By Martin Males
On 14th November 1896 the ‘Locomotive on Highways Act’ was passed by the British Government. By relaxing the speed limit on the highways and byways, this allowed the new fangled automobiles to no longer be required to have a man with a red flag walk in front of them. On that day to celebrate, automobilists were invited to drive their machines from London to Brighton, it would become known as the Emancipation Run (still run today on the first Sunday in November for owners of pre 1905 vehicles). One year on and still celebrating their new found freedoms it was decided to gather some 45 automobiles, including several motor tricycles, and travel from London to Sheen House in Richmond. Tricycle and cycle racing was very popular at the time and Sheen House had it’s own concrete oval track, ideal for the motor tricycles to race round and become the first official race of the internal combustion powered vehicles in Great Britain.
Several years later in 1907, Hugh Fortesque Locke-King constructed, at his own expense, a 2.75 mile banked concrete circuit in Weybridge, Surrey. Brooklands as it is known, was the world’s first purpose built motor racing track. Many Land Speed records were set and sadly lives lost at incredible speeds up to the outbreak of war in 1939. The circuit was considered more useful to aviation and was quickly consumed by the aircraft industry. Much of the outer banking fell into disrepair and became engulfed by suburbia, racing never returned. However the central buildings escaped development and stands today as a museum and reminder of those great days. Within the last year, at vast expense, the original ‘Back Straight’ with a Start/Finish line and scoreboard has been re-instated; it is here (with Sheen House long demolished) 120 years on, that the De Dion Bouton Club GB will recreate those first races.
Having announced an ‘Afternoon of Racing’ for the 29th November 2017, the club mustered 20 motor tricycles all manufactured between 1898 and 1901 and produced by such manufacturers as De Dion, Rochet, Marot Gardon, M.M.C., Clement, Phebus, Corre, Dechamps and Automoto. With three races on the card, the riders all in period costume mounted their veteran machinery and either pushed or pedaled them into life. The sight and sound of those little engines powering around the oval was something to behold. Cornering a motor tricycle at speed requires a certain amount of skill and nerve. A level of fitness helps as well, pedaling assists acceleration out of corners and with the last race covering 5 miles (30 laps), and with some of the riders let us say, in their later years, medics were on hand.
At the end of the day exhausted riders shook hands and there were mutterings of this becoming an annual event. The staff and volunteers at Brooklands beamed having seen the first massed start race there in 78 years.
All Photos by Martin Males