GOMW Visit to Beaulieu highlights women in motoring
I attended the Guild of Motoring Writers AGM in May. A very masculine activity you might think, and yet there were women popping up all over the place.
In the museum, I admired a leather coat, gloves and hat recommended for the early motoriste. Beside them was a photo of Dorothy Levitt, an early motoring enthusiast and racing driver who wrote a guide for female owner-drivers called The Woman and the Car in 1909. (See Blog post)
Further along, we admired a splendid Argyll 15/30 with an ingenious rack in the roof to hold your top hat upside-down until required. The car was given to a lady named Mrs Poole as a wedding present from her husband. After he died, she never used it again, but insisted that fresh flowers were put in its silver vase every day.
Our guide told us an intriguing story about an alternative Rolls-Royce mascot, one of only two not in classic Spirit of Ecstacy pose. She's a little more voluptuous and more obviously naked, and she holds a finger to her lips. She's called the Whisper, and she was modelled on Eleanor Velasco Thornton, secret mistress of John Douglas-Scott Montagu. Sadly, she was drowned when the SS Persia was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915; Montagu survived.
As we were given a tour of the incredible archives (the museum is very much the tip of the iceberg), one of the photo albums lay open, and it happened to show pictures of Miss Kitty Brunell at the RAC Rally 1933. That year she became the first, and so far the only, woman to win the rally outright, driving a four-seater AC Ace.
Everyone's favourite F1 commentator, Murray Walker, was with us at the AGM to accept a lifetime membership. In the museum, and he opened an exhibition of Guild memorabilia, celebrating our 70th anniversary, in front of Lord Montague and a small crowd of current members. One of the names commemorated in the display is Kay Petre, a founder member of the Guild, who had been a racing driver and one of the famous Brooklands Belles before becoming a journalist.
To bring things up to date, at the AGM, long-serving member Sue Baker accepted the positions of Vice Chairman of the Guild and Trustee of the Guild Benevolent Fund.
So there we are, we may be a minority, but women in motoring have made their mark.