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King, Hugh Fortescue Locke (1848–1926), landowner and promoter of motor-racing, was born at Chertsey, Surrey, on 7 October 1848, the third of four sons and sixth of nine children of , MP for East Surrey from 1847 to 1874, and his wife, Louisa Elizabeth, née Hoare (c.1813–1884). His lineage was aristocratic: a direct descendant of the first Baron King, he was also the great-grandson of the first Earl Fortescue. Always in uncertain health owing to a weak heart, he was educated at home by a tutor at Woburn Park, Chertsey, and then at Brooklands House, which his father had built at Weybridge, Surrey, in 1862. From his youth he was accustomed to meeting the statesmen and politicians whom his father entertained. Admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1870, he was called to the bar in 1873. At home in Weybridge he took a benevolent interest in village affairs and was elected president of the Mutual Improvement Society and Literary Institute in 1872 and captain of the fire brigade in 1875. His hobby was rifle shooting, and he regularly attended the National Rifle Association meetings at Wimbledon Common. He married, on 3 January 1884, Ethel [see ], daughter of Sir Thomas Gore-Browne, governor successively of New Zealand and Tasmania. They had no children.

Locke King's oldest surviving brother predeceased him in August 1885, another having died in infancy, while his younger brother died in 1855. On his father's death in November 1885 he inherited the family estates, which comprised over 4600 acres of land, mainly in Surrey but also in Sussex and Devon. His inheritance funded an extravagant life of leisure. Winters were frequently spent abroad, on account of his indifferent health. With his wife he purchased Mena House, Cairo, a former hunting lodge of the Egyptian royal family, near the pyramids, which they lavishly decorated and fitted out at considerable expense to meet the comforts of wealthy patrons. He meanwhile sold plots of his estates at Portmore Park, Weybridge, for residential development, and in 1895 founded the New Zealand golf club, near Byfleet.

Locke King was an early motorist, and though he never personally drove anything larger than a 6 hp Siddeley he owned a 70 hp Itala car in which he would presumably have engaged a driver for his tours on the continent. Noting the absence of British cars competing at the coppa florio race at Brescia, in September 1905, he was told that the British motor industry was being hampered by a lack of test facilities, owing to the strict speed limits imposed on public roads. A meeting early in 1906 with Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Daily Mail, encouraged him to consider the possibility of building an enclosed track, where cars could be driven at speed without inconvenience or danger to the public. Heathland of comparatively little agricultural value which he owned at his estate near Brooklands House offered a possible site. The idea was publicly floated in May 1906, and gained additional supporters in the Automobile Club and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. With Locke King's friend Ernest de Rodakowski as an intermediary, leading figures in the racing world, notably Selwyn Edge and Charles Jarrott, were brought on board. Henry Capel Lofft Holden, a colonel in the Royal Artillery and former chairman of the Automobile Club, directed the project, which incorporated banked curves designed by a railway engineer, Alexander Donaldson, to allow for safe speeds on corners of up to 90 m.p.h.

In December 1906, when the ground had been cleared and the course marked out, Locke King and his wife founded the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club, with a number of aristocratic patrons, and its racing rules were approved by the Automobile Club. Estimated construction costs for the track had meanwhile escalated alarmingly from the original estimate of £22,000; contractors taken on in January 1907 put in an estimate of over £60,000. Locke King was on the verge of pulling out, and the project was continued only through the determination of his wife, who increasingly managed the finances, with help from her brother Francis Gore-Browne KC, an authority on company law, and Rodakowski.

During the early months of 1907 1500 navvies were employed in ten-hour day and night shifts, and the Brooklands race course was ready for opening on 17 June 1907. Locke King, though low in spirits, managed to make a short speech thanking Holden and praising the contractors for the rapidity with which they had built the track. A report by a local government board inspector subsequently criticized the lack of accommodation provided for the construction workers, hundreds of them having had to sleep rough on Weybridge Common in all weathers, and their case was raised in parliament. The course's completion was nevertheless hailed as a major engineering achievement. Traversing the River Wey in two places, with a roughly elliptical shape, it had a total length of 3¼ miles, a width of 100 feet to accommodate ten cars abreast, a concrete surface, and banking in places almost 30 feet high. On 28 June Edge used it as the venue for his record-breaking twenty-four-hour drive at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., and the opening race meeting was held on 6 July 1907.

Brooklands was the world's first purpose-built motor-racing track. It cost Locke King in the region of £150,000, a sum he raised through mortgaging his properties and through loans from his wife's family, which saved him from the threat of bankruptcy in July 1907. Dining with the Locke Kings on 13 July, Lady Monkswell found them depressed: ‘They have been building this awful motor track and are so hated by their neighbours, many of whose houses they have simply ruined, that hardly anyone will speak to them’ (Collier, 186). In a High Court action brought against Locke King in May 1908 residents adjoining the track complained of noise from misfiring engines, sounding of horns, hammering of rivets and ‘explosive’ language as the cars were repaired and refuelled, petrol fumes, crowds of ‘loafers’ and attendant revelry (including uncorking of bottles throughout the night during Edge's record-breaking drive), and discarded cigar-ends littering their private road, among a catalogue of annoyances.

Locke King's ideas for Brooklands were drawn largely from the precedent of horseracing: the track was sometimes referred to as the Ascot or Epsom of ‘automobilism’, with grandstands and a course design that enabled spectators to see almost all the action in each race, rather than just a portion. In its early years, however, it proved less successful as a spectator attraction than as a testing ground for cars and their drivers. It also rapidly became a centre for aviation development. A. V. Roe made early attempts at powered flight at Brooklands in 1907–8, and in late 1909 an aerodrome was laid down in the centre of the track. Exhibition flights were held, several flying schools were set up, and aircraft manufacturers established works there. On the outbreak of war in 1914 the War Office took over Brooklands and Locke King lent four of his large houses for use as auxiliary military hospitals. The Vickers firm, having started a flying school there in 1912, moved into the former Itala motorworks probably early in 1915 and, along with other aviation companies, made Brooklands the largest wartime production centre in the country, over 4300 aircraft having been built there by November 1918. The reopening of the track in 1920 heralded the most colourful period in the history of Brooklands as a motor racing venue.

Locke King died at Brooklands House on 28 January 1926 and was buried in Weybridge cemetery on 30 January. Proprietorship of Brooklands passed to his widow. A shy, retiring man, he received no public honour for creating the Brooklands track, a facility of international importance, which fulfilled his ambition of placing Britain at the forefront of motor sport, as well as acquiring an unexpected role as a centre for aircraft production in two world wars. The ninth earl of Portsmouth (a distant cousin) wrote of him that ‘beneath an aura of eccentricity there was sane unusual thinking and sometimes prophetic vision’ (Knot of Roots, 59).

J. S. L. Pulford

Sources  

J. S. L. Pulford, The Locke Kings of Brooklands Weybridge (1996) · ‘Hugh Locke King’, J. S. L. Pulford, The Brooklands greats (1995), 1 · Locke King papers, Brooklands Museum, Weybridge · C. Locke King, ‘Reminiscences of my life’, Elmbridge Museum, Weybridge · Surrey Herald (29 Jan 1926) · The Times (29 Jan 1926); (30 Jan 1926); (18 Dec 1906); (27 Dec 1906); (18 June 1907); (8 July 1907); (31 Aug 1907); (2 Sept 1907); (6 May 1908); (15 May 1908); (21 May 1908) · Motor Sport (May 1961), 347 · D. Venables, Brooklands: the official centenary history (2007) · W. Boddy, The story of Brooklands: the world's first motor course, 1 (1948) · W. Boddy, Brooklands: the complete motor racing history (2001) · P. Brendon, The motoring century: the story of the Royal Automobile Club (1997) · H. Johnson, Wings over Brooklands: the story of the birthplace of British aviation (1981) · S. F. Edge, My motoring reminiscences (1934) · A Victorian diarist: later extracts from the journals of Mary, Lady Monkswell, ed. E. C. F. Collier, 2: 1895–1909 (1946) · Earl of Portsmouth [G. V. Wallop], A knot of roots: an autobiography (1965) · A. Augustin, The Mena House treasury [n.d.] · N. Nelson, The Mena House Hotel: 100 years of hospitality, 1869–1969 (1979) · M. Caillard, A lifetime in Egypt, 1876–1935 (1935) · Burke, Peerage [Burke landed gentry]

Archives  

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey


Wealth at death  

£53,782 3s. 1d.: probate, 10 April 1926, CGPLA Eng. & Wales