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A trip to Brooklands

Last week, there was a “technical away-day” where 50 or so of us were summoned to our Hampshire headquarters for a day of briefings and workshops, followed by dinner with yet more networking. It was a long day, but as a bonus our bosses had organised a private, evening tour of Brooklands, the motorcar and airplane museum.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the museum tour – I have at best a less than tepid interest in motor history, and I thought I’d be bored rigid. But I am happy to admit that I was completely wrong. Our guide was extremely good, and told us lots of stories about the people behind the exhibits, so I got a lot more out of the visit than if I’d simply walked around it looking at yet another old car or motor bike.

Way back in the early days of the motor car, there weren’t any dedicated race tracks for them, so motor races happened on the public roads. At least, that was what happened on the Continent – cars raced on dodgy roads through small villages, and the inevitable happened and members of the public got killed. So of course it was banned in Britain. As an unintended side effect, French, German and Italian cars all improved massively due to the amount of high-speed testing they got, but British-built cars lagged behind. So a wealthy land-owner with an interest in motor racing decided to build a dedicated race track, complete with banked curves. That was in 1907, at Brooklands, and it was the first in the world.

Our guide also told us the story of Barbara Cartland’s involvement with Brooklands. The “Ladies Reading Room” there is named after her, which seemed an odd tribute to a prolific romantic novelist. It turns out that Barbara Cartland wasn’t always such a caricature of pinkness – back in the 1930s she had been involved in organising women’s motor-racing at Brooklands, and had also been the motivating factor behind air-towed gliders. Previously, so our guide said, gliders had been launched by towing them behind cars, but the length of the tow-rope limited the height they could get and therefore the endurance. But if you launched it from an airplane instead, you could start off much higher – and Barbara Cartland stumped up the money and was a passenger in the first long-distance cross country glider flight. Subsequent developments led to the troop-carrying gliders that were used as part of the D-Day assault, so there was more to Barbara Cartland than perhaps met the eye!

As an aside, Barbara Cartland grew up in Malvern, and went to the same school as me. When I was a very young girl, her mother still lived here, just around the corner from us. She used to open her house and gardens to the local community. The story in the family is that I met Mary Cartland and sat on her knee – she must have been in her eighties or even nineties then. But if family legend is true, then I have sat on the knee of the step-great-great-grandmother of the future king! How is that for a claim to fame?….