History of the Museum
The first significant event to celebrate the history of Brooklands was held in 1957 when Vickers-Armstrongs organised a Brooklands’ Golden Jubilee in association with the BARC, VSCC, BRMCC and others. With many ex-Brooklands racing drivers, Brooklands cars and aviation personalities in attendance, the 1907-39 Brooklands Memorial was unveiled by Lord Brabazon of Tara. In 1969 Godalming Round Table organised a 'Brooklands Reunion' which attracted large crowds and many of the Brooklands personalities and vehicles that had attended the Race Track before the War.
This resulted in the formation of the Brooklands Society later the same year, founder members including Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Bill Boddy. The Society held Reunions annually and recruited ‘Track Clearers’ who did much valuable work to remove undergrowth and natural camouflaging that had obscured the Circuit and Test Hill since the War.
In 1977 Weybridge Museum staged an exhibition 'Wings over Brooklands' curated by Morag Barton with help from British Aerospace Weybridge, the Vintage Aircraft Flying Association (formed in 1965) and the Brooklands Society. The exhibition highlighted the uniquely important role that Brooklands had played in the history of international aviation and motoring and, following its success, Morag led a move to establish a museum dedicated to the history of Brooklands.
The Founding of the Museum
Following British Aerospace’s announcement that they were going to sell off the most historic 40 acres of the original Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit, a 99-year Lease was entered into by Elmbridge Borough Council and Gallaher Ltd in 1984 for 30 of the 40 acres of the site, for the purpose of founding a museum at Brooklands.
Refurbishment began and the collections grew rapidly. In 1985 the Brooklands Clubhouse and 100 metres of the track were restored by Gallaher and Elmbridge Borough Council, and the Vickers Wellington bomber 'R' for 'Robert', recovered from Loch Ness, was delivered to Brooklands.
In 1987 the Brooklands Museum Trust was launched, with Sir Peter Masefield as Chairman and Morag Barton was appointed Museum Director. Many major features of the site were restored or recreated, with Test Hill re-opened and Members’ Bridge reconstructed in 1988, the end of that year seeing the final closure of the British Aerospace factory at Brooklands. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s the collection of Vickers and Hawker aircraft continued to grow and significant vehicles were acquired for long term display.
In April 1989 HRH Prince Michael of Kent became Royal Patron and the Museum was formally opened to the public in 1991. Over the next few years new exhibitions and restored buildings were opened and in 1997 the Museum acquired the iconic 1933 ex-John Cobb Napier-Railton with the aid of National Heritage Memorial Fund. Schools took advantage of a structured education programme from the early days of the museum, the first 'Schools Action Day' being held in 1994, and annual motoring and aviation events, including fly-ins, became popular with visitors.
On 7th - 8th November 2000 the River Wey broke its banks, resulting in temporary closure of the Museum and major refurbishment of the Clubhouse and some Motoring Village buildings. From 2001 until the present time Brooklands Museum has continued to develop its collections, exhibitions and activities. July 2001 saw the official opening of the Grand Prix Exhibition in the Jackson Shed and in 2004 the Sultan of Oman’s VC10 and the Vickers Vanguard Merchantman, which had previously lived on the other side of the river Wey, were relocated to the new Vickers Aircraft Park in preparation for the major development of a brand centre and handling tracks on the airfield. Mercedes-Benz World opened in 2006 and the main visitor car park for the museum moved off-site to the other side of the river.
One of the most significant acquisitions in the museum’s history was Concorde G-BBDG in 2003 which, after extensive restoration, was opened to the public in 2006 and has been welcoming visitors to the half hour Concorde Experience ever since. In 2009 the replica Vickers Vimy, which re-enacted the first Trans-Atlantic flight, and long distance flights to Australia and South Africa, was donated. The Concorde Simulator was opened in the same year and being taught how to fly Concorde by an ex-Concorde pilot on the Simulator is as popular as ever.
In 2012 the 1926 Delage Grand Prix racing car was bequeathed to the Museum. Further significant acquisitions were made in 2013, including important archives from the Bill Boddy estate (including all surviving original BARC minutes books, scrutineers’ notes with racing and track records for Brooklands); the last Vickers VC10 built at Brooklands ZA150, which was flown into Dunsfold and is now maintained in running order there by volunteers, and the Sopwith Tabloid floatplane replica. In March 2014 the restored Stratosphere Chamber, Control Room and Aero-engine display was officially opened by Mary Stopes-Roe, Barnes Wallis’ daughter.
The freehold of the Museum site was gifted to Brooklands Museum Trust by Japan Tobacco International in January 2010 and in August 2011 the new London Bus Museum, which is run by an independent trust, was opened.
Major events continued to attract visitors, including the Centenary Festival in June 2007 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklands Race Track which saw a re-enactment of the 1907 opening parade; the first Brooklands Double Twelve event in 2008, and in March 2009 the 100th anniversary of the opening of Test Hill. The first Dunsfold ‘Wings & Wheels’ event was staged by Brooklands Museum in 2005 and we have continued to organise the motoring demonstrations for that event since then. The Antiques Roadshow came to Brooklands in 2010, resulting in two programmes, and in the same year James May’s Toy Stories recreated the Brooklands Track in its entirety for slot cars. The resulting programmes have been repeated many times over the last few years, providing welcome publicity for the Museum.
Our Learning programme now hosts over 13,000 school children and students on curriculum-based visits every year, with the inspiration of young people in the STEM subjects being at the heart of what the museum does. Family activities are provided at many of our larger events and during school holidays, including our ever-popular car rides in period-style cars up Test Hill and on the Members’ Banking. A 4-D Theatre was opened in the Balloon Hangar in 2013 with the Napier-Railton Experience, which was filmed at the Museum and at Montlhéry.
In April 2016 foundations were started for a new Flight Shed and archive store as part of the £8m Heritage Lottery-funded Brooklands Aircraft Factory and Race Track Revival Project, which will also relocate the Bellman Hangar in a new position off the Finishing Straight of the Race Track, re-displaying it as the Brooklands Aircraft Factory. The Finishing Straight will also be restored and provide a wonderful arena for motoring and aviation events. The project is due to open late summer 2017 with a detailed Activity Plan to be delivered over the next five years.
Volunteers have been instrumental in the success of the Museum since its earliest times, in restoration, research, fundraising and engaging with visitors. In 2016 the Brooklands Museum volunteers were awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.