organising the cars, the races, the Track staff and the drivers during an intensive afternoon. If we were to take just one example, the seventh race – the Esher Junior Long Handicap –and the eighth – the Esher Senior Long Handicap– we may get some idea of what was involved. At 3.40pm ‘Ebby’ flagged off the 12 contestants in the seventh event, but not all at once as the individual handicaps had to be accounted for. As we have seen from the start-line set up for the first race, cars were grouped according to their time handicap, so in the Esher Junior Long ‘Ebby’ released nine individuals or groups over a one minute, 47-second period. He then moved from the start line near the Fork to the finishing line on the Railway Straight to see, just minutes later, the winning car crossing the line at an average speed of 87.2mph. Allowing for the staggered start and finish of the whole field, the race would have been run in just about 5½ minutes. This is in part borne out by the lap speed table printed in the programme. Humphreys, driving Charles Follett’s Alvis, won at an average speed of 87.2mph. The figure of87.38 in the table equates to a lap time of 114 seconds. Over three laps this would add up to five minutes, two seconds, but obviously not every lap was covered at the highest lap speed. Getting off the start line, accelerating through the gears and negotiating an advantageous place amongst 17other competitors would all have taken time and added to the overall race duration. Meanwhile the Stewards would have been organising the 14 cars taking part in the Senior Long Handicap and sending them off to the start line. With just a 25-minute interval between race seven and race eight, time was of the essence and they may have waited in handicap order at the end of the Finishing Straight until the tail-enders in race seven disappeared around the Members’ Banking before proceeding to the start line and getting the race off on the dot at 4.05pm.
If the applause was anything to go by the spectators – ‘the right crowd’ – thoroughly enjoyed the racing, but what did the drivers get out of it besides experiencing the thrill of driving at high speed around a world famous banked track? As well as the distinction of coming first, second or third in a race, Brooklands drivers also came away with prizes. Aston-Rigby who won the first race was awarded £30 and a cup, with £20 for the driver in second place and £10 for the third finisher. John Cobb’s prize for winning the Brooklands Championship was £60, with Kaye Don receiving £40 and Oliver Bertram £20. The winner of the Third Mountain Handicap, event two, also won £30, with Raymond Mays who followed Esson-Scott home in second place getting £15. T A S O Mathieson won £5 for his third place. It should be noted however that entrants, who were usually the same person as the driver in the race but not always, paid a fee when they submitted each race entry form. Apart from the Mountain Handicap events in which the fee was three guineas, the remaining races cost £5 for each entry. Although not mentioned in the programme, there was a final award presented after the racing had finished – an Appearance Prize in the form of a trophy, presented for the smartest turn-out of both car and driver. Clearly the superb presentation of the ERA R1A and its driver Raymond Mays in his chic blue overalls caught the eyes of the judges as they walked along the Paddock bays. This trophy was to stand on the mantelpiece in Eastgate House, Mays’ house in Bourne, for many years.
So we come to the end of an afternoon full of thrilling motor sport at its best. Perhaps we should have a last look at some of the statistics gleaned from this typical BARC meeting. There were 11 events with 29 makes of car and 77 drivers taking part. Race distances varied between 6½ and 11¾ miles, 24 drivers competed in one race each, 39 in two, 12 in three and two in four.
The makes of cars taking part were Alfa Romeo, Alvis, Amilcar, Anderson Special, Appleton Special, Austin, Bainton Special, Bentley, Bugatti, Cuthbert Special, Delage, ERA, Frazer Nash, Graham Paige, Hann Special, Harker Special, Invicta, Lea Francis, Marendaz, Maserati, Mercedes, MG, Napier-Railton, Rapier Special, Riley, Salmson, Singer and Vauxhall.
The drivers taking were K M G Anderson, R JW Appleton, A F Ashby, A G Bainton, J H Bartlett, R A Beaver, A H Boyd, J Lemon Burton, W A Bowen Buscarlet, O Bertram, C T Baker-Carr, H Clayton, J Cobb, E H Cochrane, H Cook, Lord de Clifford, W A Cuthbert, J C Davis, C T Delaney, V Derrington, H Dobbs, A C Dobson, Miss R Don, P L Donkin, L P Driscoll, C G H Dunham, G Dunfee, R H Eccles, Miss D B Evans, K D Evans ,W G Everitt, T S Fotheringham, D Froy, A T G Gardner, G L Green, T Hann, W E Harker, J R Hodge, R T Horton, W E Humphreys, K Hutchison, R Jarvis, C I Lewin, D N Letts, J W Lucas, A Powys-Lybbe, L Levy, H L Maddick, R RK Marker, C Martin, R Mays, C le S Metcalfe, R Morgan, Miss K M Moodie, R J Munday, K W Marten, Miss P Naismith, R F Oats, C D Parrish, K H Perry, E K Rayson, C A Richardson, A Aston Rigby, G H Robins, H Rose, A R Samuel, T V G Selby, A Esson-Scott, S Smith, E. Unwin-Smith, C Staniland, Miss D O Summers, W L Thompson, P M Walters, R D Watson, W Wilkinson and S F Wilson.
And how will we remember this Bank Holiday afternoon? The Autocar reported on the meeting in its 10th August edition: ‘“Not at all a bad meeting,” said one Brooklands habitué to another as they met in the Paddock after last Monday’s meeting. Indeed, the day had been full of thrills.
John Cobb goes down in history as the first man to lap Brooklands at over 140mph... Then Pat Driscoll raised the 750cc Mountain lap record to an astonishing figure of 72.37mph with the single-seater Austin... Both ERAs annexed the Mountain lap record for their respective classes...Humphrey Cook (1,100cc) at 72.37mph, same as Driscoll, and Raymond Mays (1,500cc) at 76.31mph. And there were many close finishes, with the field all swooping off the Home Banking towards the line, bunched together.’
This extract from Wheels Take Wings by Percy Bradley and Michael Burn sums up the spectacle from the spectators’ viewpoint. Although published in 1933 and relating to the Whitsun Open Meeting of that year, their words capture the moment: 'The race is so comfortable to watch. On the hill people lie down and see it go by a tease from whatever side they choose; if they go nearer the Banking is under their noses. They do not suffer from the congestion of grandstands with nowhere else to sit, when excitement causes those behind to fall upon those in front and rob them of the exciting moment. There is no need to hurry or push people aside with a huge hill(called indeed a Mountain) at their disposal. I think that this bringing of the spectacle to the spectator, rather than a bustle in the opposite manner, is the right way to race; sitting on the Bridge with prodigious skidding going on beneath you, or lying on the grass with field glasses – very agreeable. There is nothing in the world more pleasant than to be thrilled in comfort. The bridge above the Members’ Banking is an admirable place to try it. At first the ravine of track underneath is empty away to the Paddock down the Finishing Straight, save for a few bold pressmen poised on the Banking with their cameras; opposite the Paddock, in a valley, the cars line up with jets of sunlight springing from their bonnets and the many-coloured movement of the crowds around. Mr Ebblewhite steps forward with his flag, drops it and the lowest-handicapped breaks the line, then the rest pursue one after another, roaring up the straight. At the turning some, the smaller, hug the corner while the giants swoop to the summit of the Banking and, wheels shrieking as they skid, fall upon the midgets beyond the bridge and dart away again. Last, the scratch car, like a black dragon ridden by a crouching demon, up to the edge with a swerve and a quiver and away with a roar beneath your feet, before you are aware; next lap you see it growing from a speck far down the Finishing Straight, devouring the baby cars like insects, rush up the bank a yard above another, and flash vibrating down in front of it. Next lap it leaves behind a bunch of them, next is in the thick of it catching up the leaders. There is always th echance of doing a lap record, and after the first circuit hardly a minute goes without some skid zigzagging crazily beneath you, the concrete marked with the paths of faithful wheels.’