Sunday, 1 August 2010

Victorian and Edwardian racers



Christabel Ellis

This post lists the earliest pioneer female racing drivers not already profiled, who competed between 1897 and 1910. Camille du Gast, Dorothy Levitt and Joan Newton Cuneo have their own posts. American racers from shortly after this period can be found here. The earliest female-only races are discussed here. During this period, there were few opportunities to enter races, so most of these women made only a few appearances at the wheel. Opportunities for motor racing generally increased after the war.

Countess Elsa d'Albrizzi - finished ninth in the 1899 Padua-Vicenza-Thiene-Bassano-Trevisio-Padua Trail, driving a Benz light car. This makes her the first woman to finish in the top ten of a motor race.

Louise Bazalgette – probably the first British female racing driver. She entered the 1000 Mile Trial in 1900, driving a 3hp Benz. She did not complete the whole trial, but was awarded a silver medal for her performance in one of the sections. Even earlier than this, she was featured in the British newspapers for her frequent motoring exploits and enthusiasm for cars. She continued to appear in speed trials occasionally after 1900, including the 1903 Bexhill-on-Sea trial.

“Madame le Blon” (Motann?) – best known as a riding mechanic to her husband, Hubert le Blon, who helped him to sixth place in the 1906 Targa Florio. She also rode with him in hillclimbs, in either a Serpollet, or a Hotchkiss. In 1903, plans were announced in the press for her to race her own Serpollet car. That year, she was third in a beach race at Deauville, out of sixty drivers. Her given name is never used. “Motann” may be a forename, or her maiden name.

Christabel Ellis - drove an Arrol-Johnston at Brooklands. She led most of the Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap in 1908, but eventually lost to Muriel Thompson and Ethel Locke-King. Earlier, she competed in hillclimbs and speed trials in a friction-drive GWK cyclecar, alongside her cousin, Mary Ellis. Later, in about 1912, the two may have ridden a motorcycle combination together in hillclimbs. Christabel was certainly associated with motorcycles later; during the First World War, she was a Commandant in the transport section of the Women's Legion, in charge of female motorcyle dispatch riders.

“Mrs Clarence Cecil Fitler” - successful early American racer. In 1905, she won two races at the Cape May beach track. The races were over a kilometre distance, with a flying start. Her car was a 28hp Packard. She was the only female entrant. These were her only two race appearances. Although she was meant to race against Joan Newton Cuneo at Atlantic City, later in 1905, she did not do so. She returned to equestrian competition, in which she had some success.

Victoria Godwin – raced in the UK between 1905 and 1907 season. In her first year of competition, she took part in the Brighton Speed Trials, driving an Ariel Simplex. She worked for the Ariel factory, and acted as a spokeswoman and works driver. Between 1905 and 1907, she took part in trials for Ariel, including the London-John O’Groats Trial, and an overland journey from Paris to St Petersburg. In speed trials, she set a record of two miles in 1 minute 43 seconds.

Daisy Hampson – rather enigmatic driver, active in a variety of cars from about 1905. She was from Liverpool, very wealthy, and could drive from at least 1903. Her first car was a Lanchester, which she did not race. In 1905, she is documented as breaking a women’s endurance record, with a 317-mile journey made in one day, in a 60hp Mercedes. Some time before 1909, she owned an even more powerful car, a 120hp Fiat, in which she apparently won some prizes, most probably in speed trials, and likely at Southport, given her location.

Muriel Hind – most famous for racing motorcycles. She was the first British woman to do so, in 1905, having learned to ride in 1902. In 1905, she drove a Gnome in the Brighton Speed Trials, in the Touring class. She often used a Singer Tricar three-wheeler for trials, including the 1906 London-Edinburgh Trial, the Land’s End-John O’Groats Trial of the same year. She raced motorcycles until about 1910, then concentrated on writing. 

“Madame Labrousse” (or Lambrose) - one of the earliest female racing drivers known. She drove in the 1899 Brussels-Namur-Spa race and finished fifth in the three-seater class. Her car was an 8hp Panhard.

June (or Jane) Larkins – drove a 6hp Wolseley in a series of events in 1905. She is principally known for setting the first ladies’ record at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, making the ascent in about four minutes. The same year, she drove the same car in at least two motor gymkhana events, one at Portsmouth and one at Moseley. These were mostly novelty events, such as towing races, and a “Coach House Race”, in which she was second. She was employed by Wolseley to teach female car buyers how to drive. Like her contemporary, Dorothy Levitt, she started by racing motor boats, again from the Wolseley works.

Claudia Lasell – active, and quite successful, in British motorsport in 1905. She drove a 90hp Mercedes in the inaugural Brighton Speed Trials, winning the Ladies’ Handicap, but losing out to Dorothy Levitt in the Daily Mail Challenge Trophy. She also took part in the Blackpool Speed Trials, in a 120hp Mercedes. At the time, she claimed that she raced for fun, and had no desire to do it professionally. She was an actress and singer of some note. Although she was American, she lived and worked in Europe. Later, in 1913, she caused a small scandal by holding mens’ and womens’ boxing matches at her house parties. 

"Madame Laumaille" - one of the earliest recorded woman racing drivers. She was 27th overall in the 1898 Marseille-Nice trial, a two-day road race. Her vehicle was a De Dion motorised tricycle.

Léa (or Léo) Lemoine – French woman who was one of the world’s earliest female racing drivers. She took part in three editions of the Championnat des Chauffeuses, the first-ever women’s motor racing championship, and won all three, in 1897, 1898 and 1899. Her usual vehicle was a De Dion-engined Clément tricycle, although she may also have used a cyclecar in 1899. The Championnat was for French ladies of the theatre, and Léa worked with costumes. As well as the Championnat des Chauffeuses, she entered the 1897 Coupe des Motocycles, and finished fifth overall. She also seems to have done some speed runs in Paris parks, and entered the ladies’ race in the 1899 Fête des Automobiles. After 1899, she appears to stop competing. As well as tricycles and cars, she raced bicycles with some success, and took part in roller-skating competitions.

“Mrs Herbert Lloyd” (Elizabeth?) – winner of the Ladies’ Handicap at the 1905 Brighton Speed Trials, driving a Daimler. She beat Maud Manville to the prize. In 1905, she also took part in the Blackpool Speed Trials. In 1906, she won her class at the Longleat Hillclimb, and that year, she was also fifth in the Henry Edmunds Hillclimb in East Sussex. There were ten entrants overall. She does not appear to have raced after 1906.

Maud Manville – raced Daimlers in the UK and Europe in 1905 and 1906. She competed in the inaugural Brighton Speed Trials, in a 35hp model. She lost out to Claudia Lasell in the Ladies’ Handicap, but won a race for 35hp Daimlers. In the same car, she drove in the Herkomer Trial in Germany in 1905 and 1906. She did not finish the 1905 Trial, but won the speed trial section. The following year, she finished the event in eleventh place. Her husband was Edward Manville, who was the chairman of Daimler, and they competed against each other. Maud was an early member of the Ladies’ Automobile Club, who encouraged its members to try competitive driving. She died in 1909, aged 37. 

“Mrs. H Ernest Rogers” - early American racer who was a rival of Joan Newton Cuneo. She was active throughout 1906, and often drove a 10hp Maxwell, like the one used by Joan Newton Cuneo. At the Ventnor Beach speed trials, she was third in a Gasoline 1-mile trial, won by Joan Newton Cuneo. At the Dead Horse Hill hillclimb, she won three of the trials for stock cars costing under $850 dollars. As well as this, she was invited to more than one match race against Joan Newton Cuneo, one at Atlantic Beach. However, these meetings were usually cancelled at the last minute. After 1906, she seems to disappear. Her given name is never recorded.

Muriel Thompson - Brooklands’ first female winner in 1908, when she won the Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap and the Scratch Race that followed it, defeating Christabel Ellis. Her car was an Austin, nicknamed "Pobble", which had belonged to her brother, Oscar, a regular racer. Opportunities for Muriel to race "Pobble" were quite limited, due to the BARC's ban on women drivers, but she did make some other appearances. In 1909, she was part of the winning Berkshire Motor Club team in the five-mile Inter-Club Team Trophy, at Brooklands. She was permitted to race due to the meeting being a non-BARC sanctioned event. In July 1911, at the RAC's Associated Motor Clubs meeting, she won the Declaration Handicap, in the Austin. She later became a decorated war hero, as a WW1 ambulance driver and medic, in the FANY. She continued racing and testing cars until the 1930s. In 1939, she died prematurely, of encephalitis lethargica, probably contracted during a flu epidemic.

Hélène van Zuylen (Rothschild) - one of the earliest-ever female racing drivers. She entered the Paris-Amsterdam race in 1898, under the nom de course of “Snail”. Her car, whose manufacturer is not usually recorded, broke down very early in the race. Her husband also entered, using the name “Escargot”. In 1901, she and "Escargot" entered a Paris-Berlin race organised by the A.C.F. This is sometimes confused with the "Gordon Bennett" Paris-Berlin race that took place that year, but the route was different, and the drivers a separate group. Again, Hélène did not finish. She had been driving as part of a group which included her husband, and another lady driver, a Madame Gobron.

(Image source unknown)

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