Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ethel Locke-King (1864 - 1956) - British businesswoman

Ethel was born Ethel Gore-Brown in 1864 in Tasmania where her father, Sir Thomas Gore-Brown was Governor.  In 1894, Ethel married Hugh Locke-King and they went to live at “Brooklands” in Weybridge, Surrey. Shortly after their marriage, Ethel and Hugh purchased a hotel called “Mena House” just outside Cairo in Egypt which had formerly been a hunting lodge.  They made it into a luxury hotel and added a golf course on the advice of a friend – Alice Gress.    

They began their married life by farming the Brooklands estate but Hugh was passionately interested in motor racing and soon began building a race track on their land. The Motor Car Act of 1903 in Britain restricted motor vehicles to a 20 miles per hour speed limit which meant that trials between motor vehicles could not take place on public roads.

The earliest mention of a trial between motor vehicles was recorded as being from Paris to Rouen in July 1894, which was followed in 1895 with a race between Paris and Bordeaux.

Ethel took over the supervision of the development of the Brooklands racing circuit and aerodrome when the hard work involved in organising the construction adversely affected her husband’s health. Ethel’s family helped out, lending sufficient money to pay off debts incurred by the building work. Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit and Aerodrome was opened on June 1907 with a luncheon for motor car manufacturers.    On 17th June 1907, Ethel led the inaugural procession of cars on to the track in her Itala car.  The first race was held on 6th July 1907 and around ten thousand people attended the event.   Women were not allowed to race but in 1908 the Ladies Bracelet Handicap was run with nine entrants.  The winner was Muriel Thompson in an Austin, with Ethel Locke-King in the Italia second and Christobel Ellis in an Arrol-Johnston third.   The Brooklands Automobile Club then banned women drivers until 1928.  A similar ban was imposed on women's football teams after WW1.

During the First World War, Ethel Locke-King (seen here on the right) was Assistant County Director of Surrey, UK. She was responsible for establishing and organising twelve auxiliary military hospitals, one of which was in their home Brooklands House and is now Brooklands College.  Several of the other hospitals were in houses owned by Hugh Locke-King.  Ethel oversaw the management of 700 volunteers in nineteen Voluntary Aid Detachments.  Mena House Hotel in Egypt was requisitioned for use by the Australian Army during WW1.

For her work during the conflict, Ethel was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1918.

If you have not already visited Brooklands, I can highly recommend it.  The banking was absolutely incredible and would never be permitted in Formula One today.   After the death of her husband in 1926, Ethel continued to farm the Brooklands estate, with particular interest in their herd of Guernsey cattle.  After Hugh Locke King’s death in 1926, Dame Ethel continued to play an active role in the Brooklands track company until its sale to new investors in 1936.  She died in 1956.

The famous British race track, which was the first purpose-built circuit for racing motor cars in the world, is the subject of a temporary exhibition being held at Brooklands Museum in April 2017.  The Exhibition, which is organised by the Surrey Museums Partnership together with 43 Surrey museums, will to mark Surrey Museums Month. The theme of this year’s Museums Month, held annually. This year’s theme celebrates the history of the county’s “Surrey Women”.

To find out more about the exhibition at Brooklands please see their website

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