Who knew that the Silverstone Circuit had such a fascinating history?
The UK’s most famous race track is located not far from Milton Keynes (it makes an idea day trip from London both by car and by train). Over the years, Silverstone has seen all of motor racing’s greats compete on the circuit and raise the iconic British Grand Prix trophy in the air.
But did you know that Silverstone was once an Abbey? Or that it lies next door to one of England’s most beautiful country estates? Or even that it was used as a Bomber Command training base during the Second World War?
I certainly didn’t until we visited The Silverstone Experience.
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[author] [author_info]Although The Silverstone Experience is currently closed owing to Covid-19 restrictions, you can still buy gift vouchers – the perfect present! [/author_info] [/author]
The National Lottery Heritage Fund-backed Silverstone Experience first opened in 2019 after a seven year project to restore an old WWII RAF hangar. The experience tells the history of Silverstone and the story of British motor racing. The visitor attraction also aims to inspire a new generation of engineers.
The Silverstone Experience
If I’m being entirely honest, I knew very little about motor racing prior to our day at the Silverstone Experience. I’m familiar with names like Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton of course, but that’s about where my knowledge stops.
This is the wonderful thing about the Silverstone Experience, however, it’s as engaging for revheads as it is for those of us with L plates. It’s hugely interactive and packed full of fascinating stories and information.
The history of Silverstone
Your Silverstone Experience starts on the first floor with a short film. Visitors enter a room that resembles the racing track start line, and videos play along both walls, showing Silverstone through the ages.
From here you enter the first room in the museum, which tells the story behind the race track, including the history of each corner. You’ll also see quotes from famous drivers decorate the walls.
This is also where you learn that 800 years ago a monastery and chapel stood here. The chapel was dedicated to St Thomas Becket and today one of the corners is called Becketts Corner. There are also corners called Luffield, Abbey and Chapel.
Moving along, there’s a small display dedicated to Stowe Estate, one of England’s most beautiful country estates, and then you enter the section dedicated to Silverstone as a Bomber Command training base.
During WWII, Silverstone was used to train aircrew to fly Wellington bombers over enemy territory. There are lots of information boards and video booths highlighting some of the characters who played a part in the war. This includes a number of women such as Margaret Mabel Gladys Jennings, a Scottish motor racing driver who became an ambulance driver and then worked at Bletchley Park. She later became the motoring correspondent Vogue.
What really kept the kids entertained, however, were the interactive displays. They practiced flying a plane in the link trainer, tried shooting barrage balloons in the turret trainer and dropping propaganda pamphlets on designated targets in France.
The next section in the exhibition is dedicated to the return of racing after WWII and includes some wonderful memorabilia and plenty of colourful local tales. It also explores how the village of Silverstone helped to shape the early years at the racing track. There’s even a replica of the bar at the village pub you can walk through.
Throughout the Silverstone Experience there are animated displays, videos and interactive exhibits – such as building your own 500cc race car on a touch screen. This is what makes a trip to Silverstone such a fun experience whether you’re a massive racing fan or not.
The First Grand Prix
The final section on the first floor celebrates the first Grand Prix in 1948. There’s an original Cooper from the first race meeting at Silverstone on display and you can sit in a replica ERA.
The Ground Floor exhibits
The ground floor is where you can discover more about racing at Silverstone and see some of the track’s most famous racing cars and bikes. This area is divided into three section: Race Day, the Tech Lab and Racing Eras.
We loved exploring the Race Day section, which gives you an insight into everything that goes on behind the scenes at the track. You can practice being a race marshal, try your hand at commentating and have a go with the wheel gun. There’s also a section where famous drivers, including Sir Jackie Stewart, explain all about safety on the track.
The Tech Lab is for serious racing fans. This area explains the science behind the machines. Learn about dampers, how the modern-day steering system works in a race car and what makes the engines tick.
This was my favourite section of the ground floor exhibit. This area charts the story of the most important landmarks in Silverstone’s history and includes some fascinating memorabilia. You can see signing-on sheets filled with famous signatures as well as a helmet worn by Michael Schumacher and the suit worn by British racing driver Martin Brundle.
What I particularly loved, however, were the stories about the women race drivers. On display is an elegant fireproof suit that belonged to Christabel Carlisle. Carlisle had previously raced in jeans but asked a tailor to create a fireproof suit for her. The one on display at the Silverstone Experience is the one she wore in the 1963 British Saloon Car Championship.
The Grand Prix Trophy
The final stop on the ground floor – before you enter the Ultimate Lap, a cinematic experience celebrating some of Silverstone’s most iconic moments – is the Grand Prix Trophy. This is the original replica of the trophy and the one that is handed out to winning drivers on race day. You can’t hold it, but you can get up very close and see 70 years of history engraved on the gold-plated cup.
Heritage Track Trail
Don’t miss the Heritage Track trail where you can learn about parts of the current circuit and walk along parts of the old layout.
Getting to the Silverstone Experience
The Silverstone Experience is located at the main entrance to the Silverstone Circuit. Tickets can be bought online and, if you offer Gift Aid, your tickets are transformed into an annual pass. You can also buy gift vouchers, which make an idea present!