Home Events Simple pleasures, more than a few photo opportunities and some difficult decisions

Simple pleasures, more than a few photo opportunities and some difficult decisions

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Empty tables, empty chairs: Social distancing in the normally bustling Sunbeam Café at Brooklands. This is where quite a few Macfilos stories have been composed over the years. Wednesday, 18 March 2020 (Leica Q2)

The things we take for granted are fast disappearing from our lives. Among them, in the foreseeable future, will be my weekly excursion to Brooklands. As a club member, I like to get my money’s worth and enjoy taking pot luck to see what old cars and motorcycles have turned up for the day. There’s often something really interesting, such as that lovely Paris taxi I encountered on a routine visit back in 2018.

A chance meeting on a routine visit: A wonderful old Paris taxi. August 2018, Leica X2
A chance meeting on a routine visit: A wonderful old Paris taxi. August 2018, Leica X2

Something new, something oily

It’s a wonderful place to visit, even for a frequenter, and there is always something new to see. A walk through the grounds and around the remaining section of the race track is always a pleasure and, usually, there are many interesting people to chat with. I count myself lucky to have such a magnificent destination within a half-hour drive of home.

Happy days as members of the Bentley Drivers' Club gather under the Members' Bridge on the ancient banked circuit. April 2019, Leica Q2
Happy days as members of the Bentley Drivers’ Club gather under the Members’ Bridge on the ancient banked circuit. April 2019, Leica Q2

Today, though, was a special occasion. After three days sitting at home in purdah, apart from an exercise walk or two, I decided to jump in the car and drive the 20 miles or so to the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge. I reasoned that it would be quiet and, since it is largely an outdoors sort of place, probably safe. I slung the Leica Q2 around my neck, not really expecting much in the way of interesting things to photograph. In this, I was right.

Deserted. The 1907 banked racing circuit, one of the wonders of the age, with the Members' Bridge crossing to nowhere. 18 March 2020, Leica Q2
Deserted. The 1907 banked racing circuit, one of the wonders of its age, with the Members’ Bridge crossing to nowhere. 18 March 2020, Leica Q2

Forlorn sausages

When I arrived, I found I was one of a very select handful of visitors. Staff and volunteers were all on parade as usual but with nothing to do and no one to talk to. The cafeteria sported the usual impressive display of breakfast goodies. The sausages, in serried ranks, looked rather forlorn and, I suspect, most of this food will have to be thrown away at the end of the day.

Empty tables, empty chairs: Social distancing in the normally bustling Sunbeam Café at Brooklands. This is where quite a few Macfilos stories have been composed over the years. Wednesday, 18 March 2020 (Leica Q2)
Empty tables, empty chairs: Effective social distancing in the normally bustling Sunbeam Café. This is where quite a few Macfilos stories have been composed over the years. Wednesday, 18 March 2020 (Leica Q2)

In common with many businesses in Britain — we are advised not to visit them but they haven’t been told to close — Brooklands is in a state of limbo. Sadly, I doubt that it can continue at this rate for more than a day or two. So this is probably my last visit for many months.

Breakfast is ready. but no takers. A cafe full of food, only one poor punter who'd already had his breakfast, 18 March 2020 (Image Leica Q2)
Breakfast is ready. but no takers. A café full of food but serving only one poor punter who’d already had his breakfast, 18 March 2020 (Image Leica Q2)

Stern stuff

I console myself with the thought that this place has survived far worse in its 113-year existence. It’s definitely made of stern stuff. After flourishing as Britain’s premier motor and motorcycle race track for over 30 years, the track was abruptly closed at the outbreak of war in 1939.

Don Morley’s marvellous image of Sammy Davis, the last of the famous 1920s Bentley Boys, on this special outing at Brooklands in 1973 (Copyright Don Morley)

It became a centre of aircraft production but, rather miraculously, avoided total destruction during the years of bombing. It was the place where Barnes Wallis designed his famous bouncing bomb, the real star of the movie The Dam Busters. The Club House stands as it did over a hundred years ago, although the signature banked race track is reduced to a fragment of its former glory. With factories already rooted over most of the trackside land by 1945, opening again as a racetrack was impossible. It is remarkable that so much remains to form the basis of this living museum.

For the first time in my life, I can begin to understand the sense of change and foreboding that must have been universal in this country in 1939; the sense that nothing will be the same again and the realisation that we face a hard slog.

The 1940s Revival Day at Brooklands, May 2018. Panasonic G9 and and Leica DG 12-60mm
The 1940s Revival Day at Brooklands, May 2018. Panasonic G9 and Leica DG 12-60mm

When the dust settles

Brooklands and its exhibits will survive this new crisis and I look forward to seeing it back in action when the dust settles, with luck during the summer but possibly not for a year or more. It has become a part of my life, somewhere I can escape to for a few hours, take a walk, take some photographs and have a chat.

I will miss all the wonderful summertime events, the gatherings of exotic and mundane classic cars, the veterans, the period-dress days and the everydays, every one of which turns up something new and amazing to view and photograph.


Update 20 March 2020: Brooklands closed today, as predicted in the article, and will remain closed for the duration of the epidemic.

Brooklands 1973: Don Morley’s evocative description of the last outing of the Bentley Boys.

Who’s a pretty taxi, then? A surprise find on a routine visit to Brooklands

Bentley Drivers’ centenary at Brooklands

More articles and photographs from Brooklands

5 COMMENTS

  1. We can all use a bit of nostalgia at present, Mike, so thank you!
    I agree there is a weird sensation in the air that “things will never be the same again”. Denmark, where I live, is in total shut-down modus.

  2. Totally with your sentiments Mike. The first Goodwood meeting is lost, and I fear the other two will follow – maybe a glimmer of a chance for the Revival. Still trying to come to terms with the surreal world we are entering. In naive hope I sent off the prints for this years TLS exhibition which clearly isn’t happening – hope this can be held before 2020 is out! There is also the problem of when you can’t do something you want to do it even more! Take care and lets just keep believing!

  3. My two trips to the UK this year were to be the TLS AGM in April and the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September, the latter being a belated 70th birthday present from my wife and two daughters. I have nothing else planned at the moment and I will be happy to follow up on both events next year. I was not around in World War II, but my father’s generation were and I think that your piece conveys a sense of the world changing for a time, but, hopefully, not for ever. I have a sense, though, that this event in a modern world where we had believed that we conquered everything will have some longer lasting effects. Certainly our senses of certainty and security have been greatly challenged.

    William

    • William – I wouldn’t give up on the Revival just yet, as we may be easing out in three months or so if everyone makes the sacrifices in social contact now. Here’s hoping !

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