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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.


 

Event image

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!

Records

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.

 Rewards

 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.’