Photographer's Note


When Charles Rolls and Henry Royce began building motor cars, their radiators simply bore the "RR" emblem of the company. But one of their first customers was Lord Montagu (John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), a wealthy pioneer of the automobile movement and editor of "The Car Illustrated" magazine, who decided to commission his artist friend, Charles Sykes, to sculpt a personal mascot for the bonnet of his own1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

After some discussion, it was decided that Sykes should sculpt the figure of a lady in flowing robes and, as his model, he chose Montagu's personal secretary, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, with whom Montagu had been having a longstanding affair - an affair which was to remain secret for over a decade as Montagu was already married to Lady Cecil Victoria Kerr since 1889 - and furthermore on account of Eleanor's "impoverished social and economic status"!

Sykes' first "prototype" sculpture was titled "The Whisper" in which the figure held one finger to her lips as a subtle indication of Eleanor's secret affair with Montagu.

By 1910 it had become fashionable for owners of many cars to attach some sort of mascot to the front. The management of Rolls-Royce disliked the idea of people gracing their cars with what they thought were "inappropriate" mascots and so they commissioned Sykes to produce one similar to that which he had produced for Lord Montagu for production vehicles. The final sculpture, again using Eleanor as model, was called the "Spirit Of Ecstasy" with the female figure standing with arms outstretched and robes flowing behind her. So, ever since that time, Rolls-Royce cars have been fitted with the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot at the factory.

There have been some modifications over the years, firstly with Eleanor adopting a kneeling rather than standing position (the less to obstruct the driver's view) and later to reduce the size of the mascot altogether. And most recent cars have a mascot which retracts when the vehicle is left unattended.

Montagu and Eleanor's affair continued in secret for some years but, as Eleanor accompanied him on his journey to take up a command in India, their ship, S.S. Persia, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 30th December, 1915 south of Crete. Eleanor died and Montagu was thought to have perished too but survived and was saved after several days adrift in a life raft. Poor Eleanor. A tragic story indeed.

This, incidentally, is a 1926 Rolls-Royce 20 h.p. Cabriolet at the annual Biggar Vintage & Veteran Car Show in August, 2018.

ISO 200, 1/320 sec at f/7.1, focal length 24mm.

Larger version of photograph here:

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Additional Photos by John Cannon (tyro) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1985 W: 427 N: 7660] (30513)
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