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The 90th Anniversary Rally, Oct 2012

Charles Sykes and the Spirit of Ecstasy

On 12 October 2012, as part of the 90th anniversary celebration of the Rolls Royce 20hp at Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, a lecture was given by researcher and historian Dr Ken Brittan.

Charles Sykes (1875 - 1950) was an English sculptor, best known for designing the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot which is used on Rolls-Royce cars.  Claude Johnson (1864 - 1926) was the first secretary of the Royal Automobile Club. He organised the first automobile exhibition in England. He became joint manager with Charles Rolls at Rolls-Royce Limited. He brought the necessary business acumen to the partnership of Rolls and Royce and was said to be the hyphen in Rolls-Royce.  John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu (1866-1929) was the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu after 1905. He was a pioneer of the automobile movement and editor of The Car magazine from 1902.  Eleanor Velasco Thornton (1880 –1915) was Johnson's personal secretary and also secretary to Lord Montagu.  The Spirit of Ecstasy carries with it a story about a secret passion between some or all of the above. 

Firstly, Sykes was commissioned by Lord Montagu to make a special mascot for his 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and he produced a small statue of a young woman in fluttering robes with a forefinger to her lips.  Then in 1911 Johnson hired Sykes to produce the first mascot for Rolls-Royce, a mascot which quickly became world-famous.  The model was again Eleanor Thornton.  Eleanor Thornton was tragically drowned in 1915 when the ship she was travelling on to India with Lord Montagu was torpedoed by the German Navy in the Mediterranean.

In 1920 Sykes entered a smaller version of the statue into a sculpture competition at the Paris Salon where it won the first prize and a gold medal.  This smaller statue was slightly modified to form the 20hp mascot.

Dr Brittan’s view was that Sykes’ original Paris medal should have been presented to Eleanor Thornton, had she lived.

In  a re-enactment of “the presentation that never was” the medal was presented to 20hp Register member Angie Slaffer.  Sadly she was not allowed to keep it!

Simon Slaffer