Remembering the spirit of ecstasy

Following my two recent posts about the merchant navy war memorial in London, my thoughts (like so many people) turned again this week to our war dead. At a moving Armistice Day ceremony this week, the Science Museum’s director laid a poppy wreath at our own modest memorial commemorating Science Museum staff killed in the two world wars:

Science Museum war memorial (David Rooney)

Science Museum war memorial (David Rooney)

We must keep memories alive by telling stories, so here’s one that follows from my recent post on Rolls-Royce cars. 

In 1915, the steamship Persia was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Two passengers on board were Eleanor Thornton and the second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. Montagu was an avid early motorist, and Eleanor was his secretary. The pair were also lovers. He survived the sinking, but Eleanor was killed, along with hundreds of other passengers.

You may not have heard her name, but you’re probably already familiar with Eleanor Thornton. She was the model for the famous Rolls-Royce bonnet mascot, ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’. See countless pictures of the famous figure here.

Montagu originally commissioned a sculpture of Eleanor as a one-off mascot for his Rolls-Royce ‘Silver Ghost’. This figure was known as ‘The Whisper’, and formed the basis for Rolls-Royce’s own version that became the Spirit of Ecstasy.

As we remember our war dead this November, spare a thought for Eleanor Thornton next time you see the Spirit of Ecstasy adorning a Rolls-Royce…

In our collections we have our own Silver Ghost (at Wroughton), like Montagu’s, and a wonderful 1898 Daimler given to us by Montagu himself in 1925. It’s now (very appropriately) on loan to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu- Montagu’s family home.

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, 1909 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Rolls-Royce 'Silver Ghost', 1909 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Daimler motor car, 1898 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Daimler motor car, 1898 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

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