22 May 2011

Commemorating the Mistress

Who hath now owned, with rapture smitten frame,
The power of grace, the magic of a name?
(Thomas Campbell)

I’ve always rather hankered after a Rolls-Royce. Not because I want to be seen as flash, or as having loadsamoney, but because I appreciate the engineering that goes into them. More specifically, the engineering that went into the 1930s models, for they are the epitome of functional elegance to me.
Of course, this will remain a pipe dream. I dream of sitting in the driver’s seat — I don’t want a chauffeur — looking down that long, phallic bonnet, and seeing the mascot on the top of the radiator. And yes, I do know who she was.
I was reminded by a story in today’s Observer: to celebrate the centenary of the Spirit of Ecstasy — the ‘Flying Lady’ to the masses, Martin Love went to Beaulieu’s motor museum, and had a ride in an Alpine Eagle — a version of the Ghost produced before the first World War.
The story behind the mascot — and the model for the mascot — appeared a few years ago. She was Eleanor Thornton, an assistant on the Car Illustrated magazine. She’d already been sculptured for the editor, who later became friendly with CS Rolls and FH Royce of the eponymous firm. The editor suggested a regular mascot for the car, Rolls and Royce agreed, and Ms Thornton was the model for the Spirit of Ecstasy sculpted by Charles Sykes; Ms Thornton has adorned the radiator of the car ever since.
Ms Thornton was the editor’s mistress — he was the second Lord Beaulieu. So, drivers of the Rolls-Royce even today commemorate the Earl’s passion; I wonder just how many know what the mascot really represents.