A lap of the Outer Circuit today

The S&G was alerted to this film by its maker last summer so apologies for the tardiness. However, for those who have read the post on finding your way around Brooklands and still can’t make head or tail of it, Andy Lambert has very kindly completed a lap of the old circuit from above, allowing you to find yourself if you get lost.

Watch, enjoy, marvel – and go and have a look for yourselves.

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Sunshine at Brooklands

Make hay while the sun shines, is the saying. But this is not an agricultural blog, so we did the only sensible thing for anyone in the commuter belt and went to Brooklands.

Since the opening of the new Lottery-supported Aircraft Factory and the reopening of more of the Start/Finish straight for clubs and events, the old place has really taken on a new lease of life. For more information go to www.brooklandsmuseum.com to and plan a relaxing few hours filled with all sorts of educational nooks and crannies.

Don’t forget that on school holiday weekdays it’s possible to be driven round the banking on a replica racer for £1, while another £1 will get you a bus ride around Weybridge on a Routemaster, upon which you can pretend to be Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs – or possibly James Bond.

Be joyful that summer’s here and enjoy all the great things with wheels and wings that we used to do so well.

London’s Classic Car Show

It’s that time of year again. London’s Excel is throbbing to the sound of delightful engines and shimmering in the glow of highly polished coachwork. For the next three days, there will be many things to enjoy, from Phillip Glenister and a lot of TV cops’n’robbers cars to virtually every breed of racing Porsche.

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The London Classic Car Show and Historic Motorsport International are together in one gigantic hall. Up and down the middle is the Grand Avenue, where a vast array of cars from the 1920s to the 1990s will be running.

Star of the show will be Nigel Mansell, who will be on hand regularly throughout the public days. As well as the man himself, there’s also a goodly collection of his cars, such as the Lotus-Renault 95T that he pushed over the line at the 1984 US Grand Prix in Dallas and his mighty title-winning Williams-Renault FW14B from 1992.

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There are still plenty of tickets available to book online, which costs less than paying at the gate. In fact you can book online using your phone whilst you’re in the Excel and save yourself a few quid. The wonders of the Internet!

As part of the Historic Motorsport International experience there are a series of feisty forums in which those who build, race and occasionally attempt to manage the process of historic racing. So to find out what makes them tick, who’s got a GT40 with FRIC and why traction control on a Lotus Cortina is a very bad thing, then this is the place to be.

Here are some of the shiny things that caught the S&G’s eye while wandering. Do go along and enjoy the show.

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Farnham’s Flyers go Online

The racing community in Farnham – it’s not just that chap Hawthorn, you know – now have a website.

A lovely big twisty track, a CAMRA-recommended bar down below, live Jazz for the interludes – sounds exactly like the stuff of dreams for most regulars at the S&G.

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Detailing myriad classes for small racing cars of every vintage, with information about their rather lovely track and pretty much all you might wish to know about motor racing in misty Surrey hills, it’s a fun way to spend a portion of your lunch hour.

Go on, why don’t you? Here’s the link: Farnham Scalextric Club

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A campaign to preserve Biggin Hill St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance

The S&G doesn’t often get involved in campaigning, but the collective goat has been grottled and our dander has been dumbfounded with news that Biggin Hill St. George’s Chapel of Remembrance is facing partial demolition among numerous other indignities. There is not much to be added to the text of the petition, so feel free to read it below or scoot straight through to the petition here.

Regular visitors to the S&G will know that the official history of the Battle of Britain, as described in such colourful terms by Winston Churchill in 1940 and propagated for the 77 years that have followed, is open to a degree of question. In the eyes of the pilots in front line squadrons, the 14-week period through which the most intense air battles were fought over southern England, encapsulated by Churchill as the ‘Battle of Britain’, was simply part of an ongoing campaign that lasted from May 1940 to May 1941 and from which no decisive result between Britain and Germany could be claimed.

The Battle of Britain was not simply a story of clean-limbed boys climbing into Spitfires and Hurricanes to ‘see off the Jerries’ but it also involved almost every facet of the military, from Bomber Command pounding away at the German infrastructure to achieving aircraft production on an unprecedented scale to having the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy as the trump card: a force 10 times stronger than that of the entire German Kriegsmarine that could and would have obliterated any attempted a sea invasion.

For all that, the importance of that period is not open to interpretation, and is deserving of its place in our history. Britain did not capitulate to the tyranny that was being unleashed upon mainland Europe. It did not meekly accept Hitler’s offer of retaining control of its Empire in exchange for Nazism being enforced at home. Ultimately, the Battle of Britain helped to convince America to abandon its policy of laissez-faire – at best – towards Nazism and ultimately to bring its industrial and military might to help reclaim Western Europe.

If one were to look up the word ‘unprepossessing’ in an illustrated dictionary, a view of the RAF Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill would most likely be lying in wait. It’s a bland, artless red brick thing. But it exists for a reason, and should not be troubled by the passage of time.

Given that very little has happened at Biggin-on-the-Bump without the approval of Bernie Ecclestone for the past few decades, perhaps it would be as well to simply drop a note round to Princes Gate. So many outwardly unexciting buildings in the area actually have a wealth of history to them and to deface one, or start charging fees to see it, would inevitably set precedents that might lay waste to this whole area in historical terms.

Here is the petition:

The London Borough of Bromley Council’s current planning application necessitates demolition of the Grade II Listed Vestry, which houses the Air Crew Association stained glass window. Also it requires change of use of part of the Nave (the St George’s Room) to provide additional space for the new museum, the overall design of which the vast majority of genuinely concerned people find appalling – an ultra modern, stark structure enveloping two sides of the Chapel.

Under these proposals, visitors to the Chapel will no longer be able to view the St George’s Room with its commemorative stained glass windows, including the St George’s Battle of Britain Memorial Window, without paying the predicted museum charge of £7.50.

A Museum is long awaited at Biggin Hill, but the situation is incredible because there is an existing highly praised approved design, by the Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Supporters Club, which in no way affects the Chapel, but could provide the same level of support and with vastly superior facilities at lower predicted cost. Importantly it doesn’t require the closure of the Chapel during the building works.

The new Council design will require the closure of the Chapel to visitors, also for services and the funerals of Veterans for over a year whilst building works take place. This was highlighted to great effect at the recent St George’s Day Service, when a 95 year old RAF Veteran, proudly wearing his Air Crew Association tie, rose to his feet and announced his days were numbered and he wanted his funeral to be in the Chapel and his ashes placed in the Garden of Remembrance. But he could not die to order, how could they consider closing the Chapel for over a year?!

Since starting this petition, the previously stated total closure of the Garden of Remembrance on Health and Safety grounds has been reviewed.

Other than those in the immediate locality of Biggin Hill, the many other interested parties, including ex-RAF personnel, and relatives worldwide of those commemorated, are in ignorance of these distressing plans!

My previous advice to visit the Chapel is no longer relevant as the London Borough of Bromley has now CLOSED THE CHAPEL TO VISITORS. People arriving from a distance, perhaps even from overseas, will find the gates chained, at present with no explanation!

Please direct your comments on the closure to the Trust’s email address: hello@bhmm.org.uk

Historic Motorsport International

Londoners tend to treat motor sport as something that pro-Brexit hillbillies from the countryside are interested in. This is a grave error on their part, which is being addressed this weekend at the inaugural Historic Motorsport International, which is part of the annual Classic Car Show at London’s ExCeL.

Yesterday the event was opened by Jacky Ickx, winner of eight Formula 1 grands prix, six Le Mans 24 Hours, the Bathurst 1000 and the Paris-Dakar rally, to name but a few achievements in a career that is, by any standards, rather special. Apparently, Jacky never considered motor sport to be a viable career and wanted to work in horticulture as a lad – at which point compère Henry Hope-Frost invited him over for a few laps of the lawn with his ride-on mower.

“Honestly, Henry, you can’t afford it!”

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Amid such good cheer the gleaming paintwork was admired, the dazzling array of products and services was digested and many an interesting confab occurred. The ExCeL is a sea of wheels and oils and panel shapers and engine fettlers – all with a display of their wares to be found and dribbled over .

Of particular note was a panel discussion on the eligibility of historic cars and policing the numerous ways in which owners will try and gain an unfair advantage.

Let’s be frank: if you can afford to own and drive a historic racing car then you’re not the sort of person who likes finishing second. At anything. And if you’ve also spent a small fortune on hospitality with which to entertain and impress people, you want to finish in front. Which means that all sorts of clever engineering is being funded, from high performance Honda pistons in a Mini-Cooper to traction control on a Jaguar E-Type.

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The effect that this is having upon the sport is potentially profound. Are fans being cheated? Do they care? Is it dangerous? Can the circuits cope? What about insurance? The session was led by former Le Mans winner and GT impresario Jürgen Bärth, who now tries to keep order over such matters on behalf of the FIA Historic Commission. The result? Inconclusive.

There are so many variables to consider – not least the quality of the drivers. Some owners will only drive themselves, with variable results, while others will happily pay a young up-and-coming hotshoe or veteran professional to get in and have a thrash. Equally some cars that were race winners are now worth eight-figure sums and driven with a degree more caution than more modest equipment of less value.

It made for a fascinating conversation revealing sufficient parameters and variables to make one’s head spin. Results were inconclusive, save for all scrutineers pledging to be more rigorous when Adrian Newey’s name appears on the entry list!

Still more such discussions were to be had for event promoters, driving standards officials and other key elements behind the organisation of historic motor sport events. All of them raised strong points and were well worth the asking price. How big can events become? How many events can the global calendar sustain at the present time? How can owners be tempted to keep bringing these cars out when their value increases by telephone numbers each year?

Now, though, the show has kicked fully into public mode, it can be enjoyed at leisure. There’s even a very suitable bar for yarning further about the why’s and wherefore’s of running a historic motor race… the cheeky beggars!

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So get on down to the ExCeL, it’s February and there’s nothing happening on track for months to come so why not make the most of what is a very entertaining weekend. Here’s a little preview of what’s in store…

The view from Stow Maries

Word has come in from the outposts of S&G territory – in this case, Essex – of some wonderful goings-on. In this instance it is the restoration of a First World War Airfield to full working order at Stow Maries.

This little patch of farmland, located between the seaside town of Malden and the county town of Chelmsford, is home to some buildings that were erected a century ago for a very particular purpose. These fields were once a hive of activity during the defence of London in the First World War, after marauding Zeppelins became a regular menace during 1915 and the massed daylight bombing raids of Gotha aircraft swept Britain into a state of hysteria.

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The attacking Gotha bombers photographed over London

In September 1916, the hastily-built airfield at Stow Maries received the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2s of ‘B’ Flight of 37 (Home Defence) Squadron. The favoured route for German raiders was to make landfall on the Essex coast and then cruise down towards Epping Forest in the knowledge that within minutes their bombs would fall near something valuable.

The first commanding officer at the aerodrome was Lieutenant Claude Ridley, who was only 19 years of age. On the evening of 23/24 May 1917 Ridley, promoted to Captain, and Lieutenant G. Keddie made the first recorded operational flight from the aerodrome in response to a large Zeppelin raid targeting London.

Air defence was in its infancy and for every Zeppelin brought down in a sea of falling flame there were hundreds of hours spent by pilots tootling around in the dark. Often they had to light flares on the end of their wings to see the runway on final approach. It was dark and dangerous work but ultimately something of a footnote in the history of the conflict.

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Alone in the great big sky: the solitary life of Home Defence flying re-created

Not that this precluded the growth of Stow Maries, which soon saw ‘A’ Flight of 37 Squadron arrive alongside the rest of the unit. It was a busy time for London and, during the early hours of 17 June 1917, 2nd Lieutenant L. P. Watkins was credited with the downing of Zeppelin L48 at Theberton in Suffolk – the last Zeppelin brought down on British soil before the arrival of the fixed-wing Gotha bombers.

It was these massed daylight raids that caused pandemonium in the capital, and 37 Squadron was in the thick of the action on 7 July 1917 when 22 Gotha bombers made one of the heaviest raids on London. The combination of unreliable engines, numerous landing accidents and increasingly effective Home Defence – not only from the aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service but also the anti-aircraft batteries ringing London – took a heavy toll on the daylight raiders. Soon they were compelled to fly at night and in smaller groups.

At its peak, Stow Maries was home to 219 staff and 16 aircraft – centred around all three flights of 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. It’s original B.E.2 aircraft were replaced first with the B.E.12 and, much later, with the Sopwith Camel.

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Both inside and out, Stow Maries is returning to former glories

Unlike other Home Defence stations which were further developed and would win fame in the later Battle of Britain in 1940 – Biggin Hill, Manston and Hornchurch in particular – Stow Maries reverted to peacetime farming soon after the Armistice of 1918. After 37 Squafton’s departure in March 1919, its buildings were abandoned and forgotten about until a group of enthusiasts happened upon them and discovered what amounted to the only preserved World War 1 airfield in existence.

In the space of four years between 2007 and 2011, six of these buildings were fully conserved and one partially conserved. The decades of neglect were brushed aside and the structures were restored with appropriate materials in accordance with their original construction and architectural detailing.

Now, after venturing down a rather rustic farm track, it is possible to walk into the world of 1917 where the volunteers have now restored the Ambulance Shed and Mortuary, the Blacksmith’s Shed, the Workshop and Dope Shop and the NCO Mess. The Squadron Offices have now been rebuilt and house the museum, while the Workshop and Dope Shop have been conserved to comply with modern workshop environment conditions, but behind the modern internal wall finish is the original fabric untouched.

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Fixtures, fittings and the occasional bit of hardware can now be seen by visitors

Work is indeed undertaken on aircraft at Stow Maries – aircraft of 1914-18 vintage. In the only modern construction to be found at the site you will find hangared an assortment of tool-room copies of WW1 aircraft built by Sir Peter Jackson’s brilliant operation in New Zealand, The Vintage Aviator Ltd.

Recently, Stow Maries hosted its first fly-in for these magnificent aircraft, from where these photos have been provided. Complete with a supporting cast of re-enactors buzzing around the partially-restored Pilots’ Ready Room (the S&G collectively remains a little unsure about the value of re-enactors), the sights and sounds of aviation were laid out for the assembled hordes.

The Bristol Scout, Albatros D.V, and Sopwith Snipe encapsulated the progress made in aircraft design in 1916-18, while the B.E.2 was utterly at home on the field from which 37 Squadron campaigned the type so vigorously against the bombers. It is an amazing sight to see the facilities and the machines in an environment all-but unchanged in a century, and long may the good folk who have brought Stow Maries back to life continue to offer the world such a unique insight into the war.

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There is still much work to be done, the roll-call of buildings requiring or undergoing conservation includes:

  • Office and Communications Room
  • Motor Transport Shed
  • Royal Engineers’ Workshop
  • Generator Hut
  • Reception/Headquarters Building

If there is the will, the energy and the funding available, a further 14 buildings may yet also be saved to complete the restoration, these being:

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  • Officers’ Mess
  • Officers’ Quarters (four buildings)
  • Men’s Accommodation Block
  • NCO Accommodation
  • WRAF Accommodation (three buildings)
  • Water Tower and Reservoir (two buildings)
  • Fuel Store
  • Ammunition Store

To find out more about the airfield, the aircraft, when and how to visit and for news on forthcoming events please visit the website of this remarkable undertaking.