Brooklands race track 'built by society lady'
An Edwardian woman who helped to build the world's first purpose-built motor circuit and went on to race on it, is the focus of an exhibition in Surrey.
Dame Ethel Locke King took over supervision of the Brooklands track when construction was affected by debts and her husband's stress.
The daughter of the governor of Tasmania went on to come second in the first ladies' race in 1908.
Brooklands Museum assistant curator Abi Wilson said Dame Ethel was "pivotal".
A member of the wealthy Gore-Brown family, Dame Ethel stepped in after the stress of the project affected the health of her husband, Hugh Locke King.
Her family also lent money to pay off debts racked up from the work.
Ms Wilson said: "You think of her as your classic society lady, but actually she's just this incredible woman.
"She actually was really pivotal in having the track constructed - we always think of it as being something that her husband Hugh did, but he suffered from quite delicate health, and there were some severe financial strains.
"She took over signing all the letters, making all the decisions - a really sort of forceful woman but also very vibrant and generous, from all accounts."
Construction of the track started in about 1906, although experts are unable to pinpoint the exact date, and it opened on 17 June 1907.
Ethel and Hugh Locke King led the opening parade in their Itala car - which Dame Ethel raced in the Ladies' Silver Bracelet Handicap event a year later.
"They weren't really fans of women racing, they sort of let them have a go," Ms Wilson said.
"It was a long time until they raced against men on equal terms."
The exhibition also looks at Dame Ethel's work during World War One as assistant county director for the Red Cross, for which she established up to 15 military hospitals.